The Wheel Has Turned Full Circle (2 March 1973)
Why did I come to North Bucks? It’s a question I have been asked several times since these articles began to appear. So I will clear it up without further ado.
First, I had married during the war – on a 36-hour pass from the army – and needed a place where my wife and I could set up house and home. So, while on demob leave, I wrote off for the first suitable job that offered accommodation.
Secondly, the word “suitable” should be very much noted. While waiting for my Group 24 to be demobbed I considered what I should do afterwards. Up to then the kind of newspaper life I had most enjoyed had been district work on weekly newspapers and I aimed to get back to that. It was unambitious but it allowed a good deal of latitude and was a congenial way of life. A good many men wanted nothing more after the war and certainly so did their wives.
The quiet, countrified Bletchley of 1946 seemed to fit the bill. Apart from the railway, a few brick kilns and two or three small factories, the industrial revolution seemed to have passed it
And when later in that first summer I visited places like Buckingham, Newport Pagnell and Winslow I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if Browne Willis himself, complete with tricorne hat and periwig, had come ambling round the corner any moment.
There were two possible drawbacks about Bletchley. One was that it was far from the sea. The other – dare I whisper it? – was that it was too near London, whose tentacles were already appearing in various ways. I had spent three years of my army service in the environs of London and that was enough. I found the cockneys themselves a matey lot and surprisingly enough they pronounced occasional words, such as “abaht,” much as they are pronounced in Yorkshire.
But London as a whole is no place for me, neither for living nor for working. I find it smothering. Actually I once suggested to my London comrades that as the place was already half evacuated it might be a good idea to leave it permanently so. And was I then in the doghouse! But I still think I was right.
My wife came to Bletchley a week or two after myself. One day I met her accidentally outside the old sub-post office where Elmo’s is now. “Isn’t it nice to see somebody you know?” she beamed, meaning me.
Twelve months later we would have known practically everybody in sight. A very agreeable state of affairs. Now, alas, the wheel has turned full circle. The population has grown so much that today we could stand near the same spot and everybody else in sight might be strangers again. A most unnatural and disagreeable state of affairs. And one I did not bargain for.
Mind you, expansion was in the air from the start and to a certain extent I approved and did my best to aid and abet. The villages of Old Bletchley, Water Eaton, Fenny and perhaps Simpson really did need welding into the sort of smallish town where everybody still has a chance of knowing everybody else.
Expansion to the early laid-down limit of about 22,000 with a second outlet to the Watling Street seemed ideal and the pioneering process held a great interest over a decade. But if I had wanted any bigger place I would have gone to one at the start or accepted one of the early beckoning fingers.
I have found this feeling difficult to reconcile with my other desire that the Gazette, which began with the sort of machine that in other places I had seen used only to print contents bills, should go from strength to strength, as it has.
But such are the dilemmas of life. I know exactly what older residents mean when they say that Bletchley isn’t as “nice” as it used to be. I, too, sometimes watch the growth of the city like a rabbit watching an all-devouring snake.
Yet among the disbenefits of this exchange of urban amenities I have found some benefits. A full-time library service is one; an increase in musical life is another. There is also the possibility that the city was a major factor in warding off that worse environmental disaster, the third London airport.
So now you know it all. Thus do “the best-laid schemes o’ mice and men gang all agley.”