It was our home
Mon, 02 May 2016
After you were born I took to walking around the neighbourhood a lot more and I came to love the charming Edwardian villa with the rambling garden and ramshackle fence. We bought it when you were almost three. It was a real long term project that involved more labour than love and it was scarcely finished four years later when I left your dad and took you with me to live in the little terraced house in Whitehead Street. We moved in early October with the help of your Uncle Chris and the place was so small we had to remove the entire back window as the only means of fitting some of the furniture in.
Our Edwardian villa on that quiet street, with its walled garden and nearby bluebell wood, could have been in another universe. The new place was on a corner with a main road, cars and buses passing at all hours. There was dog shit on the pavement and on the stones outside the door, almost every day.
Inside was cold, the chill seeped up through the floorboards. The heating made strange cranking and wheezing sounds, coming on and off at unexpected times. One night I went downstairs to the bathroom and on walking across the furry rug in the sitting room, squashed a slug between my toes, treading slime into the woollen fibres. This must have occurred after Christmas as I had no bed until the January sales and had slept on the sofa for a few months.
In the night I would lie awake listening to boy racers using the traffic calming devices for exactly the opposite effect and sometimes coming the wrong way up our one way street. The squealing tyres were especially disconcerting after living in suburbia for several years. Suburbia was also less crowded and it was a new if unwelcome experience to hunt around the town centre streets, cars parked nose to tail, searching for a space, then dashing back to you and your child minder in the freezing rain.
Once inside I would light the fire and the little sitting room would crackle and hiss, making us warm and merry while outside the traffic continued its incessant weaving. Opposite our house was a squat, dingy with grimy rags hung behind an upstairs window. The squat was always still and closed, shadows moving about and cardboard plugging a jagged hole in the door pane from a drunken boot.
A short walk in any direction took us to take-away land: curry, pizza, kebabs, Sam's Fish n Chips, cheap, huge portions. Once or twice we bought supper and scoffed in comfort, had salt and vinegar cuddles watching TV trash.
One black evening, turning a wind-frozen corner, with the shop fronts in chain mail and bolts, street lamps flickering I covered my ears and warmed my hands on box of pizza slices. At the opposite street corner I could see activity - a market stall? Hot dog van? There was no time to find out as I ran home, thighs numb and knees creaking from the cold.
When the clocks went forward the loud protests of the boiler continued well into daylight. Leaves sprang out of dead twigs. Between the kitchen window and the main road a Russian vine grew like a kind triffid muffling the noise. Soon there was sun, the Easter air was balmy and in the evenings there was high rise lustre as the setting sun cast a pink-orange glow on the David Murray John building.
Early one evening, out with neither scarf nor gloves and before dark, the neighbourhood felt less hostile - even the traffic noise was diminished by the sharps of blue above. Again I noticed the street corner activity, which was visible now in late daylight. It was a soup stall, bread rolls in polystyrene stacked on the pavement. Warm voices giving relief to shuffling figures. It was care for homeless people and I thought, So this is where we live.