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Arbury 1970s Archive - 2: The Lights Go Out All Over Arbury...

Our house in Cunningham Close, on South Arbury, was very well thought out. I've enclosed a plan, but one of the best things was the 'shed', included in the house structure, running from front to back, with doors at either end into the front and back gardens. Here, we once housed a sickly hedgehog in a cardboard box with a blanket and plenty of milk to lap. It had been hit by a bike and sadly didn't survive - but we did our best.

It was a nice house - we moved in in 1971 - and settled in happily. There was a great back garden, with a few small trees at the bottom, a large 'through' lounge, an adequate kitchen/dining room, with pantry, and it was very comfortable. We didn't have central heating or anything like that, but then we didn't expect it.

We settled in and life went on and...

And then the lights went out! 

Several times.

I had my 'Look-In' put by at Arbury Court. I couldn't miss an issue because 'The Tomorrow People' were always being left senseless and floating in hyper space or something in their comic strip. I had to 'read on'! But I couldn't stick Donny Osmond. Well, being a boy, he wasn't really aimed at me, but my cousin (I won't name her because she'd kill me for revealing her secret) loved him dearly and we'd have to listen to his records over and over again. When he did that cover version of 'Puppy Love' and yelped 'someone help me please,' I knew just how he felt...

This was the second bout of power cuts as part of industrial action in the early 1970s, and it was a nuisance. But not a knock-out blow, as we - and most people we knew - cooked with gas. I was a kid and found the power cuts exciting - with the candles showing up patches of nicotine-stained ceiling ('Doesn't it look yellow, Mum?!') and I'd gaze out at total blackness outside, all the street lights off, just pinpricks of candlelight showing from some windows. Well, how thrilling could you get, I ask?

Cooking by candlelight was a novel experience - as was making tea.

And I came seriously unstuck doing that.

The windows in Cunningham Close were metal-framed - and the gutters were concrete. No double glazing or central heating in the houses - and most people had front gardens. They weren't all well tended, but they were there as less people had cars.

One late afternoon/early evening in late autumn, the lights went out while we had a visitor. I think it was Doreen from a few doors down, but it might have been my Auntie from Verulam Way.

The metre didn't need feeding, so we knew it was a power cut.

My mother had forgotten to get tea while we were at Arbury Court earlier in the day, so I was dispatched to Yarrow's ('Yarrer's') on Carlton Way. We had loose tea then. My mother thought that tea bags added an unwelcome taste to the brew.

Well, I set off intrepidly into the blackness outside - up Cunningham Close - the windows with unclosed curtains showing flickering candlelight - and the same in Brimley Road and Carlton Way.

It was all familiar and yet unfamiliar.

I was heady with excitement.

And Yarrow's that day was thrilling! 

Now, Yarrow's, the grocer's and butcher's, was quite a small shop. You went in one door and there was shelving all round the walls holding cereals, bread, soup, mixed veg, etc, and, as you went in, on the right, was a small display of paperback books. There was double-sided centre shelving, which formed two narrow aisles, up one aisle, down the other, and the till was on the left just inside the exit door. Just one till.

Usually, trips there tended to be mundane but, for the power cut, the staff had distributed candles around the store, which made everything look very intriguing. The familiar scenario became something out of a fairy tale - candlelight picking out Weetabix boxes, tins of oxtail soup, or jars of pilchard and tomato paste as you passed - all gleaming or shining in patches, offset by eerie flickering darkness - and very different to usual.

There was quite an embattled atmosphere at the till (manual, of course), as the woman wearily served me. 

'Get on your nerves, all this, don't it?' she said to me. I wanted to disagree, but I nodded politely.

Back to Cunningham Close, and Mum asked me to make the tea. Well, I was so carried away with it all that I emptied the whole box of tea into the pot and poured on the hot water, oblivious.

Thus was brewed probably the strongest pot of tea in the history of North and South Arbury - and perhaps even East and West Chesterton, too!

Maybe even in the history of the whole of Cambridge.

Or Cambridgeshire.


Anyway, Mum and her visitor were disgusted by my efforts - and boy did I get a telling off. 

Very soon I saw the inside of my bedroom - minus the excitement of candlelight.

South Arbury housing - this pic is definitely post 1970s - indicated by the window blinds and the car, but the house still retained original features - the shed, concrete guttering and metal framed windows. Many people have now knocked the shed area into the kitchen/dining room to make a much larger space.


  1. Liking the mix here of memories and maps and documents. Keep it up.


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