What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.Photographers, artists, poets: show us HOME.
My first home was the council flat that my parents moved into around the time I was born. We lived there until I was seven years old so I remember some things about it quite well and others not at all. I’ll do my best to give my impressions of it.
Our flat was one of four in the building and we lived in one of the two upstairs flats. Our neighbours were the Mounts, the Cooks and the Fosters. The first thing that you would see after coming in the front door was the flight of stairs up to our flat. For most of the time we lived in that place there was a wooden gate at the top of the stairs to stop me and later my sister from tumbling down. When I was big enough I was allowed to go down them alone to get the milk from the front step or the letters which were delivered through a slot in the front door.
The bedrooms were at the front, I don’t remember much about my room, usually known as the box room. I did wonder why we had a room for boxes instead of a proper bedroom but it had a window so perhaps it was just mum’s name for it. I do remember that I had a bed with a wooden bed head which had a carved flower like design right in the middle. I suppose I didn’t spend a lot of time there except to sleep. My parents bedroom also overlooked the street. In this room I remember the bed which mum always made carefully, tucking in the sheets, cotton in summer, flannelette in winter, then the blankets and making the corners neat. Our blankets were either navy with a white stripe or a sort of beige and I seem to recall mum referring to the navy ones as army blankets. On top of the bed went the eiderdown, a bulky feather quilt which was made of some taffeta like material and was, I think, a sort of rose colour. It was a pretty cosy bed. In winter we warmed our beds with an electric bed warmer that my father bought. It was a big round flat one like a flying saucer but instead of filling it with hot water or coals you plugged it in. It did warm the bed nicely but it could burn you if you touched it so it was taken out of the bed when we got in. There was a wardrobe and a wooden dressing table where mum kept her dressing table set, hairbrush, mirror and clothes brush and some blue glass candlestick holders. The cot where my sister and I slept as babies was also in this room until my sister outgrew it. Her bed was in that room until we moved though. I haven’t mentioned the bathroom, it’s one of those rooms I don’t remember except that in winter sometimes the pipes froze and we had no water.
The living room was where we spent the most time and I remember a lot of the things we had in that room. The room itself had a floral print wallpaper of grey,white and red. I can remember it very well but can’t describe it. The curtains were mum’s favourite green, a dark green with a floral design I think. We had a settee and two armchairs which had broad wooden arms which were fun to “ride” on if you were pretending to be on a horse or a motor scooter like the ones we saw at the beginning of “Ready, Steady, Go” on television every Friday . Then there was the dining table where we ate, drew pictures or played with our Lego blocks. Usually it was covered with a wine coloured woven tablecloth and had a green glass fruit bowl on it. If we asked for something to eat between meals mum would usually offer us something from the fruit bowl “Apple, pear, banana?” The table was also the place we put our portable record player or reel to reel tape recorder if we were going to listen to music. A mirror hung over the fireplace and on the mantlepiece was a chiming clock, mum’s brass vases and some little boats made from shells that she had bought on holidays. Mum always bought things in pairs because she liked her ornaments to be “balanced”. There were also some figurines of african men and women with spears and baskets which I now know were in the Barsony style which was popular at the time. There was a wooden sideboard too, which held more ornaments. There was a large china elephant, two lion cubs and a tiger cub which we loved to hold and lots of china monkeys, mum’s favourite animal. The largest of the monkey collection was Mike, he was a carved wooden ape sitting on a rock. I don’t remember everything that was inside it but there would have been the mother of pearl handled cutlery that was given to mum and dad as a wedding present, the best china tea set and our records. On the walls we had the flying ducks of course and around the room were family photos.
The main thing I remember about our kitchen is the time that mum, my sister and I returned from holidays to find that dad had repainted the kitchen in a red and cream splatter sort of pattern. I liked it as it was colourful but mum said it looked like there had been a murder in there. At some stage we acquired a large wooden radiogram from somewhere and as there was no room anywhere else it had to go in the kitchen, or as mum called it, the scullery. It was fun to put records on the stacker and see them drop down onto the turntable. Mum and I liked listening to bagpipes, dad liked brass bands. Mum often used to sing when she was working around the house, “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag” were some I remember but she also liked cowboy songs with yodelling.
A steep brick and concrete staircase went from the kitchen door to the back garden. There was a bit of lawn where we played and our swing. There was a tool shed where the lawnmower was kept and a coal shed where we were not allowed to go. We had a rose bush and a flower bed where we had daffodils, crocus and other bulbs in spring and where mum grew a bit of mint for putting with the potatoes or the roast lamb on Sundays. Our downstairs neighbour, Mrs Mount, was a keen gardener and had lovely roses in her back garden. She used to put eggshells on them and when the rag and bone man came around with his horse and cart she would run outside with a spade to collect any droppings to use for manure.
It wasn’t a grand house and had we stayed there it would have become very crowded with two growing girls so about eight months before we left England we moved into a larger council house in another part of town. A lot of mum’s knick knacks and ornaments came to Australia with us and in fact some of them are still around today, the good china tea sets, the mother of pearl handled cutlery, most of the china monkeys live with me while Mike and the lion cubs live with my sister so we have carried a bit of home with us wherever we have gone.