Friday 22 August 2014

Growing up on the Miriam Halahmy

Outside our house in Hayes. The same lamppost we used in our games back in the day!
I have recently made a nostalgic trip with my brother down memory lane to the place where we spent the first ten years of our lives - Hayes, Middlesex. Not perhaps the most inspiring landscape for a budding writer but that's all we had and now I write novels and my brother, Louis Berk, is a semi-professional photographer. Hayes must have had a part to play in our creative development. It certainly was the place where my childhood imagination took wings, stimulated by my voracious appetite for reading.

The street outside our house where we played with our gang, just any of the local kids.

We were one of the last generations of children to grow up in complete freedom to roam and so we played out until dark, either in the street outside our house or up the rec where the bad boys roamed! Our mothers never knew where we were. It was a golden time for childhood and I had many adventures. But reading was still the most important thing I did.
I still remember my mother waving me off at the door, after dark on a November afternoon, the street lamps glowing yellow and walking to the top of our road and down the next one to the little library. I must have been all of nine years old. We found the building but the inside has been converted into flats.

The library was my treasure house although I was only allowed to take out three books each week and couldn't join the adult library until I was eleven. But those weekly visits were the high point of my week.
I read through the entire canon of any author I loved from E. Nesbit, through Enid Blyton to Richmal Crompton and hundreds in between. My imaginative life slipped between the games in the street, the exploration of my area on my bike and the books I read. In between I wrote poems, stories and songs.

I started nursery classes at three and a half in this room above a Burton tailoring shop and I remember this big grey front so well. My teacher,Mrs Ison, wore her university gown to teach her class of 3-7 year olds. I loved her classes so much I insisted on going full time before I was four. I was already reading independently and the only time I was ever told off in school was for daydreaming - well, writers are actually supposed to do that, aren't they?

One of my favourite playgrounds in Hayes was the Grand Union canal. I used to ride along the tow path on my bike all year round. In winter the canal iced over and the fish were trapped. I used to release them with a stick, slipping about on the icy path. In summer fisherman sat along the bank fishing for hours. I couldn't swim until I was nine so fortunately I never fell in, although there were some near misses.

This 99p store used to be Woolworths where I spent my pocket money. Opposite was Poplars, selling sweets and tobacco. My mother would send me up the road for five cigarettes in a paper bag and I had three pence for going.

My brother patiently setting up a photo outside our old post office building.

As we got back in the car to drive away we agreed that perhaps it would have been more interesting to grow up in the Lake District or the Alps, but Hayes is what we got and my childhood feeds my stories endlessly. However, I did spend a lot of my student days in the mountains halfway up a rock face - I'd had enough of flatlining for a life time.
Not everyone can grow up on the edge - but then the edge can be found anywhere really. If you let your imagination run free.


  1. That sounds like a lovely trip down memory lane, Miriam! I grew up in High Wycombe, and you're so right - there is an edge everywhere, and fuel for the imagination, too, as long as there is a library!

  2. I grew up in a small town too, Miriam! I remember riding my bike to the local library and all over town really. In the summer we'd take off with friends and roam free. We'd play kick ball in the middle of 9th Street until it was time for bed. All the neighbors would look out for us so it wasn't exactly as if we didn't have any supervision. I do worry about kids in this age of phones and tablets. Yeah, I have them too -- and use them a lot. But when I was young, my imagination was what kept me entertained. I wonder if I'd be a writer if I'd spent more time on Atari and less playing make-believe. -- Sara Grant

  3. What a lovely post. I recently went back to Radlett where I grew up and was surprised to see that not much had changed. The library, however, had expanded! Like you I had the freedom to roam. I'm sad that my daughter didn't have the same chances to build camps in the woods that I did.

  4. Yes yes yes - the edge can be anywhere! Even Hayes or in my case Fareham which I though was the most boring place on earth in my vast experience as a nine year old! Thank you Miriam

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