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1974 – 9 Magdalen Close Byfleet, Surrey KT14 7SS

After many months of my spending weekdays in London we eventually moved into Byfleet, Surrey. #9 was the right-hand semi in the top shot and the aerial shot shows the long back garden and the mature ‘churchyard’ behind.

We had a great time while there but weren’t very happy when a graveyard moved next door to us. The house was a corner plot. It had a large garden that ran out to one side but, behind the house itself, it was quite shallow – say 20-feet. The border was an elm hedge but this was the era of Dutch elm disease and it was not faring well. Behind it was a large open field which perhaps 60-feet to the left was bordered by a school and some 150-feet or more across it was a church. Without warning the church had someone go bish-bash-bosh and it became consecrated land – they began to bury people in it. But they didn’t fan out from the existing cemetery 150-feet away from us, instead they ran the graves along the hedge at the back of our houses. We had people being interred 30-feet from our dining table!

A few doors from us a house changed hands and a new South American wife wailed when she saw an angel was installed on the other side of the gate at the bottom of her garden. Several people left the church in protest at its thoughtless act. It was tough as we had young children and out of respect felt obliged to pull them indoors whenever there was a burial behind the threadbare hedge. When we came to sell the house, we realised the real issue. Who would buy with this ‘facility’?

It was a tense time as I began commuting daily from Byfleet to Southend, starting with stretches of the busy A3 and finishing with the equally congested A127, not to forget crossing London in between.

We reached for Roget’s Thesaurus and after much debate concluded that ‘churchyard’ was the most pleasant synonym for graveyard. We described the field as the ‘extension to the churchyard’. There was only one first floor window at the rear of the house that gave a view of the graves. I placed bunk beds in front of it and developed the technique of extolling the virtues of a perfectly ordinary cupboard on the opposite wall to draw attention away from the window. One day I realised I had lost my audience. They were looking at a guy in full motorbike leathers and helmet, walking across the field holding a big bunch of flowers. Fortunately, the people who did buy dismissed the issue by amusedly asking if it was the ‘dead centre’ of Byfleet.

ASIDE: Our Byfleet property master bedroom had a double aspect and our last year there was 1976, one of the driest and warmest summers of the 20th century (and not equalled until 2018). Heathrow recorded sixteen consecutive days over 30C, five of over 35C. There was a drought, hose-pipe bans, an increase of 20% in deaths, a plague of 24-billion seven-spotted ladybirds and years of counting the costs of house subsidence.
Those steamy nights we left both windows open until one night when I woke to find something large and tacky on my bare chest. When I pulled at it, it clung to my chest hairs. I panicked and threw it on the floor and beat it to death with a slipper. It was a giant green grasshopper. Matt (five at the time) was hugely disappointed that I had disfigured it but still took the corpse to school. For the rest of that hot spell we kept both windows firmly closed.

At least it wasn’t a spider – and ‘Alien’ had not yet been released!
A giant green grasshopper

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