Thursday, 27 September 2007


My family home was a beautiful old Georgian house with 9 bedrooms and a huge garden. My father had bought it in 1960 for the princely sum of £7,000. By today's standards, it was quite scruffy internally, but we didn't notice at the time. It was absolutely freezing - although again we didn't notice until we were older. There was no central heating at all and the only warmth we had came from 2 small coal fires - although only one of them was used and only lit after 4 pm (the other was in the vast "drawing room" and was only used on special occasions).

If we ever happened to complain about the cold, my father used say jovially "well you haven't got enough clothes on - go and put another jumper on!" The result was that every year from October to March we all used to resemble small Michelin men with layers and layers of vests, T shirts, polo necks, and then a couple of chunky home knits on top. Our parents must have eventually felt the cold though, because in about 1973, they acquired 2 "night storage" heaters - one for the dining room - and one for the playroom. My elder sister Alison used to spend her days draped across it listening to Radio Luxembourg and developed a heat rash all over her body.

The best game I had inside the house was when my other sister, Tinny, used to drape a rug right over me, including my head, then spin me round and lead me by the hand all over the house, up the front stairs, into the attic, down the back stairs - into the back kitchen - and then at any given moment I would have to tell her what room we were in. I often just used to be able to tell by the smell of each room - not that it was dirty at all - but each room had a particular scent. I can still remember the particular way each door handle would open every door in that house. The drawing room door handle had a pretty porcelain handle with a painting of pink flowers on it and it would wobble and growl when it was opened.

I didn't like my bedroom - because although it was the first room you came to at the top of the stairs and had a huge window - it had yellow squiggly wallpaper, a rust brown carpet, turquoise curtains, and loads of old fashioned furniture. Although the furniture was probably very good and probably antique - I hated it and wanted a nice girly bedroom with pink curtains. I was very messy. In fact I used to collect frogspawn every year with my brother Robbie and used to keep them in a bowl on my window sill. We loved watching them change into tadpoles and later on in the summer I often would have tiny frogs hopping around my room. My mother just used to shut the bedroom door.

We had a massive walk in larder where inevitably there was the odd hare or pheasant hanging up that my father had shot. I would creep in to stroke them and talk to them because I thought they were very sad. We would eat them for Sunday lunch. Pigeon, pheasant, partridge and jugged hare was staple Sunday fare.

We also kept hens - in deep litter - which was fairly disgusting. My brother Robbie and I had the job (for 10p pocket money a week - or 2 shillings before we went decimal) of feeding them and collecting the eggs. We used to get a new "batch" of hens every 2 years - my father used to wring the necks of the old ones. Inevitably for every batch, there was always one very aggressive one that used to fly at us - this one was always called Johnny - for some reason. Deep litter is revolting as it's basically peat which the hens live in and it simply rises and rises up with the hen poo - by the time we were on to our 6th batch of hens, they were practically hitting the roof.

It was fun collecting the eggs until you had to shoo an agressive hen off the perch. Then they started eating their own eggs and leaving a terrible mess. Robbie hit on a cunning plan to empty an egg - then fill the shell with hot mustard - he thought that would put them off the eggs for life. Not a bit of it! They simply ate the lot! After that we used to go in to the henhouse with a big stick. one time when we were away at boarding school my mother went in to feed them with her "Dr Scholes" on and she got stuck in the gate trying to get out (because the deep litter was getting so high) and the hens pecked her toes for around 15 minutes before she could escape. Robbie and I did a good joint party piece which involved being hens - I can still do hen noises quite well.

My parents sold the house while I was at University and moved to a smaller house in a small village. I went back to a wedding to our old house in the early 80s. The house was transformed and unbelievably smart. In the old "washhouse" there was a gym and a sauna, jacuzzi and spa room and there was a big thick carpet that was laid throughout the house - even into the attic. Our old (very small) kitchen had been knocked through into the playroom and back hallway. I was so pleased that someone was looking after the old place - it would have been far worse if it had lain neglected.

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