Monday, 26 August 2013

Number 2

Built in 1967, it was a classic example of a well-designed house from that era.  Spacious, with wide, large-paned windows, it had frosted glass in the front door which was sheltered outside by an open flat-roofed porch.  There were glazed interior doors downstairs, the kitchen was big and square, and the upstairs landing so broad that it could almost have been a room in itself.

I was only three (and a vital half) when we moved in, but some memories of the first few days there remain intact:  the shock discovery of a hole in the corner of my bedroom floor which had to be fixed by the builders before the carpet could go down, and Mimi’s anxiety at being in a strange place for the first time.  Poor thing shat in a kitchen cupboard, but at least she didn’t use the hole in my bedroom floor. Mimi was the cat, by the way.

Soon after we moved in my mum put her design stamp on the place:  parquet flooring under three matching squirly-patterned rugs in vivid shades of green and yellow, the cylindrical linen lampshades on sculpted clay bases, and her own framed oil painting of a sunflower on the wall opposite a print of Picasso's Blue Nude.

The living room curtains were an exotic shiny gold, and the kitchen curtains - I’d have those kitchen curtains now if I could.  They were wonderfully 1960s, with scratchy black line illustrations of domestic objects – kettles and teapots and vases, I think – against a textured, copper colour background.  Gorgeous.  On every flat surface downstairs there were ceramics, wood-carvings, sculptures and pot plants, and the focal point in the corner was a Monstera that was taller than my dad.  Mind you, he was only three foot eight.  (No, no!  He was nearly six foot.)

There was a rather exciting cupboard under the stairs.  Well, it was exciting when I hid in it – horrendously scary when I accidentally got shut in it.   It smelt of polish, and at various times over the years it housed a stringless violin, a cricket bat and some badminton racquets, the powder-blue upright vacuum cleaner, my mum’s honey coloured camel-hair coat, a dusty bottle of Cointreau (no idea why) which I'd sometimes go in the cupboard to secretly open and sniff, my sister’s long black PVC platform boots, and my navy blue anorak with its narrow decorative trim.  We had a groovy coat rack on the inside of the cupboard door (which I took with me when I moved out, having transformed the spheres into eyeballs with my paintbrush.)  I think you can buy repro ones now.

I can picture the wallpaper in my bedroom, with its repeated motif of large bright poppies, primroses and violets.  They were comforting, familiar images, like floral guardians, watching over me kindly as I looked up at them when I was ill, which as a child I frequently seemed to be.  Later my pride and joy on that wall was a big colourful map of the world.  Later still it was a poster of Donny Osmond.  And then a Paul Simonon centrefold. And then a wonderful Nosferatu film poster, a picture of Lydia Lunch and an article on Bauhaus from the NME, etc. You get the idea.  The only permanent adornments to that wall were the hard, dry remains of the Blutac.

The one problem with that room was the carpet.  My parents had thriftily decided to re-use some from the old house; it was a dark shade of red, with harsh black linear patterns.  I suppose mum thought it picked out the scarlet of the poppies on the wallpaper but  I hated the colour.  I also had a – fairly understandable – phobia about decapitation after I’d seen something on the telly about Henry VIII and the Elizabethan penchant for beheading, and I started having terrible nightmares about heads being chopped off, which somehow linked themselves to the dark claret carpet.  There was no doubt in my mind that it was red from the blood, the blood from the headless bodies.  If I could have changed one thing it would have been that, erm, bloody carpet.   

In my teens I did get the chance to change it and opted unwisely, in that typical folly-of-youth way, for a pale cream one,which didn’t fare too well under the frequent spillage of green nail varnish, various lurid hues of eye shadow, hot cigarette ash and crisps.  At least my make-up stains didn’t show up quite so much on the bathroom floor which, by the seventies, had been changed from grey lino to purple carpet tiles.  These went well with the dark purple wall, but not so tastefully with the pink suite.  At the same time, my sister painted her bedroom in contrasting shades of lime green and chocolate brown, which set off her Ché Guevara and Black Sabbath posters beautifully.  And mum hired Mr Dunstan to decorate all the downstairs walls in a fetching shade of mustard.  I don’t think there was any such thing as subtlety in the seventies.

I’m always dreaming about that house, so vivid is its feel, so deeply entrenched in my subconscious;  but I was set off on today’s particular mental visit when I heard about a tip from a creative writing course for exercising your mind and visualisation technique.  The suggestion was to think back to a house where you spent a lot of time in your childhood, and slowly imagine you’re entering the front door and going around all the rooms, taking in all the details.  It’s amazing what it unearths - I recommend it! And I so want those kitchen curtains, I just never appreciated them at the time.


  1. A fascinating post C, which suddenly had me jumping out of my seat in recognition when you mentioned the understair cupboard. As a child, I too became locked in the dark in our own dusty, mysterious cupboard under the stairs on more than one occasion. It was probably the part of the house I visited least in all the years we lived there, but I can still vividly remember that certain musky atmosphere and some of the contents; vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, cans of Mum's hairspray (which I can smell now), a couple of bottles of Babycham (I don't know why, my Parents didn't drink), a lot of coats and, for some reason, the family photographs, which were in a box towards the back. Wow. I literally haven't thought about that cupboard since we moved out in 1975. It seems that your visualisation exercise sparked something off in me too.

    1. Your understairs cupboard - and its contents - sound pretty similar. Funny about your bottles of Babycham and my bottle of Cointreau too!
      The more I think about that cupboard, the more vivid my memory of it and I've just recalled too how I fantasised about turning into a bedroom, it was the steeply sloping ceiling that did it, it made it so special and unusual. I just wished it had a lightbulb!
      Oh, and I've only just remembered this now, the fusebox and electricity meter were in there, so there were all those fascinating switches and cables too and the mysterious lure of 'things you MUSTN'T touch'!

  2. I've recently been getting flashbacks to summer holidays we used to spend at my grandma's in Roscommon, Eire. So strong were the memories, I went online to see what I could find on the town and the road she lived on. What happened next only happens in films: the first entry that came up on Google was the house she lived in: it had just been put on the market and I was able to take a virtual tour via the Estate Agent's details. I'm still reeling.

    1. Wow, that's really something - and what were the chances?! I can just imagine how that would feel if it were me. Spine-tingling.

  3. I tried to make a coat rack like that in metalwork... not one of my finest moments frankly...

    1. Ah, shame, Furtheron, it's a design classic...

  4. This is a warm read. I really enjoy the posts about your family and your childhood...very rich.

    I've been on this subject for the last week as we've finally moved (but not unpacked quite) into our new home. There's been a lot of talk of this being the last move. Cant see us needing anymore space and the place is lovely beyond what we had hoped at the very least this is where the boy will live for the rest of his time with us.

    I just wonder what will stick from the old house and the apartment. We moved to Cascade Dr when I was two and I distinctly remember sitting on the back stoop drinking iced tea with a friend of my parents who was helping us move. He had a mustache and he was from South Carolina.

    I also have very clear memories of the house before that...the haunted room my brothers set up and my mother's rage after I ran screaming into the kitchen. I goofy memory of my brothers and mama painting flower pots...there was my cat Leroy Cowboy. My favorites are seeing Daddy come through the door home from work and jumping in bed with him in the mornings.

    Ha...thanks for this post...good read, good memories.

    1. PS The boy told me this morning he had decided to turn his new room into a home instead of a dungeon.

      So there's that.

    2. Ah, thank you, e.f. I never know how interesting this stuff is to anyone else but I know I like to read about other people's backgrounds and past, not just for the things I can relate to but also for the things I can't!

      Yes, must seem resonant given your current situation. Good luck with the rest of the unpacking and may you be very happy in your new home....

      Your memories too - it's those little and often random details, stored forever by our young minds for reasons we can't really explain - that's what I like.

      And, hey, good news about the boy's new 'home'! - no more passing him his dinner through the gap in the iron bars.... :-)


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