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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Practically cave dwellers

Okay, so, depending on the timeline, which I remain fuzzy about, either we moved out of my uncle Paul s house and into our new flat or we moved out of the respective Grandparents and into our new flat. It was the dawning of a new day for our, for want of a better word, family.

The flat was above a shop. I'm gonna try to describe the set-up as best I can but I warn you, it won't be pretty. First of all, imagine a shop on a front street. To the right of the shop is a large wooden gate, wide and tall enough that when opened a small lorry could enter. (I say tall as well as wide because it was built into a brick wall above) Anyway, this gate was there to allow deliveries to the shop. Built into the large gate was a smaller one, person sized, that allowed people to enter the yard without having to open the whole thing. This was our front door. Going through that, you were in a kind of tunnel that lead to the little yard but to your left were 2 doors. The first of these opened onto a staircase. The other opened onto something else, which I'll get to later.

So, you open a door and you are at the foot of a flight of stairs. You go up these stairs and you reach another door. Go through that one and you have entered The Flat. Now, I'm not entirely convinced, now, that it was ever designed as a flat. Or a living place of any description. It was a storage/work area basically, that the shop owner had decided to make a bit of cash on the side from. You had two rooms, with no door on the gap between them. Off one room, you had a 'kitchen'. This was an alcove, containing a sink and enough floor space for one person to stand in front of it. That was it. There was no bathroom, nor any toilet facilities at all. The full extent of the plumbing was a cold water tap and a wall mounted heater situated above the sink which took an age to heat water and gave it out in a fine spray. How did we 'go potty' you might ask. Well, we went outside, to the second door in the tunnel.

This door was not a door you'd find on a house. It was a rotten wooden shed type of door, with rusted hinges that were hanging loose and a sliding bolt to keep out intruders. Which it would have taken a braver kid than me to use, seeing as how it had no electricity in there, so no light. Even with the door open it was dingy, natural light struggling to reach that far into the tunnel. There I was, all of about 7 yrs old, and my choice was sit in the pitch blackness while I took a dump (pardon the crudeness) or sit with the door open to the elements (not to mention the shop staff and delivery people) while I sat there with my trousers round my ankles. Oh the luxury.

We bathed once a week in a tin bath, filled by boiling the kettle lots of times, which would be situated in the middle of the living room. It was in and out as quick as you could because the whole family had to have a turn and it didn't stay hot for long.

The second room was designated the bedroom. A couple of wardrobes were placed across the centre of the room with a little gap between them. One side was for the kids, the other for the adults. The kids got the side with the window, so as to allow us a little natural light, while the parents had the side with the door(or hole in the wall rather) and light switch, so they could control access.

Near the gap between wardrobes, on the parents side because there was not enough floor space on the kids side (you literally had a foot wide walkway between each bed, with none at the foot, which were flush with the wardrobe), was a bucket. The bucket was for liquid waste of a night. If you wanted to pass solids, you went outside. Believe me when I tell you, we soon got into the habit of clearing our bowels before going to bed.

I loved that flat. The bedroom was so small it was practically a cocoon and was therefore very cosy. The outside toilet, for all that it was obviously a great deprivation, actually felt like a bit of a novelty. During the day anyway. And the fact that we kind of took it upon ourselves to have free run of the yard meant that we were constantly mixing with (and being accepted by) the staff and delivery personnell of the shop. We were like little mascots or something. And there was nothing cooler than coming home to that great big gate that we had walked past and wondered about for years and actually having the key. It was like being able to raise the drawbridge of a castle. What?, I was a kid.

The shop was not as large a concern as it had once been and so only one of the sheds out in the yard was in use. The other was empty. It made an awesome playroom/camp and we had a ball customising it to our needs. We even built swings from the rafters out of some old cord we found in there. These swings were deadly, as we didn't know how to attach the cord to boards in order to make seats so we simply had a big loop of thin whatever-it-was that would slice into our backsides when we sat on it. They became a competition of endurance, with no-one willing to admit that they were in agony because it would mean giving up the swing to the next person. We really were that competitive.

That flat was the last place that the Finch family all lived in the same place. Afterwards, following the separation, my Mother would revert to her maiden name and there would be various men in her life, some lasting longer than others, with the three of us kids being joined by three more over the years, but it never really felt like a proper family again. Maybe that accounts for some of the affection I have for that time. I've spoken before about never feeling particularly close to my family as a child but who knows, perhaps my sub-conscious craves the family unit more than I realised. Although,I know that if money and employment factors would allow it, I'd move back to that village tomorrow. Make of that what you will. Perhaps it's the place rather than the people that induces the nostalgia.

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