My home at 12 years old was the same home I had from being 8 weeks old until I was nearly 16. It was a normal detached house, on a normal estate, in a normal village. In fact it was uncomfortably ‘normal’ and very middle class. Inside was everything you would look for. But the living room was too tidy, engulfed with an uncomfortable atmosphere. Somebody was always in trouble, so a frosty silence greeted visitors with fake warmth, (if there were any visitors that is). Searching further you would find a dining room. If it were a mealtime you would most likely find us either silent or arguing. Or more accurately being shouted at. The kitchen was small but functional, a walk in larder hid food we weren’t allowed to eat. There was a utility room where the cats slept, the only ones unmoved by the unbearable atmosphere everyone else had to endure; including the person who created it.
A playroom was next, filled with toys and opening out into the garden. There was a piano and a violin and even a computer (unusual in the 1980s when my dad bought it). It sounds like the perfect playroom except I remember it being used as a punishment. We would be banished there if we were no longer wanted in the rest of the house. The garden had to be played in, in a correct manner. No digging, throwing, running, shouting. I do have happy memories though of me and my Dad playing French cricket until dusk and me and my sister playing swing ball. Spinning a tennis ball round and round a pole. Hitting harder and harder, wondering whether one time the ball would just fly off into the farmer’s fields behind us. In reality that ball was unable to escape its tether any more than we could.
The farmer’s fields over looked our strange, sad home. The cows used to gather round, mooing at me in serious contemplation if I stood at the end of the garden for more than a few minutes. Curiosity getting the better of them. Munching, munching, munching. Staring with wise eyes that looked blank. There was a small, cold toilet downstairs. I hated that toilet! The seat was so cold in winter I would perch with reluctance so as to delay the inevitable icy sting. I still hate that toilet and it’s still cold, even in summer. If I were the type I’d think it had it’s own resident ghost. Up the stairs, I was shouted at for running my fingers along the wall as I ran up or down, shouted at for thumping my feet, or for switching the light on in. Apparently the ‘click’ was obtuse in itself and our arrogance in assuming we needed light irritated our Mum beyond belief. We were mostly shouted at for nothing at all really.
There were 4 bedrooms upstairs. My sister had the nice sunny front room. I was very envious of her bedroom. It seem so bright and warm, coloured with peaches and pink colours; then later with warm reds and turquoise stripes. More befitting of a style conscious teenager. My room was at the back of the house and was decorated blue. I had blue teddies with little butterflies on their noses. I loved that wallpaper, but the blue colour didn’t help in the colder room. I overlooked the back garden and as it was north facing, I didn’t get as much sunlight. I could watch the cows, but they never came to see me if I was in my bedroom so I had to just watch them from afar, scattered over the field in random patterns. My Mum’s room was at the back adjacent to mine. Memories are of a smoke filled room, door locked, TV always on. We weren’t welcome in there, it was the place we went to ask permission rather than somewhere we sought comfort and love. My Dad had a separate room because he had chronic insomnia. Something I found out only after he died, I found out more things about my Dad after his death than when he was alive. His room was even less welcoming. It was a bad tempered cave from which he rose when disturbed with grumpy coughing. The stale smell of sleep lingered in the air. The carpet was thick so there was a scraping sound when the door opened of wood dragging on carpet fibres. I never went in that room, not until I was an adult and it was no longer ‘his’ room.
The upstairs bathroom was the only vestige of peace, quiet and privacy. I used to read in the bath for hours. This was the only time of day when no one would bother me as a teenager. Although there wasn’t any actual privacy, all the doors upstairs had glass panels at the top, you could look through them if you stood on a chair. I later discovered our parents would just look through these if they wanted to know what we were doing. This has given me a long standing respect of the privacy of children. Children are not our property and they deserve the same right of privacy as adults, or at least the same show of respect. We should increase their right to privacy in direct proportion to their age in my opinion. No one ever knocked on our bedroom doors before entering. I despised this as a child and a teenager. It just proved that this wasn’t my home, but the house that belonged to my parents, which I happened to live in. It wasn’t somewhere I felt safe, comforted or loved. Even though the word love was tossed about as if somehow that was what mattered. How many times someone told you they loved you seemed to count more than any actual proof that they did.
I hate that house, it’s still there and my Mother still lives in it. I resent having to stay more than a couple of days. Even though it looks unrecognisable on the inside, it never fails to make me feel the same hopelessness I felt throughout my childhood. My mind shudders at the thought of having to return there, as if somehow it will grasp on to me and not let go this time.