Tuesday, 6 December 2011

From there to here: A chattering of abodes

I lived in a house called Montague. This was where my family lived when I was born, my actual place of birth was Lewisham Hospital some eight miles north. Montague was a detached house on an unmade road and all I can remember of this house was me letting the parrot out of the cage and my mother giving up smoking, others remember the gagging smell of boiled fish which was all I would eat at the age of three. We moved from there, over Heathfield Road, to Fieldhead House in Leafy Grove, the rural references could not hide the fact that this was just a couple of miles from Bromley.
Mum at home on Toy's Hill
There was a big field at the end of the garden, now of course there is a housing estate. This field was just west of the 'Conker Field' which in turn became less well known for conkers in our family than for letting herds of cattle out of. I am a 'Moo-derer' apparently, something I'm not proud of but you are only young and stupid once.
We stayed at Fieldhead for years, or at least until I was about 13 or so. My parents sold the house not to the principle violinist for the LSO, who came to look at it with his family half a dozen times, almost often enough to get on the Christmas card list, but it went to a strange bearded man who I knew wouldn't appreciate the hiding places, the climbable trees and the gap in the fence to the Conker Field. My dad had put a deposit down on a house on Toy's Hill but the owner wasn't ready to leave just yet because she had horses and donkeys in the garden so we had to move to Bromley. Rutland Gate, an architypal cul-de-sac of 60s new build, and we lived next door to the psychiatrist responsible for Broadmoor Prison, who also played the violin. Living in Bromley was not living in the country. There were absolutely no redeeming features to this 12-month stay, none, unless you count playing football in Norman Park or punching my middle brother in the face under duress, my sister (bless her) broke it up just as the punch was landed which was an enormous blessing.
To Toy's Hill eventually. Dogs, fields, woods, walks but no transport, except bikes and it was the disputed ‘highest point in Kent’ so lots of trudging. Also to a shitty boarding school, being the youngest of four my parents had probably had enough and who could blame them. Their memories of Toy's Hill were of the Tally Ho pub endless leafy walks and children that were seen and not heard. Toy’s Hill was also the launch pad for my independence so it was from there that I moved first to Buckingham, a week after the end of my school days, and a few years later after a small hiccup again from Toy’s Hill to a shared flat in Northdown Street, King’s Cross, I was 22. Highlight of this stay was the boyfriend of my wife-to-be throwing a television, my television, that was still on, through the window and onto the patio of our neighbours four floors down. From there to Viv’s (bless her also) flat in Sunray Avenue, Herne Hill. Viv moved to Orange County and we house-sat for a couple of years before moving to Blackheath and a bought flat in a purpose built block. My son was born here before we moved to Nunhead and a house before going our separate ways, I went to Peckham and they went to Stockwell.
I have since lived in Coplestone Road, Choumert Road, Lordship Lane, Crystal Palace (this will form part two) and now in Brockley. This is the trajectory, a passage full of clutter, of dust, and stuff. Useless stuff, photos, broken amps, old furniture in a garage and decanters I have no use for. There will be other people living in every property I have lived in, people I do not know and have no wish to get to know. I have only ever gone back to a previous abode once, to see the strange bearded man to ask if we could walk down to the end of the garden. It was a disappointment, firstly to discover the housing estate at the bottom and also to feel how small it had all become. If you close your eyes you can see these places, to mentally map their impact and rejoice in the present.

Coplestone Road was a basement flat prone to break-ins, damp and general disappointments. One  neighbour along the road used to earn money listening in on the police radio frequency and tipping off various roustabouts in the Peckham area, he went on to buy a cleaning franchise and now has a team cleaning offices in Canary Wharf. From here to a shared ownership house in Choumert Road, shared with Liz. Neighbours there were Dave, a Phd student at Imperial and Alannah of the BBC. This was a complete change, a house of 'creatives' with interesting/wierd people coming to dinner almost every night of the week. A house of cats and interestingly a house of fish. Old man Wheeler still had the fresh fish place in the market and I cooked a lot of it. In about 1992 I moved to a flat on Goose Green, the intention being to use this short-let as a springboard to living in France. The board broke as I was just warming up so I eventually became Hylda's lodger in Lordship Lane instead. This was a happy four-story late Victorian house full of people like, at various times, Anne, Serge, Sarah, Simon and his 'healthy' breakfasts, Saskia and of course Hylda. Eventually everyone drifted off and so did I, off to Crystal Palace, which felt like the end of the world. I lived with my son for a bit until he moved away, eventually landing in the north west. This was a 60s block of flats, great views out the back but a busy intersection out the front. A couple of years ago I moved out of this flat into our house in Brockley, a 1920s terraced house squirelled away behind the main arteries feeding Lewisham and Deptford. Strangely, this house feels like the large sprawling house the strange bearded man lives in and, despite being a quarter of the size, it feels like home.