Monday, 3 March 2014

WordPress Daily Prompt: Our House

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.

Ok, something completely different for a starter, not a photo but a video of my street where I grew up. It was an ad on the TV for bread sung by an English singer, Dusty Springfield, and our street in the East End of London was chosen for the setting. I was then about 12 years old when it was recorded. There were two coaches parked nearby for the people acting in the ad, although they only seemed to have a couple of minutes show. We were ordered not to enter the street when it was being recorded. From this short film you can see the street where I grew up from 1946 until 1966 when I left for Switzerland. Mum and Dad stayed a couple of years until the street was demolished. I have often wrote about this street in my Daily Prompt, so I will not be showing any photos. If you delve into some of my masterpieces of blog, you will find a few pictures and now to begin at the beginning.

The street was built in 1884. How do I know this? It was chiselled on a plaque on the wall of the end house. It must have been a memorable occasion for such a plaque to be made. Describe my house: two floors, three rooms up and three rooms down. Not a lot of room for mum and dad and me and grandad downstairs. Before the war when my mum’s family were still young, it housed grandad, gran, her brother and two sisters adding up to six people and that was only downstairs. Upstairs there was a family Munday, mother, father and six children, work that out. When the Munday family left my mum and dad took over the top floor, but not without having the various bugs and other germs removed before they moved in.

We had a garden, although the name “yard” would be more appropriate. Not very big, but my grandparents manages to fit a few chickens in, two dogs, a cat and a duck that swam in the sink in the yard when grandad blocked it to hold water. There was a safe outside. It was not for money, we had none, it was for keeping perishable food as no-one owned a fridge in those days. The safe was still in use when I was a kid as we still did not have a fridge. In Winter it was fine, but in Summer it was useless. We also had a mangle in the yard (for pressing the water out of the wash). It was two large wooden rollers and you turned a handle and the wash went through the rollers: the predecessor of the spin drier.
The toilet was also outside in the garden and we had no bathroom and no running hot water. Not that we stunk too much. We heated the water and there was a public baths to have a full wash nearby.

When I eventually received my own bedroom it was quite an original design. There was a gas holder on the wall. It seemed when the houses were built there was no such thing as electricity but only gas. My grandmother was one of the first to sign for the street to be opened to lay electric cables. There was a fire place in the kitchen with an oven and cooking plates attached which was originally the only possibility to cook. Mum had a gas stove put into the corner of the kitchen which was eventually moved to the top of the three stairs leading to the kitchen/living room.

In those days you put wall paper on the walls. It was the cheapest solution. You scraped away the old paper and stuck a new paper on the wall. Dad’s imagination sometimes ran amok with his choice, but mum liked bright colours so they were happy. I remember my room had painted walls. I do not know who painted it but it was definitely not one of the old masters.

How did it smell? Now that is a good question. Mum seemed to cook greens (a cabbage similar vegetable) every day (it was cheap) so I suppose that was the main smell. Mum and dad both smoked their packet of cigarettes per day and I joined in at the age of around 16, so that was also probably a nikotine aroma hanging in the air.

As far as sounds are concerned, it was loud, very loud. It seemed to be a trade mark in mum’s family that you did not actually talk to each other, but shouting was more effective. Dad was a bit deaf from being in the war on the heavy canons, and working in a factory with the machines, so we got used to saying things in a loud clear voice that he heard it. I remember the arrival of the telephone. In the whole street there was one lady that had a telephone, and we were all using it. Eventually with increasing economic wealth, the houses gradually all had their telephones. We had a little problem. When our telephone rang with its bell tone, dad did not hear it. It was situated downstairs in a room that was kept for Sunday best, so not really used. By the time you arrived downstairs it was no longer ringing, so we had to have an extra bell installed, meaning that when someone called the whole street probably heard it. Needless to say there was no library sound in our house, more like a rock concert by Guns and Roses.

Remember I am talking about  almost fifty years ago: times change. Do I miss my old house, definitely no, but it was a good preparation for life.

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  1. I remember the ad, and the amazing to discover all these years later that someone I would know as an online friend in the 21st century lived in that actual road!! :-))

    1. I grew up in the road. It was two squares separated in the middle by a small road which very rarely had traffic. It had a lovely slope and it was ideal with the roller skates when we were kids. We also used to swing on the lampposts.

  2. Your description of the house is so vivid. It's as if the reader can walk through it.What an experience to live in that old house and that street. We have an expression in the States called "roughing it", which means living without a lot of conveniences. The video of the ad gives us a good view of the road. Mother's Pride must have been equivalent to our Wonder Bread. I remember Dusty Springfield's songs and it was good to see what she looked like during that time.