At 12 years old I had my own room. It had been my granddad’s study at the front of the house on the first floor; bigger than any room I had slept in before. The house faced onto the main shopping street and I could watch the people and the traffic. At closing time, around 11 o’clock every evening, I would lie in bed and hear the pub-goers wondering home – some more sociable than others, most of them noisy. The street lamp lit up the thin curtains. I liked the patterns the light and the curtains made on the wall.
The place is Bude, North Cornwall, the date is 1960. We had moved here three years earlier from a bungalow a few miles up the coast (close to Steeple Point!). The house was a three-storey Victorian terraced house, it was built half way up a hill. We would have been able to see the sea but they put a very large hotel on the land across the road. The house attached to us up the hill had been converted into a haberdashery, their small garden was now part of the shop. The house down the hill was an accountants’.
We lived upstairs on the top two floors because downstairs was my dad’s dental suite – surgery, waiting-room, admin office. This meant he could hear we children banging on the floors of the rooms upstairs – in the drawing room and, you’ve guessed it, my bedroom. Day-time was tip-toe time.
This was a Victorian house, therefore the main rooms were tall and large, the space ample. Perhaps not entirely – the bathroom was small, the bath smaller, and, as for the kitchen . . . At this stage, there were my parents, we four children and our uncle who had been living there with his parents (our grandparents) before they passed away. A few years later, the uncle got married and moved out and we four children became five with the birth of another sister.
There was no back garden to the house but a narrow backyard, one side of which was a series of sheds where we kept our bikes and the coal and logs and a lot of stuff nobody wanted but never got round to throwing away. On the other side of the yard was the garage. This opened onto the road behind the house and we would use the garage doors as goal posts. On top of the garage was the dental laboratory. In the laboratory worked two dental technicians who were never happy about us kicking a ball at the garage doors below them.
From my bedroom, I could go next door to what was grandly known as the drawing room with its open fire and tall bay windows facing the street and the hotel. Diagonally over the landing was my parents’ bedroom. Stairs immediately on the left led to three bedrooms upstairs and a loft in the roof above that. Straight out of my room, across the landing, a short flight of stairs led down, turning sharp left down again to the ground floor. If you didn’t turn sharp left, you went straight on past the bathroom into the dining room and then via a small landing to the kitchen. There was a bedroom above the dining room and another above the kitchen. The steep back stairs (up and down) led off the small landing. Downstairs at the back were two scullery rooms, one used for ironing, the other for washing. Their floors were made of Delabole slate, much sought after now but merely common and practical then.
Upstairs there were several creaking floor boards which the younger ones learnt to walk along – (well, they did tip-toe on them), and satisfying dark wood banisters up the front stairs. The stairs down had been walled off – tip toe time again! The ground floors were tiled in patterns much admired by all who saw them. The waiting room was extravagantly furnished with a large snooker table holding journals and magazines, with, arranged around it, old fashioned, black-lacquered high-backed chairs that would have looked good in a hunting-themed pub. I don’t know what his patients thought but we had lots of happy family parties in that waiting room when they weren’t there.
My mother didn’t like the house. Firstly, she had always lived with a garden and there was nowhere she could plant plants or sit outside; secondly, there was nowhere to hang washing properly; thirdly we lived ‘above the shop’ and my father would come up for a coffee at various intervals during the day, which was fine sometimes but not always; and fourthly, the choice had been taken away from her – we lived there for practical reasons. Yes, it was a house with no less than seven bedrooms – (or seven by the time they had converted other rooms) and where can you find a house like that? But it was my father’s father’s house, she wasn’t fond of him and found herself constantly reminded of him. Nevertheless, she made it a great home and we loved her for it. As children, this was where we lived, we didn’t know any different.