August 15 2005

There was no place like my Gran’s home. She lived in an odd, flat-roofed one-off that looked as if the builders had stopped for lunch one day and never returned.
Unlike her neighbours’ houses, it had an entrance hall which might have made it a des res in a street where almost every other front door opened into the parlour.
There was, though, no way to reach her back door from the rear of the place, which meant that the coalman and the dustman had to trail through the house to make deliveries and collections.
The floor was about a foot and a half below street level, so the living room windows were knee high. You got to recognise neighbours by their legs.
Gran’s bedroom was on the ground floor and must originally have been a back parlour. It was dominated by a framed photograph of her mother, which frowned disapprovingly as I explored draws full of corset bones, embrocation linament, Beacham’s Pills and something mysterious called Fuller’s Earth.
The kitchen, which smelled of carbolic and cabbage, doubled as the dining room on week days and had a skylight that rattled in the wind. There was a scullery (the “back kitchen”, Gran called it) where the washing was done in a tin dolly-tub and a red sink big enough to swim in.
A passage led outside from the kitchen to the coal house and the whitewashed lavatory which had a polished wooden seat and spiders the size of frogs. The passage sloped upwards away from the house so that each time it rained, the kitchen floor got wet and became treacherous to walk on.
But the thing which really set the house apart was its garden. Not a yard, you understand; every house in South Walls had a yard. Gran’s had a garden, with mint and gooseberries, rhubarb and pears.
There were nettles, too, and an ocean of rose bay willow herb. Best of all, there was golden rod which went to seed leaving stalks as tough as bamboo. They made the finest swords any musketeer could wish for.
The garden was enclosed by a brick wall, too tall to peer over, which would have been dangerous anyway because of the broken glass embedded on top.
There was no water feature, but a wooden barrel which caught the rain as it ran off the outhouse roof, attracted all sorts of pondlife, and provided ammunition for endless reruns of the Battle of Little Bighorn, fought with water pistols. We died with our wellies on.
I’m not sure, but I don’t think Gran ever ventured into the garden. It bloomed in spite of her, a triumph of nature over benign neglect. Every year the gooseberries and rhubarb ended up in mum’s jam and the pears were scrumped almost as soon as they appeared. I never tasted a ripe one or bit into anything more delicious.
Gran moved out in the 1960s just before the bulldozers moved in. The council gave her a maisonette with a neat little lawn and mum stopped making jam.
The garden is covered with asphalt now and I sometimes park the car on the spot where Custer fell.
Planners, eh? They should have been there.


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