On Saturday 31st August 2013 I started a new project, The Book of You, Written by Me. This project has been devised by Julie Goucher and is an opportunity to go on a journey of discovery to remember, rediscover and explore your own life and memories, with a view to recording them for future generations. My grandparents had amazing, interesting and exciting lives but now they’re gone there’s little to show for it. This is my opportunity to capture the essence of me and leave a lasting legacy for those coming after me.
The project runs for at least fifteen months and Julie will be giving participants weekly prompts to write from. Some of them may result in very personal articles, but any that I feel comfortable sharing will appear here. The idea is that ultimately I will have enough material to create a book to be left for my children and my children’s children!
This entry is prompt #5 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
The prompt for week 5 is Your Childhood HomeWhen did you leave home?Where was it?Where did you move to?Was it rented or owned? – with parents/GrandparentsWas it inheritedWhat was it like – describe it – each room.Were there a favourite room?Is there anything you particularly remember from the house?PicturesThe road & area
My childhood home is in Harrow, Middlesex (or Greater London, as we’re meant to call it nowadays). Harrow is best known for the hill and the school but we were definitely in Harrow-at-the-bottom-of-the-Hill, closer to the rather downmarket Wealdstone than the posh part. In fact, when I was a child our road was opposite Wealdstone FC’s football ground; the site is now a Tesco. The road is called Elmgrove Road and in the past there were indeed elm trees along the bottom half of the road (just past our house) but they were all chopped down when Dutch Elm Disease struck in the seventies. The road is long and straight, ending at a tunnel that passes under the railway line. Our house is about halfway along the road on the left, but actually we are the last house on the left hand side of the road. In the old days there was a huge field next to us, but it’s since been built on and there’s an old people’s home and an industrial estate there now. The house is still officially the last individual residence on that side of the road though. It’s the last of a row of four terraced houses and there’s a lane next to it that goes behind the four houses and gives everyone access to their garages, as well as access to garages attached to the houses in the road that backs onto ours.
You can’t really see the ground floor of our house from the pavement as it’s at a lower level and there’s a wall and a huge forsythia hedge running the width of the house. To get to it you go through the gateway (the gate fell off long ago) and down a steep flight of five steps. In recent years my dad has had the steps relaid and they are less steep now, but still not the easiest of steps to navigate. Our front garden was laid out with mainly rose bushes and a hydrangea in the middle, with narrow concrete pathways separating the geometric – mainly triangular – beds. The front of the house has a wide window for the front room, and an open porchway. The front door has been, as far as I can remember, blue, green and possibly even red at one stage – though my memory is failing me on this point!
The front door opens into a hallway and behind the door is a hall table – I think the one there now is not the original one (though it may be) but ours is the only house in the world that I can remember having a hall table! (OK that’s not quite true – my grandma had one, but they are few and far between.) The table has a big mirror and a shelf under for the phone directory and it used to have a stool at one stage – though I always remember my mum sitting on the bottom step when she called my grandma every Sunday, and my dad pacing up and down when he was on the phone!
Now our house has changed a fair bit during my lifetime. When I was small the front room was our living room. I can’t remember a huge amount about it but there were two alcoves full of books (still there now) and there was (still is) an electric fire. Around the fire was kind of plasticy textured wallpaper – I think it was meant to be a pebble design but for some reason I’ve always thought of it being bacon and fried eggs! When I was very young we had a hideous black sofa with an orange flower pattern – which ended up in my bedroom for a while – and then we got a very seventies orange modular sofa. The back room was the dining room, and there was a round table (which opened out to an oval) and a sideboard. The kitchen was galley style, very narrow, with a pantry at the top end and a door to the garden at the bottom. The garden had a small concrete area and then there were a few steps down to the lawn and there was a rockery filling the gap between the concrete and the grass.
However, when I was about 8 or 9 my parents had an extension built. This meant that the dining room was extended and became a lounge diner – we got a new sofa and chairs, this time green velvet, and they were at the top end, and the table and sideboard moved to the bottom end, looking out through patio doors to the (now much smaller) garden. Gone was the concrete area and the rockery – now you go down steps from the dining room to a tiny strip of paving and the lawn – and a pond! In the garden is a cherry tree, which was dead for years but still stayed upright; a lovely lilac tree; and an apple tree that my brother and I used to climb. The apples were only good for cooking but we got plenty of them each year – and plenty of wasps too! At the bottom of the garden is the garage, though it’s never been used to house a car in my lifetime. It was my dad’s shed for a long time, and he often disappeared down there to build planes or sledges or to play with his model railway. The garage has fallen apart now and the railway is in the attic, though I don’t think my dad goes up there much nowadays.
The front room became my dad’s den …. ok we used it too, especially as he had an electric organ in there, which we used to mess about on. We also had a six foot snooker table and spent many hours playing snooker or, occasionally, billiards. But mainly it was a junk room and Dad’s den, and it’s still definitely his den nowadays, though the organ has gone and he has wall to wall bookcases in its place.
The kitchen moved to the new extended bit, and to be honest it wasn’t much bigger than the existing one, but the old kitchen had cupboards in it and was used for storage. There was also space for a hostess trolley that housed our ZX Spectrum computer – I spent many happy Sunday afternoons sitting there playing Football Manager!
Upstairs has changed very little in my lifetime really. We had a reasonable size landing with five doors off it, and the laundry basket.The first room on the left was my brother’s bedroom – he lost out and got the boxroom, poor boy! He had a bed and a shelf unit that my dad built, and a scruffy old chest of drawers that he covered with stickers, and a few more shelves on the wall. He also had a half-bay window, and when we had budgies they lived on the windowsill in his room.
Next door was my room. The previous owners of the house had built in some cupboards but the space between them wasn’t big enough for a full size double bed, so from a very young age I slept in a four foot bed, which was very nice to have as a child! At some stage Dad built some wardrobes along one wall, partially for me to put stuff in and partially for extra storage for other people. It meant I lost a chunk of the room but that didn’t matter really. I do remember the sliding doors never quite worked though, and had an annoying habit of falling off the runners! I had a full bay window and when I was a teenager I had a desk in it. When I was young my bedroom had yellow wallpaper but when I got older I was allowed to choose wallpaper for it. I chose one that was white with small flowers, and I had matching curtains too. I don’t think it would be my choice nowadays, but at the time I felt very grownup! As a teenager I was very into music and my bedroom walls and wardrobe doors were covered with posters of my favourite bands. I was also a big fan of actors James Dean and Matt Dillon and snooker player Tony Knowles, so I had pictures of them too. (I was a bit of a weird girl!) I loved my bedroom and spent a lot of time up there, playing when I was young, reading when I was older and getting up to all sorts of naughty things when I was older again (mainly involving alcohol!). The photo is me in my bedroom in 1985, when I was fourteen.
Next to my room was my parents’ bedroom, and I just remember it being very white – white(ish) walls, white painted furtniture, white bedspread. I might be wrong there though.
Then came the toilet – tiny – just about room for the loo! – and separate bathroom – again tiny, green bath and sink, with the floor space the length of the bath and the width of the sink. Now I live in a house with a downstairs loo, an en suite loo and shower and a huge family bathroom, and I can’t imagine how four of us managed with that tiny bathroom for all those years – or how my mum managed to bath two wriggly toddlers in there! The bathroom and loo wallpaper was green and white, with those tiles that look like maps that everyone had in the seventies.
So that concludes this brief tour of my childhood home. My mum and dad bought the house in 1970 when they married, and as far as I know they paid £6,200 for it. As a child I loved our house and I still do, though now it feels quite small compared to where I’m currently living. However, because it’s in Greater London it’s now worth well over a quarter of a million pounds. The house next door sold for £320,000 last year and that doesn’t have an extension. Crazy prices. I left home when I was 18, as soon as I’d finished my A Levels. I was anxious to get on with adult life and I moved to Hounslow, west London, where I shared a room in a house with my boyfriend of the time. My brother moved out when he went to uni at 21, and Mum left in 2000, when she and my dad separated. Dad still lives in the house now, and I can’t imagine him ever living anywhere else, if I’m honest.
I’ll add more photos when I find my childhood photo album, or plunder my mum’s collection!
This entry is prompt #4 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
The prompt for week 4 is Favourite Season (s)Why?A Happy Memory.
The first season that springs to mind when asked for a favourite is autumn. I love the colours of autumn – the rich browns and oranges and yellows of the leaves changing colour. There's something so dramatic and stirring about watching the trees change from a fairly uniform shade of green to the rainbow mix of an autumnal palette. And I have fond memories of autumn too. As a child I used to visit Bentley Priory woods quite often with my my mum and brother. We'd sometimes go in late summer, when the blackberries were fat and ripe on the bushes, but more often we'd go in autumn. I loved to walk though the ankle-deep blanket of fallen leaves that covered the ground, kicking the crisp foliage up with my feet and watching the golden colours fall back to earth. My brother and I would run through the dense woodland searching for conkers – one year we found hundreds and came home with pockets and carrier bags full of them. One of my strongest childhood memories actually comes from one of those autumnal visits to Bentley Priory. We were at the bus stop, waiting to go home, when a van pulled into the layby. The driver got out and threw open the back doors and smoke billowed out, followerd by the intense orange heat of flames. I don't know how the fire started, or what happened next – I assume a fire engine was called, or the driver had a fire extinguisher, but I have no memory of that at all. I just remember the sense of fear that flooded through me as I saw the flames seeping from the back of that van. It was the beginning of a deep fear of fire that stayed with me long into adulthood.
So autumn is one of my favourite seasons, but I also love spring, even more so since I moved to the country. In London I never really noticed the seasons, not properly. Of course I was aware that we'd slipped from one to another because there was a nip in the air or the evenings were staying lighter, longer, but that was as far as my awareness of the changing of the seasons went. Out here in the countryside you can't escape the changes. The bleak days of winter seem to last forever, the trees black and barren, until you finally spot the tiniest sign that spring is on the way – perhaps a bud on a tree, or the slight greening of the hedgerow alongside the road. The next few weeks are exciting as the landscape is reborn, flowers bursting into colour, trees exploding into leaf, bushes and hedges turning slowly from black to brown to yellow to vivid green as they wake from the colder months. I don't have any one memory linked to spring, but I do look forward to seeing those first signs of life after yet another cold dark winter.
And then there's winter itself, and of course my memories are mainly filled wth snow. Living in England we don't get a lot of snow but when we do it always seems to have such a major effect on life that it lingers in the mind far longer than it should. There are photos of me pottering around in the snow when I was about 3, asking my dad to “make a 'nowman” but I have no recollection of that particular snow fall. I do remember, however, another year when there was heavy snow and my dad disappeared into the shed and came out with a hand-built sledge. As a family we went up to one of the slopes of Harrow-on-the-Hill (for we lived at the bottom of the hill) and spent an afternoon whizzing back down on this little wooden sledge. Even Mum and Dad had a go – there are photos to prove it! We did very little together as a family of four – Dad's unsociable working hours meant we were often more like a single parent family – so doing something together like this was a rarity, and it's a very precous memory. And there are a few more snowy moments that I can remember – getting a lift into work with my landlord, stepping out of his car and finding the snow came to my knees. Opening the front door to discover our neighbour had ditched his car and come home in the work tractor because of the snow. Sledging with the kids in George V Park and nearly crashing into a lamp post. Having Steve stay for a few days early in our relationship because the icy road meant he couldn't get his sporty car up the hill to the main road. Taking the kids sledging down Folly Hill and them spending most of their time sitting on some plastic sheeting and sliding down a tiny slope. Watching our white cat explore a snowy garden and realising that while he's totally white, he's not actually Snow White – and there are different shades of white. Lots and lots of happy snowy memories.
This entry is prompt #3 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
The prompt for week 3 is:
Describe your physical self.
Your size – clothes size
Draw your hands
OK let's start with the basics. I am 5'6″ and a “larger lady” – a size 18-20, classic pear shape with big boobs, a (slightly) narrower waist and big tummy/hips/bum. It's not a shape or size I particularly like. When I was a child I was a bit of a barrel, as wide at the bottom and top as in the middle but I slimmed off as I got older and just before I fell pregnant with my daughter I was a size 10 on top, 12 on the bottom and pretty happy with that. Pregnancy number 1 saw me going up to a size 14 all over; pregnancy number 2 and the post-natal depression that followed saw me balloon and my on-off relationship with smoking has also played its part in my size. I do keep trying to lose weight but I tend to lose half a stone and gain ten pounds … One day…
Anyway, on with the rest of me – from top to bottom.
My hair is fine and straight and naturally mid-brown with a slight auburn tint to it, though I tend to dye it – at the moment it's a rather lovely shade called 'Morello Cherry'. Till I was forty I didn't have a single grey hair but they're making an unwelcome appearance now – my daughter pulled out about a dozen thick silver stands a couple of weeks ago, hence the dying! At present my hair is cut in a shortish bob style, with a fringe. In fact, my hair's pretty much always like this and never much longer than shoulder length, though in my teens I did dabble with spikes and a flat top.
My ears are small and neat and don't stick out too much, and I have what I call “proper” ear lobes. They're pierced once, though I don't often wear earrings. Behind my right ear is a large, bulbous mole; I have a similar one on my head, just under the hairline.
My eyes – well, they used to be green with yellow flecks, but nowadays they seem to hover somewhere between green and blue according to my mood, health and the colours I'm wearing. I wear glasses or contact lenses, depending on whether I'm at home or going out. My eyelashes – or lack of them – are probably the most disappointing part of my appearance. My top lashes are sparse and short and my lower ones are non-existent. Bah. My nose is small and somewhat pointy, my top lip is thinner than I'd like and my mouth tends to turn down at the corners, even when I'm smiling. I have to make a real effort to pull a cheesy grin! I have a bit of a double chin and my neck is wrinkly and looks considerably older than the rest of my face, which is aging well – a sign that I didn't moisturise my neck in my youth!
My arms are probably the slimmest part of my body, and somewhat tanned at present. I like my hands; I have long fingers – “piano player's fingers”, my grandad said when I was born – and my nails are also long and slender and a nice shape, though I do tend to bite them when they get too long. One of my fingers on my right hand has a bit of a nobble on the knuckle where I dropped a TV on it during a house move. Also on my right hand – well, actually on the inside of my wrist – is a tattoo. In fact it's two separate tattoos, one of a heart-shaped phoenix that I got last year, and the other a small red rose I have just had added this week. It's still a bit scabby at the moment, but I love it.
My body is best not talked about too much – pale and flabby in all the wrong places. I have an “inny” belly button though it's tricky to spot within the flab!
My thighs are chunky and my knees are odd. Quite literally. One knee is about average size and shape, but the other is riddled with arthritis and swollen on a permanent basis. I also have a big scar across it – but more about scars shortly.
Move down my calves – chunky again – and past my ankles and we reach my feet. Once my best feature, my left foot has a very peculiar look about it now. A few years ago I developed a Morton's Neuroma between two toes and had a couple of cortisone injections to “cure” it. Unfortunately the jabs actually did more harm than good as they destroyed the protective sheath between my toe bones and one of my toes has now decided to fly off to the right, leaving my foot looking quite deformed. It makes walking uncomfortable at times and while it can be corrected with some heavy duty surgery, that's something for the future (and when I've lost some weight!). My other foot is still slender and graceful, with long straight toes (excet for the little one, which has always been a bit curly).
So those scars – I have a fair few scars dotted around my body, and every one has a story to tell. The large scar on my knee is the result of surgery to correct a tendon poblem when I was a teenager. When I first saw it I cried and said “No one will ever love me now!” but of course that hasn't proved to be the case. Also on my knee are two small dots where the drain and microscope went in during surgery, and both my knees have light scars from a nasty fall onto gravel when I was a child. On my forehead I have a small indentation where my son, in an ADHD rage, hit me with a metal tin and cut me; under my lip there's a thin line where I bit through my lip when I fell down a step when I was three; and under my chin there's a very faint scar from when I fainted in drama class and hit my head on a music stand. (I also wet mysef …. utterly humiliating at the time!)
Over the years I've had numerous burn marks on my arms from not taking enough care with the oven, but they have all faded away now. I broke my right arm when I was a child and at the base of my right thumb there's a mark where my skin was nicked with the giant scissors when the plaster cast was removed. One of my knuckles bears the marks of a close encounter with a concrete lamp post that I grazed past on my bike when I really should have been cycling in the other direction for dinner. And on my little finger there's a line where I cut my finger badly on a flint rock whilst swimming in the sea at Cromer. I should also have a scar from trigger thumb surgery I had when I was three but the doctor very cleverly cut along my natural palm line so there's no mark.
And that's about it – oh, apart from my birth mark. It's a white, irregular blob on the top of my inner thigh and unless I have a sun tan it's invisible – so I haven't seen it for a very long time!
This entry is prompt #2 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
The prompt for week 2 is Your Birth
- Do you have any baby photos?
- Where were you born?
- Who was present at your birth?
- What day was it? Time?
- Did you have hair? Eye colours
- Are you a twin?
I have one baby photo of me … the one on the right … but I am going to dig out a few more from my mum's photo album in the next week or so, and I'll add them at the bottom.
I was born at Edgware Hospital, London. Our nearest hospital was Northwick Park and my brother was born there three years nine months and ten days later, but at the time the maternity unit was still being built, so Edgware it was for me. By all accounts it wasn't a great experience for my mum. The food was dreadful, there weren't enough clean cot sheets and she had problems breast feeding me, but rather than helping, the midwives kept telling her off because I was hungry and crying a lot and disturbing the other babies! (It turns out she didn't actually have any milk, and it's likely a hereditary problem that I have too.)
My dad was present at my birth – kind of. Apparently he was at the hospital but stayed outside the delivery room because he didnt want to watch. What a wuss! He didn't see me till it was all over and my mum was back on the maternity ward.
I was conceived a couple of weeks before my parents married but to save upsetting the somewhat conservative grandparents-to-be I was passed off as a honeymoon baby that arrived prematurely. I would imagine my parents were relieved that I was a diddy 6lb 14oz – much bigger and I would have blown their story!
I was born on a Tuesday in the Chinese Year of the Dog, at 4.45am. I had to ask my mum the time, and when she answered I was surprised because I was convinced I was born at 7-something! No idea where I got that idea from, but I can vividly remember waking up one day when I was a child and not being able to wish myself happy birthday till it was gone 7-something. Funny, that.
I was pretty much bald when I was born. When my hair did come through it was blond and curly, but I was bald till I was about 18 months, apart from a flat clump of hair on the back of my head, rather like a reverse monk's hairdo. My eyes are green now, but I would imagine they were blue at birth – aren't most babies' eyes blue?
And no, I'm not a twin! I don't think the world could cope with two of me …
This entry is prompt #1 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
The prompt for week 1 is a recognized psychology test.
Ask yourself 20 times “Who are you?”
Each time you should give yourself a different answer, and if you can easily go beyond 20 then that is fine too. This prompt is about how YOU see YOU.
I am the proud mum of two amazing, wonderful, exasperating, delightful teenagers.
I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie and a niece.
I am a partner, friend, soul mate and occasional lover.
I am a freelancer, proofreader, copywriter, web builder and coach.
I am a (self) published author.
I am a size 14 in a size 18 body.
I am an exported Londoner, living in the countryside but dreaming of the sea.
I used to be a battered wife but I'm better now.
I am intelligent.
I am inked.
I am a tea drinker.
I am a woman.
I am a football fan.
I am a Chelsea supporter. I'm also an honorary Torquay United fan.
I am a savoury rather than sweet person.
I am one eighth Romany gypsy.
I am a beer and wine drinker.
I am The Proof Fairy.
I am a curry lover.
I am a writer.
I am liberal, but not longer a Liberal Democrat.
I am a procrastinator.
I am a poor person but would like to be rich.
I am a potential Porsche owner.
I am funny and a bit daft.
I am deaf in one ear.
I am a music fan.
I am an agnostic.
I am an avid reader.
I am an armchair sports fan.
I am strong. I am powerful. I am fucking magnificent.
I am an under-achiever.
I am a dreamer.
I am a Facebook addict.
I am a cat person.
I am hugely untidy but somehow organised.
I am dark blue autumn.
I am a photographer.
I am a bit arthritic.
I am the wonderful unique being that is me.