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West End Extra - The XTRA DIARY
Published: 22 August 2008

An image from the Second World War display
Pimlico’s war in pictures

EVERY Tuesday a group of ladies from Pimlico meet up for three hours to reminisce about life during the Second World War.
They are the Westminster Community and Reminiscence and Archive Group (WCRAG) – and do they have some stories to tell!
The meetings are organised by Westminster Archives Centre and the Churchill War Museum, who together send a bus to pick up the pensioners for a three-hour chinwag.
This week an exhibition – Life, Love, Laughter and Loss: Memories of the Way We Were – inspired by their memories, is on display in the SW1 Gallery in Pimlico.
Under each photograph is a riveting account of the event as remembered by the women.
Doreen Green, 77, who has lived in the same flat in Sutherland House, Churchill Gardens, for her entire life, must be the world authority on historic Pimlico.
She told me: “My father worked at Victoria bus station. He controlled the flow of buses by operating a traffic light system from a hut way up high above the depot. During the war, he was given a steel helmet and binoculars and told to look out for enemy aircraft.”
In 1940, Doreen’s father was killed in an air raid and she was sent to a children’s home in Wales.
“I was riddled with fleas and when my mother came and visited me and told me about Daddy, she scooped me up and took me home,” she said. “I spent most of the war living in Pimlico. It was a much different place then.”
Doreen said she and her friends would take steam paddlers down the river and reminisce about happy trips on the 24 bus to Hampstead Heath. But it wasn’t all fun and games in Pimlico, then a working-class area dominated by wall-to-wall factories on Lupus Street.
She said: “You didn’t have to go far for work then. There were shops and houses and factories all on one street. There was an old furniture factory that was converted into a waste centre. All our edible waste was taken in bins and was squashed up into gunge that went hard and was given to pigs and the like for feeding. It absolutely stunk. The whole of Pimlico stunk.
“A lot of people had scabies and there was a decontamination centre where we went for our heads to be de-flea’d. You would get painted with gunk and I remember my sister coming home completely coated in yellow gunk. You didn’t have stockings in those days.
“There was also a burial ground in the gardens where the King William is now. It was totally enclosed by railings because all the people with the plague were buried there. You always took the long way round to avoid it.”
Doreen, who trained as a nurse, said she would like to write a book about Pimlico but is too busy with her knitting and crochety.
Thanks then to Peter Daniel, an education officer at Westminster Archives, who not only organises the weekly reminiscence trips but also clinched the exhibition at the SW1 Gallery, on display until August 30.
He told me: “Pimlico used to be a very poor area so it is interesting to hear the women’s experiences.
“There are some great images – particularly of the Thames flood in 1928. The Embankment burst and people died.
“The women remembered rushing out of their homes with sandbags.
“Four sisters drowned in a basement – that is why the exhibition is called Love, Labour and Loss.”

Grade expectations: Academy stays quiet

WESTMINSTER Council’s education chief Sarah Richardson saluted students this week after they achieved some of the borough’s best-ever A-level results.

She said: “Overall, the results mean that Westminster’s schools are performing above the national average with more than 98 per cent of pupils getting A to E grades at A-level, compared to 97.2 per cent for the rest of the country.”
Excellent news – but had anyone noticed one glaring omission? Paddington Academy, which replaced North Westminster Community School in 2006, had not filed its results – and a week later the grades are still not known by the council.
A vociferous campaign met plans to replace NWCS with an academy amid fears that the school would not be democratically accountable.
Academy schools, run by private sponsors, are taken out of the control of the local authority.
A week after the results came out across the country Westminster Council had no idea what the A-level results for pupils at Paddington Academy were.
Surely someone in the council could get the school to release its results? A council spokesman told me: “No. And they’re not obliged to either being an academy.”
Another victory for public services, then, and a window into the future of Pimlico School, which becomes an academy next week.

Happy ending for author?

AUTHOR Patricia Bailey has had it pretty rough – and after bumping into her in Fitzrovia this week it appears things are not getting any better.

Her first book, Raw Deal, published in 2005, railed against a lifetime of woe that has seen her beset by stalkers in Marylebone, attacked by angry pimps in Mayfair and stitched-up by estate agents.
Three years on from our first meeting, she told me she was soon to finish her latest book, Deflective Deception, based on six years of hell living in New Cavendish Street, Fitzrovia.
It tells the story of life “under siege” from an influx of drug dealers, the plunging property market and even the local police.
“I’ve got three chapters to write and the first one is about my house of horrors,” she told me. “It’s based on real stories of living in the West End.”
Born in Liverpool, she has moved around London for the past 10 years working her way up the property ladder. She bought the flat six years ago for around £500,000 with plans to do it up for profit.
But the collapse of the housing market has seen the value tumble and now she says an influx of drug dealers and prostitutes has scared off prospective buyers.
She told me: “I can’t take that big a hit but all I want to do is move.”
Seeking solace in her writing, she has penned around 200,000 cathartic words on her past six years living in W1 that culminated in April with being locked up in a Charing Cross police station cell for 13 hours.
“I made a complaint about being harassed outside my doorstep – but they ended up arresting me,” she said. “I was on bail for four months. But this week the charges were dropped. The police told me there was no case to answer.”

Theroux set to discover London

I WOULDN’T have placed the intrepid Paul Theroux as the shy and retiring type.

But despite his famous travails around the world, the American author and novelist has never made a public appearance in London.
That will change next month when the 67-year-old gives a talk about his latest work at Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street.
His new book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, an introspective work, probes Theroux’s younger self, when he travelled as a 33-year-old across Asia in an expedition chronicled in his first major work, The Great Railway Bazaar.
That book established Theroux as a big name in travel writing and this sequel, according to Daunt’s, is as “pin-sharp and enjoyable as ever”.
To take advantage of this rare appearance on September 11, call 020 7224 2295.

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