A Tale of 15 Houses
A lady I follow on Instagram received a “question a day” calendar for Christmas and has been posting a photo of the question each day with her answer, some have caused much conversation as we all answer the questions along with her.
Today’s question was “How many houses have you lived in?” and it got me thinking. I’ve moved quite a lot over my 46 years, but even I was surprised to find that I’ve lived in 15 homes during my lifetime.
1) As a new born baby, I was brought home to a tiny terrace house with a straight-from-the-street front door in Gorleston on Sea. Of course, I can’t remember this home, however it lives on in our family history for the day a lorry crashed into the front of it. Apparently, I was saved by virtue of being parked in a Silver Cross pram under the stairs at the time. The attending policeman declared all to be alright when he discovered an unbroken bottle of Scotch buried beneath the rubble
2&3) Mum and dad bought a bungalow next, still in Gorleston, but in what turned out to be a glimpse into the future, it was a massive doer-upper and so while that was happening we lived with my grandparents just down the road. Every morning my grandad – who was an early riser having been a baker for most of his life - would wake up early and whisk me downstairs to teach me nursery rhymes while the rest of the house slept on and mum and dad caught up after being up with my brother in the night.
I remember glimpses of these times rather than anything else; the (now hideous) 70s curtains; the day a blackbird came down the chimney, and my mother who has a terrific phobia of birds, called my dad at work screaming at him to come home. By the time he did get home the bird had made a mess of the dining room. I don’t think I remember this specifically myself, it’s another one of those family folklore tales but I definitely remember those damned curtains.
4) When I was about 4 and my brother was about 2, we moved to Banchory just outside Aberdeen, my dad being in the oil industry. My parents needed to move fast at short notice and while we were waiting for our brand new home to be finished, we spent a few months in a rented bungalow. Apart from being able to pick our own strawberries straight from the back garden, my abiding memory of this little rented bungalow was my brother pooping in the bath one night. Much to my consternation, my mother lifted my brother out of the bath to sit him on the potty instead of removing me first. I never really forgave her for that …
Once we were in the new house there was much excitement as we had bunkbeds. The nights were light until at least 11pm in the summer and being a new cul-de-sac it was full of similar young families. My parents made many great friends there with whom they are still in touch now. I started school there, with a conker brown leather satchel and I walked there with my friend. AT AGE 5! It was only around the corner and mum says she watched me all the way from the bedroom window until she saw me arrive at school each day. My mum used to despair at the little girl who only lived next door, yet in the time it took for her to come round and knock for my brother, would somehow always be bursting for the toilet and need to come in and use ours.
5) When my dad’s contract came to an end (and much more importantly I suspect, my mum was missing her family too much) we moved back, not to Norfolk, but to Suffolk. Into another new house on another new estate. More young families and a lovely little school. In the days before Health and Safety, the place was an open building site and at weekends we would play in the trenches of the new foundations and walls of half built houses, dig in the bright orange builders sand and think of things to make with the strange butterfly shaped metal things we found lying around (apparently, they are what holds the cavity open between cavity walls). We lived there during the drought and long hot summer of 76, my dad arrived home in a brand-new Austin Allegro (me “that’s not a square steering wheel!”). I learned to ride a bike, I walked to school with my friends, I was allowed to go down to the sweet-shop on my own to buy ‘a quarter’ of whatever I could afford with my 50p pocket money. Teachers went on strike, my mum got a job, I went to ballet, tap and modern classes and started Brownies. Mum had a bubble perm and cried because she hated it so much. My parents’ parties were legendary and my dad built a bar in the double garage. Halcyon days indeed.
6) In 1979 we moved to the house in which my parents still live now. A 1920’s house one road back from the beach in Lowestoft. A complete labour of love for my mum and dad. As I have mentioned here before, my dad renovated the house himself. I mean all by himself. We lived in our own mini building site for nearly 2 years before it was finished and even then, dad would always find something that needed doing. I lived here until I was 19. Both my brother and I struggled initially, I started middle school with only one person I already knew. Worse for my brother, he had to start a new school with other children who had been friends for years and he hated it for a long time. At least at my school it was new for everyone. Everything changed again when I moved to High School as my best friends then went to a different school to me. I was bullied terribly at high school for the first few years until I found my feet, but even then it was a precarious balancing act for me. This was the house I brought my first proper boyfriend home to (his motorbike leaked oil on the driveway and my dad went mad); where I had my teenage parties (oh the agony of someone snogging the boy I fancied at MY OWN PARTY IN MY OWN HOME); where my so-called friend read my diary, and told everyone who I was “in love with”; teenage angst lived large in this house. I got my first Saturday job, my first car and my first real job while I lived here. And I met my first husband. I got married from this house, my dad and I got half way to the church and he realised he’d left his top hat on the table and it rained. I was on the local radio “bridal spot” and to my shame (to this day!), all I could say when the DJ asked what I liked about my future husband was that he was “nice”.
7) By the time we got married my first husband and I had been living together in his house in Norwich for about 18 months. It had been his grandmother’s house, from new. He still had the original bill of sale which listed the purchase price as £300. It was a 1930’s semi and had already been modernised by his parents and he and two of his best friends had rented it together before they had each moved out to get married themselves. We spent lots of our spare time redecorating (the irony of having fought with my parents about having a primary coloured bedroom à la 1985, and then covering up the same in my new husband’s house was not lost on me as we painted over red gloss skirting boards). Both our children came home to that house. It was a lovely family home but we soon outgrew it and the time came to move on. This was my first traumatic experience of house moving as we lost two sales and the house we really wanted to buy.
8) In the end, we did a part exchange on a brand new four bed home just outside Norwich. It was a lovely house but the area just wasn’t right for us, the school run was too long and there were no local amenities. 20 years later they’re still talking about making the village an Eco Village with better transport links etc, etc…
9) So when the same builder started a new development on an established estate we moved there, another brand new home in a small cul-de-sac, back in Norwich, near the schools and children’s friends. I spent my days decorating and making it our home but it wasn’t enough. I got a part time job at the NHS which fitted in around the boys’ schools and felt like the old me again. My brother moved to Australia and 9/11 happened. Also the end of my first marriage.
10) After my first husband and I split up, I lived in that house for 18 months while we tried to sell it. It was hard, I felt like I couldn’t move forward. The day eventually came when I moved to my own, much smaller house. But it was my house with no memories. My mum and dad helped me move and my dad said afterwards how heartbroken he was to drive away leaving me surrounded by boxes and with no heating as the boiler had packed up. But I coped. I felt quite alone to begin with but I still coped. I redecorated with the help of some fab friends (I had a decorating party and rewarded them with lasagne) and a lovely guy who I worked with (at the UEA by now) who was an electrician by trade came and fixed my dodgy electrics (not a euphemism). Smudge joined our family and I loved my little rabbit hutch because it was mine. Well, mine and Natwest’s.
11) When I got together with my second husband we knew that the house I lived in was not big enough. He had two sons who would want to come and stay with us so we needed a bigger home. Yet again we found a house on the same estate that I already lived. It was perfect and if we just added an extension there would be space for all. We added a huge conservatory across the back of the house and there was indeed room for all. Here my sons got their first jobs, they passed their exams and driving tests and once again I got married. Here also my second husband become more focussed on his health and fitness than on us and we lost our way.
12) It’s very hard living in a house separately as two dis-jointed adults – my estranged husband had moved into the spare room immediately we decided to separate. He had been made redundant about a month before we decided to split up so it was exceptionally hard for him trying to find a new job and a new home. There was bitterness and there were recriminations; I was angry that he had changed and was more concerned about his running, cycling and health regime than me. The crunch had come for me when it was his birthday and I suggested a day out and he said he’d rather do his marathon training. A few weeks later and we were yelling at each other and I told him I didn’t think I loved him anymore. A month later, I met Ian. People might think it’s not healthy to move straight from one relationship to another without “breathing space” but I knew after just one evening with him. We both knew.
13) Whilst Ian and I were still getting to know each other, the boys and I moved into a rented house. I hated it with all my heart. I hated the house and I hated renting. For the first time ever in my life I was scared and uncertain. It was in a great location for the boys, and me, away from the estate where I had spent the previous 10 years. But it wasn’t my home. I didn’t know how to work the heating. It smelt of cigarette smoke no matter what I did. The kitchen was horribly small and the bathroom was just cold. The dog hated it too.
14&15) Ian and I live in his house together now and we also have the house in Norwich where my sons live full time and which we visit every other weekend. Ian moved to this house after his divorce. It’s very neutral and even now most the things in it are his, but that’s ok because most the things in the Norwich house are mine. At some point, in the next few years, we will decamp to Norwich permanently and then we must decide what stays and goes! We are hoping to keep a small flat in London, so much of MrS’s life is here after all, and I know I will miss London so much when we move back to Norwich. Until I moved here I had always dreamt of living in London but it seemed so unlikely at my stage of life, I thought I’d missed my chance. Funny how life works out isn’t it? It’s almost like deep down in my heart I knew I’d live here one day.
Each day as we cross the river on the train I look at the incredible landmarks we are surrounded by and realise how lucky I am. I realise that home is where the heart is, and most importantly my heart is with MrS and my heart is with my family.
*This is an archived post from Life and Love in London