I have just moved house. Well it was three weeks ago tomorrow but I’m still living out of cardboard boxes and mislaying everything (not just due to age, for once).
I am reminded of other significant moves in my life: aged four in 1968 – leaving our bungalow in Leatherheard one morning, the magic of being taken to a house in Burpham near Guildford that same afternoon and finding all our furniture and my toys there: our new home where I lived happily for the next seven and a half years.
Chapters of memory
We tend to categorise our life according to where we live. Doing so provides convenient chapters of memory and emphasises the underlying importance of home and place. But carving time into chunks can also over define these chapters so that the story ceases to flow one from the other.
This is what happened when I moved aged eleven in 1975. I didn’t want us to move and remember scowling with hate-filled venom as my parents showed prospective buyers around. I thought my fixed, silent, demonic stare might somehow ward them off. It didn’t work, at least, not with Mr & Mrs Hunter and their curly-haired twin boys. They even had the audacity to arrive just as Terror of the Zygons reached its climax.
As moving day drew near, I relented slightly and left a message under a loose parquet floorboard, wishing happiness to the Hunters and whoever followed them. I sometimes wonder if that strange little note was ever found.
Old, cold, sludge green
So on a cold Thursday 13th November 1975, I left school to find our optimistic, open plan 1960s’ home was no more. In its place was an austere 1950s, metal windowed house with an asbestos garage and mean little prefab outhouse. It wasn’t so far away from our old house but might as well have been a million miles.
The floorboards were already up for re-wiring which didn’t bode well. Paintwork was utility ‘sludge’ green (as I called it) and the walls were the mock-Regency stripe of a boarding house. Ceilings were too high, windows too low. The rooms felt old, cold and the house comfortless, utilitarian almost institutional.
It was the end of one chapter for sure but I didn’t want the next chapter to begin: secondary school, adolescence, exams, being bullied, feeling isolated, different… in fact it had already begun two months ago: I’d left my cosy C of E village primary of one hundred children and started at a 2,000 strong comprehensive that September. Our move only emphasised the split from that past. I asked my father to paint my bedroom lime green and purple in protest; much to my surprise, he did – almost drowning out the Regency stripes.
Since then I’ve struggled to recover the story of life which flowed over that 1975 crevice, to try to spot the elements which had already appeared before the change. In fact, the seeds of adolescent disaffection had not just been sewn but were already growing up around me in my final two terms at primary school. A childhood culture of vim and vigour was giving way to a disaffection amongst the more precocious children. I can see how hopeless I was at football, how removed from the rough and tumble of most boys’ activities as I stayed on the sidelines with a few close friends. I can see how setup I was to fall.
I’ve realised that ‘bad’ things would have happened anyway regardless of where we lived. It’s just that our change of home allowed me to idealise the abode of childhood and castigate the haunt of adolescence. Looking back, as I have felt more benevolently towards my teenage self, I’ve almost learned to love the ‘teenage’ house too.
To look for these common elements is important, I think. To remove some barriers, restore a little natural justice, try to see the true lay of the land from a more distant vantage point.
And this move? Well, I suppose it’s the move from mid, middle age towards the early embrace of old age, given that I’m hoping to live here a long time.
And I feel OK with that. A new life is emerging from the cardboard boxes that might be every bit as magical as the belongings which materialised in a sparkling new home back in 1968.
Time to unwrap some more toys…