" When I was a student, I liked to walk the streets at night, looking through the lighted basement windows. This was not the activity of an incipient Peeping Tom, I hasten to add, but was done out of sheer curiousity about how other pepople lived. In those days everything looked pretty much the same. People were brought up to reflect their parents values and more or less indocrinated into a certain aesthetic which went along with their own position in life. Occasionally, however I would suddenly see something completely different through one of the windows I was passing – a different way of arranging things, a splash of colour or a terrific collection of original furnishings. those were the places that attracted me, not necessarily as places to live, but because I would have liked to meet the people there."
Lets go for a walk. Pull on your stripey scarf and step outside with me. I want to show you where I live.
Down my little path and through the creaky black gate. Now stop. See the flamingo pink house in front of you? It is the home of an ageing seventies pop star: his gloriously silly fairytale house now as dilapidated as he is. Rumour would have it that he is dead. But I know different. I saw him carried back into the house not long ago. Hair like Rod Stewart and drain pipe jeans. Not dead but maybe as good as and certainly the embarrasment of a lane that likes to think of itself as well-to-do. But I bet he tells a good tale…
Look next door and there is a beautifully manicured mansion. Eight windows wide and four ornate floral electric gates. The home of a retired retail magnate who now spends his days blowing leaves off his property, and trying not to see the peachy caravan parked amongst the forest of trees in the garden of the pink house. Like Beauty and the beast it is. And yet in this case the beast has twice as much character as the beauty and crawls with life injected by a little gang of grubby grandchildren…
But anyway, turn left and we will walk down the gently sloping lane. Past my little terraced cottages and past the primary school Finley will eventually attend. On the left side of the road the houses vary in style and size. Here a sprawling bungalow and now a house hidden by hedges so thick it is only possible to see it’s breath-taking splendour in the early days of Autumn. On the other side there are four semi detached Victorian villas. One so beautifully decorated it makes me ache just standing outside it. I want to step inside, climb on to the olive green velvet covered chaise and run my fingers along the ornate creamy coloured cornice. Then nip next door and shake the dust out of the perfectly awful dried flower arrangement ruining the view inside a house that seems to have lost all respect for itself.
Now we are at the Vicars house. A Vicar despised by most of the parish for his failure to acknowledge those of in the community who do not line his churchs coffers every Sunday morning. This is a beautiful square house set on an angle to the road on which it turns. Gardens like a playing field and shiny red double doors with a brass knocker the size of a giants fist. And a library. A lovely oak lined room shelved with leather bound books and library ladder. A room close to heaven.
This is the best time to prowl the streets. Meals have been eaten and children are asleep. And yet still the curtains are open, and the occupants of each house play out their lives as if they are on the stage.
Kick through the leaves sodden on the ground. Maybe break into a little run. It’s all downhill to the bottom of the next road. Laugh with me as we go past the house with the truly terrible fern wallpaper and close your eyes as we dash past the ordinary semi-detached with marble columns glued to it’s porch and ideas way above it’s station. And now stop. Because here is the most welcoming house in the neighbourhood. True it is a new build and hardly the architecture of my dreams. But look at those tangerine walls. See how the whole house glows in their reflection. I love this house. That room. The blonde woman who sits with a child on her knee, still as the plaster statues ruining the garden of the house next door.
Onwards and upwards. Around the bend and over the little bridge. Past the house trimmed starkly in navy blue and the ostentation of the oversized premiership fooballers lair next door. Walk now, for maybe half a mile. Breath in deep. The road is getting steeper as we turn the corner back into my lane and head home. Turn right and before we know it we would be edging along farm land, Duchy of Lancaster farmhouses stranded in fields and glowing in candlelight like they must have been for at least a hundred years. But no. Turn left and see my tree lined lane in front of you. Just a few houses up and I need to pause again. Here is the convent. Stand to the left of the arched gates and shining in the darness in virgin blue stands Mary, life sized and lovely. Steal a bit of her calm, hands clasped together and then carry on up the hill.
This is the house I want. The Upstairs Downstairs Victorian dream. Three stories high complete with basement, outhouses and a gorgeous wall plastered in sepia relatives. I want to invite myself to tea. Eat cucumber sandwiches in the gorgeous parlour. Light the brass candlesticks standing to attention either side of the mantlepiece. This you see is the house I want. The ginger cat curled around the gate. ..
But we are nearly home now. Stand for a second outside Kath’s. Watch my friend sitting alone in her favorite room. Strange to see her in isolation of our friendship, but somehow reassuring. Watch her with me for a while and then we will walk on. See the little row of terraced cottages sitting in the shadow of the church looming above? Go past the first two and stand outside the slightly tatty little cottage with the honey coloured walls. Watch the candles flickering in the tiny living room and see the birdcage sitting in the bedroom window above.
Hear it whisper, come inside now, you are home…