The Back Bedroom
The estate is completed in April 1957.
The eight residential roads are built around a church, a row of newly completed shops (soon to be occupied by a newsagents, a bakers, a butchers and a greengrocers) and a small children’s playground. Each road is named for a flower or a shrub from Rose Street to Gardenia Avenue, slightly more upmarket accommodation (larger rooms and bigger gardens) and a more expensive finish leading to grander street names. One of the prettiest, if not the poshest, of the roads is Primrose Lane. There are trees, currently blossoming in shades of pink and cream and 20 small, but sturdy, houses. Apart from the larger detached houses at the four corners of the lane the other semi-detached properties all have a large front sitting room, a spacious kitchen complete with walk-in larder, a master bedroom and slightly smaller second bedroom and an upstairs bathroom with white suite. There are decent size gardens to front and back.
George Bennett is currently viewing No 8. Widowed in his mid-thirties and left alone with a small child George had been urged by his sisters, their husbands and by his workmates to put Ronald into the care of the local authorities. His decision to bring his son up himself had led to near ostracism from his kin and for many years he relied on a series of kindly and not so kindly landladies to look after Ronald whilst he was working. The factory where they both now work is a ten minute walk away from the estate. George has been frugal with his money and he really has never had it so good. Now close to retirement he is keen to secure a comfortable home for his son and himself. Ronald worries him a little; a thoughtful and shy young man, with a few good friends but nothing, or nothing George is aware of, in the way of female company. George frets that his unusual upbringing has left Ronald unsettled and introverted and he is keen to at least secure his son’s material comfort, now and into the future. His friends and the family members that have kept in occasional touch are perplexed by George’s vision. After all property ownership isn’t a current aspiration for many of his class. But George is, once again sure, he is making the right decision and 8 Primrose Lane, with its reasonable price tag of £200 fulfills his dreams perfectly.
Ronald, or Ron as everyone except his father calls him, along with his plethora of books, happily settles into the back bedroom. Even with his bed, bedroom furniture, bookcases and a small comfy chair he can, for the first time he can remember, stand in his bedroom, hold out his long arms and not touch anything.
Bethan Bennett is five. A happy child; she loves her parents, her toys and her bedroom with its Thunderbirds wallpaper and painted wooden bed and cupboard. She has lived in the house all her life; ever since she came home from the hospital a few days after she was born, early in 1963. Her daddy says that as far as he is concerned she is ‘the very best bit of the swinging sixties’. Bethan doesn’t really know what this means but guesses that it’s something to do with her red swing which she first saw when she looked through her window on the morning of her third birthday. She jumps on the bed when she hears the factory buzzer signalling home-time and is soon rewarded with the sight of her father. He always hurries on his journey and when she asked him why he said that he couldn’t wait to get home to her and to her mum Jane. She knows that her grandfather worked at the same factory and that he bought this house just a couple of years before he died.
The night that baby David is born Bethan and her daddy sit on the floor of her bedroom eating hotdogs as he tells her about her brother, who she hasn’t met yet, and about their new house. Bethan will miss her bedroom but is looking forward to choosing the wallpaper for her new one.
The Wilson’s move in in the spring of 1969. Sadly for the Wilson boys the Bennetts have taken the swing with them for their garden in nearby Hydrangea Drive but the sandpit dug out by David Bennett at the bottom of the garden along with the coal bunker and shed promise hours of adventure and fun. The house has been lovingly cared for inside and out and Clara Wilson is particularly taken with the family kitchen where she can indulge her love of stewing and roasting and baking, especially baking. Frank is good at DIY and she is hoping for some improvements to the layout of the kitchen units and the larder. The house is a little small for three boisterous, growing boys but it is all the Wilsons can afford and more than they thought they’d get for their money. The boys’ beds, a single and a set of bunks, fit nicely in the front bedroom and Clara and Frank are happy to take the room at the back, although they will have to do something about the wallpaper.
Near a city with a port the occupants of the town are an eclectic mix with local accents mingling with more exotic ones. The Wilsons are by no means the first Black family in the town or even the estate. But they are the first non-Caucasians to move into Primrose Lane. It takes them a while to settle. This is no overt prejudice as such, despite some Conservation condemnation of immigration and anti-discrimination legislation. But the family, the adults in particular, are at most times treated with polite wariness, and occasion thoughtless ignorance. It’s the children who break the ice.
Still a time when parents happily let their offspring play out alone the youngsters in the area often congregate in the children’s playground at the south end of the lane and meet up with others from across the estate. It’s a dampish August Bank Holiday afternoon and they are playing an energetic game of tag when Kevin, the youngest child from 14 Primrose Lane, falls heavily in the gravel near the slide. Dressed in his short trousers there is no protection for his knees and the children look in horror at the blood and grit that now covers his legs and socks. Taking action Paul Wilson helps Kevin to his feet and seriously proclaims how lucky it is that his father is home as he is ‘very good with injuries of this sort’.
Soon Kevin, supported by Paul and one of his brothers is slowly hobbling up Primrose Lane along with a small band of solemn followers. They walk right past No 14 and cross the road carefully looking left and right and left again as per Tufty Club teachings. They troop up the path of No 8, walk through the gate and round to the kitchen door. Frank Wilson, who is indeed well used to disinfecting and bandaging knees, elbows and heads, is soon tending to Kevin whilst entertaining the small group of hangers on with tall tales of when and how he bandaged Prince Phillip’s knees after he fell off his horse riding through the gates of Buckingham Palace. Clara gives the children juice and homemade cake and from that afternoon the adult Wilsons have a young but loyal fan club which soon leads to full integration in the local community. That evening as he draws the bedroom curtains Frank looks out at the back garden, making plans for a long future in the house.
The boys grow healthy and strong and work hard at their studies and to the delight of their parents all find good jobs outside of the local factory. An apprenticeship for Joe who becomes a reliable and sort-after electrician, sixth form and teacher training college for Mathew, and Paul, perhaps influenced by his father’s skill in the area, trains as a paramedic. Until one-by-one they move out the boys share the front bedroom. Despite differences in musical tastes and rows over late-night lightings preferences and missing socks they rub along happily, their noisy discussions on sport, politics and women, indulged by their tolerant and peaceable parents. Left alone in the house Clara and Frank are looking forward to visits from grandchildren and to walking holidays in Wales and the Lake District when sadly Frank suffers a heart attack whilst re-decorating the living room. After six days in hospital the doctors are talking of discharge when another myocardial infarction proves fatal. He is buried in the graveyard behind the local church. If the family need any more proof of the respect and love for them the turn out on the day and the tributes they receive confirms it. A year later when it becomes clear that Clara is finding it hard to cope alone in the house the boys have a family conference and then move their mother and some of her more treasured belongings into Joe’s family home.
The next occupants are two friends, retired teachers, Sarah a childless widow and never married Gill. Having decided to buy a place together they’d visited a solicitor to make sure that on the residential support needs or death of one of them the other will be secure in her home until her own decline and demise. After selling their respective homes, each disposing of various pieces of furniture and other bits and bobs they move into No 8 in the autumn of 1991. Similar in taste and temperament they decorate the house together with help from friends; the first job on the agenda being the replacement of the avocado bathroom suite, put in by Frank Wilson, with a white one. They toss for the bedrooms and are each happy with the result. Sarah’s room overlooks the back and she is looking forward to not only tending what she sees but transforming the child-focused space into a carefully thought out ‘wild garden’. For a while a small rumour circulates about the sexual preferences of ‘two ladies living together’ but most people care little about this and accept the quiet but sociable early 60-something women as they find them. They each become quickly involved in the community; Gill taking over the local Guide Company when their long-time Guider leaves the area and Sarah doing stints both in the new hospice shop and on the church flower arranging rota. They socialise together and separately, Gill travels a little and Sarah does wonders with the gardens. Pooling some of their savings they install central heating and have a small conservatory built, removing the now redundant coal bunker. They are both grateful for the easy friendship they have and are solicitous of, and tend to, each other's needs and minor ailments and discomforts. Laughter, as it always has been, can often be heard in the house and Sarah and Gill live happy, if slightly humdrum lives.
On a cold winter morning in 1999 Gill rises early one morning for a day out in the city. Before she leaves the house she climbs the stairs with a cup of tea for Sarah. She knocks and enters and then drops the tea clamping her hands to her mouth. Sarah, who hasn’t been to visit the doctor the whole time they have lived together has died in her sleep. Devastated Gill struggles through the next few months. Charlie, a distant cousin of Sarah, visits a few times to make sure that she is coping. Then, to the surprise of everyone, a FOR SALE sign goes up at No 8 and the residents of Primrose Lane, and the wider small community, delight in the gossip that ‘Miss Gillian Adams is in lovvve’. With Charlie’s help Gill sorts Sarah’s affairs as best she can whilst waiting for the house to sell. She moves to the country with Charlie where they live in quiet, delicious sin for a good number of years.
The house stays empty for three years and eventually becomes victim to a ‘homes under the hammer’ type sale. The purchasers are new to the game but luckily there’s not much to do and after the installation of a new kitchen and a neutral scheme paint job throughout they sell on.
Single mum Abby and her two daughters settle comfortably into their new home. Abby works as a health visitor at the local Sure Start Centre. Her own experiences, not least being left with two toddlers by her childhood sweetheart who was, she naively thought, the love of her life, make her perfect for the job. Supportive and understanding, practical and pragmatic, she is extremely popular with centre goers. She makes friends in the community and cares for her girls and her home with much love if not much money. The front bedroom, painted pale green, doubles as sleep and work space - she’s studying for an Open University degree - for Abby. Her daughters choose purple for their walls which they cover with boy-band posters stuck-up with heavy duty, heavy smelling glue. The conservatory is a treat, the garden looks after itself. Abby is sometimes a little lonely for adult company in the evenings but the TV and her books fill what free time she has. The girls grow healthily and happily and the tantrums and boyfriend problems are minor. Each win places at universities a train ride away. The first in their extended family to access higher education they are, as they ever were, their mother’s pride and joy. The years pass quickly. There are two graduations at which Abby wears new hats and takes enough photographs to wallpaper the front bedroom at Primrose Lane following which Emily moves two counties away to take up a good job offer and Fiona heads off for a late gap year. Abby knows they’ll be back to visit but is under no illusion that they will return permanently. She decides to downsize, buys a neat flat in town, goes part time at work and fills the rest of her time happily with book clubs, art gallery and theatre visits and trips away with friends.
The Hallowell’s move in in 2018. Having saved for years they know that they are lucky to get on the property ladder in these times of austerity. With a mortgage of £160,000 things will be tight for a while. Megan is heavily pregnant and keen that the new baby comes home to a bespoke bedroom. She intends to paint a Noah’s ark mural on one of the pale yellow walls and Tom is stripping off posters, paint and wallpaper in preparation. As he does he senses the echoes of love and of loss, the bonds of family and friendship, in the room.
‘Look, Meg, look,’ Tom calls as he gets to the Thunderbirds wallpaper.
‘I wonder how old the little boy or girl who chose this paper is now,’ Megan says smiling and unconsciously rubbing her baby bump.
‘I wonder,’ replies Tom. Looking out of the window he adds ‘When the baby’s older we’ll have a swing in the garden eh?’