I never thought much about it when I was growing up, it was just where we lived, but when I told my husband that we lived over a motorbike showroom that was squashed between an off licence and a salvation army hall, with a bus stop right in front of our front door, he swore there must be a story in there somewhere.
Now I come to think of it, there probably is, but I’m not going to explore that now. I’ll just tell you the facts. It was an old building in Tooting, South London, probably a warehouse at one time. Certainly, our first floor living room was of warehouse proportions, and a devil to keep warm, especially with the three tall drafty sash windows that lined the front wall. We used to stuff newspapers in the gaps between the panes to stop them rattling in the wind. We had no central heating, and relied heavily on a two bar electric fire at the end where the sofa and tiny TV stood, and a terrifyingly temperamental paraffin heater at the other end beside the slightly out of tune piano that my sister used to endlessly practice ‘The Elizabethan Serenade’ on.
Next to the living room was the kitchen/diner, always steamy, with a kettle on the boil, and the oven alight to warm the room. The old radio would be humming ‘sing something simple’ or ‘The Goon show’ while we sat at the table for our tea.
The bedrooms were on the second floor. My sister and I shared a long narrow room with another newspaper-stuffed sash window at the far end. The room was decorated with willow pattern wallpaper, and we used to entertain each other making up stories about the little Japanese people that were crossing the ornate blue bridges. When she got married and left home I was allowed to choose the décor and went for a vivid plain orange paper, which I loved, but it had no stories to tell.
When I was very young we didn’t have a bathroom, and on Friday nights mum took as into town to the public baths where my sister and I shared a soak. Eventually though, my dad did a bit of home bodging and put in a bathroom and indoor toilet – luxury! Like most of his projects, I don’t think it was ever quite finished off, but he did paint the walls using a feather duster dipped in different coloured paints to give a rainbow effect. This was long before fancy paint techniques were discussed on the TV. In fact, it was long before any DIY shows were on the TV!
Our home was dusty and drafty. There were lots of stairs and a spider filled basement, which had been used as an air-raid shelter during the war, and which I didn’t dare go in, not only because of the spiders, but also because of the scary stories my sister used to tell me about witches and bogey men that lived down there. I was so frightened of it that I always sidled quickly past its wooden door to get out into the small walled garden. I seem to have a vague memory of a corrugated iron Anderson shelter out there at one time, but I guess that must have been taken down when I was very young.
Sometimes, but not always, our garden had flowers, once I had a much beloved guinea pig who lived out there, but over-ridingly, there was the huge white pigeon loft which took up pretty much half of the space. When Dad got into pigeon racing, everything else went. The apple tree in the middle of the grass. The flower beds. The guinea pig. My swing-in-the-door. Instead, the pigeons became his, and by default, our focus. Trying not to knock the jelly off the window sill where it had been left to set, while we leant precariously out of the kitchen window to see if they were on their way back after a race, or standing outside rattling tins of food to entice them to come down to have their racing rings removed and be ‘clocked back’ became our standard occupations on Saturday afternoons.
Dad’s craze’s and eccentricities were a central part of my growing up, and many of them formed the memories I have of my childhood home. Often when I think back to those times I think of the many Christmas’s when he insisted on decorating the front room with an elaborate spider’s web of crepe paper strips. I have no idea where he got his ideas from, but I have never seen the like since. I remember being mortified at the time and really just wanting tinsel and paper chains like all the other kids had. Now, the memory of the ‘ta da!’ moment when we all stood round with our fingers crossed while he cut the strings that temporarily held the strips of paper up, to reveal that they were in fact self-supporting, is a warm memory of home I will never forget.
Written as part of the writing 101 challenge – write about your childhood home with sentence length in mind.