Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The House of Your Dreams

I'll apologise now if this is a long post, but it's not very often that something as surreal as this happens, and I may go off on strangely nostalgic tangents while writing this. My only regret is that I didn't take a heap more photographs.

The Background

First of all, a little context. I grew up in a small coastal town in the East Riding of Yorkshire. I lived there until I went off to University at the age of 22 (yes, I was a "mature student" as they called it), but that little town was my home for my formative years - where I went to school, formed the friendships with my D&D group that still lasts today, and where my family lived (and some of them still do).

I don't remember the house I was "born" into (I use quotes as technically I was born in a hospital miles away) but when I was very young we moved into a house fairly close to the seafront. It was a huge house - four bedrooms, three storey terraced house - room enough for my parents, myself and my two older sisters.

We lived there long after my sisters married and moved out, but my mum was finding it harder to negotiate the stairs (she caught polio as a child and was paralysed from the waist down, walking with a stick and callipers) so we moved from this massive house into a small bungalow on the other side of the town when I was about 13. The strange thing is, when I dream of my childhood, it's never of the bungalow - even though I lived there for nine years. It's always this huge house of my younger childhood.

Me, standing outside the house - I have no idea of the year, but it must be early 1970s.
I've always been fascinated by that house. When I wrote the novel (that's never been read by anyone, even my wife) that ties in with the WILD RPG, the lead character's grandmother lives in a version of that house, because - to this day - I still have the layout, and vivid memories of my time there, lodged firmly in my mind. It's weird.

Stepping into your Memories

Here comes the surreal bit... and a little more context to add to it. The old RPG group, when we were old enough, used to frequent the pubs in the town to socialise when we weren't gaming. Though I'd moved away from that house, we went to the pub at the end of that road and it became one of our regular haunts. Heck, as a teenager I was friends with the landlord's son who was in my class, which was a bit weird. Anyway, just recently plans had been made to demolish the pub to make way for some flats or something. As I was back in the town to visit my sisters I thought I'd take a walk - take in the sea air, visit the old places, refresh the memories, and see the pile of rubble that had once been our local.

I took some photos of the building site that once was host to many evenings of drinking too many colas (for me anyway) and too many bad games of pool. Then I thought I'd walk down my old street and give the old house a glance...

I've blurred the photo a little so no one gets into trouble, but the front door was open and a builder was standing outside the front of my old house.

My old house as it stands now (2019)
I stopped and looked in, straight down the hallway to the flight of stairs at the end. Back in the 70's, that was where my mum used to sit, as best she could with callipers on her legs, and spent hours on the old wall mounted phone to talk to her relatives down in London. Having a chance to look into the house was weird, and I just stood there in the street for a second to take it in.

The guy stood outside didn't seem fussed, and I said to him, "I know this sounds really weird, a complete stranger walking up to you in the street like this, but I used to live here. Back in the 70's. I have real memories of that hallway, my mum sitting there on the phone. It's really strange seeing it again."

"Really?" he said, "Did you want to take a look?"

I'm sorry I didn't get your name, but seriously, this was fantastic. He warned me of the dangerous bits, of the bits of wood on the floor with nails, but otherwise he let me go into my old house for the first time in 35 years...

The ground floor used to be two main rooms - a living room (which was at the back) where we spent most of our time, and what we called the front room (no points for guessing where that was).


Since we'd left, these two rooms had been knocked together to make one huge living space, with one of the doors to the entrance hall being walled up. The front room still has its bay window (but the old sash windows had been replaced with double-glazing). The huge iron fireplace and mantlepiece had gone, and the chimney had been sealed up, but there were still some bits I recognised. Like the alcove nearest the window near the chimney, where the TV used to sit. I have memories of clamping my Hot Wheels track (remember those orange tracks?) in here, and laying out the Scalextric  track which took up most of the floor.

Me, again. Very old photo, early 70's. Xmas by the look of the tree, with that Hot Wheels track
That very corner in the front room. Where the old mono record player used to stand, with those amazing orange and brown curtains on the window. The record player was replaced eventually with one of those new-fangled stereos, with speakers mounted on the walls on either side of the fireplace. My mum used to sit with the front window open, listening to music, sharing it with the street.



The living room (or "back room") was where we spent most of the time. Connected to the kitchen, the TV used to be off to the left of this photo. The TVs always seemed to be near the windows as the cable from the old Rediffusion supply didn't reach very far, and we had to get up and turn the dial on the wall to change the channels. "A" and "B" used to be Radio stations, while "C" was BBC2, "D" was ITV (or "Yorkshire Television" as it was), and "E" was BBC1. That was all we had back in those days. When the weather was good, we could sometimes pick up Tyne Tees TV on one of the other channels, but only if the clouds were in the right formation.

Again, the old fireplace was gone, where my dad used to sit with his newspaper - pipe sticking out of his mouth, with his feet up on the chimney breast. "Feet up the chimney," as my mum would say.

The kitchen felt wider, and I have memories of my mum standing in there. She said that when I was very young our black cat (Tinker) would drape itself around her shoulders while she cooked. Crazy cat. Beyond that (the pale turquoise in the distance of the photo) was where the downstairs toilet was. When I was young beyond that was the shed and the coal shed only accessible from the garden, but I remember the builders coming in and converting the shed (and knocking through to the house) to become a conservatory (which mum used to call "The Veranda" even though it was enclosed and was more like a glazed shed or greenhouse). The back door to the garden had moved since I was a kid, too. Not sure why, but maybe it was just to move it further away from the main house.

I described some of this to the builder-guy, and thanked him for letting me take a look. He said "If you want to go have a look upstairs, go ahead." He went back out to the front of the house to wait for the people he was originally waiting for, and I headed upstairs - I guess he figured I couldn't steal anything as the whole house was nothing but floorboards!


Heading up those stairs they seemed steeper than I remembered - Gawd knows how my mum used to get up and down those. At the top of the stairs was the familiar little turn and more steps up to the first floor, or straight on (and a few more steps up) to the bathroom. The bathroom had been knocked into the separate toilet to make one larger room, though you lose the option of using one while someone's in the other!


That weird turn on the stairs and the "going down and up" when coming out of the bathroom had always remained in my memory. I remember, as a kid, I always avoided stepping on the flat landing, stepping from the bottom step of one side to the bottom step of the other, as if touching that flat bit was lava or poisonous, or a trap of some shape or description. Seeing it again was just strange. I don't remember the bannisters being painted when I was a kid though.

The landing went forward to the small bedroom to the right (my room when I was younger), and the huge master bedroom ahead (my parents' room). I have memories of avoiding seeing myself in the dressing table mirror in my parents' room - I hated mirrors in general. To avoid it, when the door was open, you had to walk right up against the bannisters, then turn - eyes closed - and jump for my bedroom door...



Even weirder, my bedroom was still blue.

I'm still a little thrown by that. It's like the last 35 years hadn't happened, and they'd just stripped everything out of it. The bed used to be under the window, and I had some old Bakelite radios on the shelves/table at the bottom of it - I was convinced I was picking up signals from a secret installation. Like a beeping version of a Numbers Station... Ah, the ways we used to entertain ourselves before the internet, or before I used to have a TV in my room. I'm sure those shelves were the same (though I remember them having cupboard doors when I was a kid).

Can't believe it's blue.

Anyway, out of that door and turning towards my parents' room.


For some reason they'd cut the side off the of the huge, double-windowed "master bedroom" that was my parents' room, and extended the landing. Ho well. The stairs continued up towards the top floor...


Looking down from the top floor I had weird memories of my Action Man helicopter pilot being suspended on a string, trying to make him descend all of the floors from this point. If you looked down you could see right down to the ground floor in a vertigo-inducing realisation of how high up you were. The roof cuts in here, and I didn't remember the ceiling being so low (*bump*), but this was off limits for a long time as a younger kid - this was the domain of my sisters' rooms.


To the right is the smaller of the two upper rooms, the domain of the younger of my two older sisters. When she married and moved out it became a spare room, mostly storage, and my dad used it to get away from my noise from time to time.


I have distinct memories of the front room on the top floor being huge. When my eldest sister married and moved out, and when I was old enough for my mother to trust me to be further out of reach, I relocated from the first floor to the top floor and into my sister's old room. Big enough for a double bed and a single, this was epic proportions for a pre-teen. Of course, the roof was really low in some parts, but I didn't notice so much at that age. It was vast, and I had room to really spread out. 

It didn't last long, of course. I'd only been up there about a year when my parents decided to move to the bungalow, and I downsized into a room a fraction of the size - just enough space for a single cabin-bed, a workdesk, a cupboard and a set of drawers. 

I was sad to leave that huge house - possibly why it stayed in my memories so well. 

But, I'd stayed enough, and didn't want to push my luck. I carefully headed down the stairs (which again, seemed far steeper than I remembered as a kid), and back out to the front door. I thanked the guy who let me have a look - it really was a chance in a lifetime to go back to seeing the house again after thirty-five years. Thank you again, whoever you are. 

It's strange how much of the house was exactly how I remembered it - the stairs, the room layout, and the space. Though seeing it like this, I wonder how that'll have an effect on my dreams - when I dream of being a kid, or returning to that house, will it be how I remembered it originally? The sunflower yellow kitchen, the flowered wallpaper, and the carpeted hall. Or will it become the house I just saw, with bare floorboards - empty, but full of potential?

Thank you for indulging me on my nostalgia trip.

Until next post...


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