Up the stairs which had amazing banisters which I never once slid down owing to my parents’ fear that I would crack my head open on the cast iron radiator below. I’m not sure but I think we were told that this had happened to a visiting child in the past. We were certainly frequently told about the boy who poked his sister’s eye out by sticking a pen through a keyhole while she was looking through it. There wasn’t as much shielding of small children from the harsh realities of life in the 70s.
The wallpaper on the stairs was raised and featured a jungle jumble of flowers and leaves. For many years, even after we left the house, my copybooks were covered in remnants of this paper so it remains green in my memory. I distinctly remember, also, running a crayon all along it from the hall to the attic. It was a lively pattern so I feel that the crayon wasn’t all that noticeable.
On the windowsill on the landing, there was an unhealthy pot plant and, years later, after we had moved out of the house, I went back to visit and on that very banal landing, I had a Proustian moment – the smell of dust and another dying spider plant bringing me vividly back to my childhood.
Up some steps, I think and then into the bathroom on the right. There were several large trees which grew near the back of the house. A large lime tree brushed against the bathroom window and made it dark in winter but green and speckled in summer. There were always pigeons cooing gently; I thought that they were cuckoos. The bathroom also featured the hot press. When my sister was a baby, I had to run to the hot press to get nappies for her. I can remember flying from the drawing room to the bathroom in the dark, terrified. I have no idea why I didn’t turn on the light on the landing. I had been given a present of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verse” and the trio of poems “North-West Passage” about a child going to bed had a profound effect on me, particularly “Shadow March” which was illustrated by a small boy holding a candle which cast a gloomy light around him.
On up the stairs from the return, the guest bedroom was on the right. When my Nana came to stay, she stayed there. I used to sneak into her bed in the mornings and she would hold her arm in the air and I would try with all my might to pull it down. When Nana came to stay, we would put flowers in her room and, if it was May, there would be cherry blossom from near the front gate. I seem to remember that on one occasion I put in a little May altar but cannot remember the reaction I got.
One Easter, inspired by my father, I hid all the chocolate and sweets I got during Lent (which I could not eat because I was off them for Lent, you see) in the wardrobe in the spare room. My father had done the same thing in his youth and on consuming them all on Easter Sunday morning had made himself so sick that he had never had an interest in sweet things ever again. I was undeterred by the negative part of the story. I’m not sure whether my constitution would have withstood the chocolate feast but, in the event, there was no need to as my little brother got there first.
Once, I spent one whole afternoon in the spare room lying on the bed reading “The Swiss Family Robinson” entirely undisturbed by anyone.
When my sister was christened, we had a party in the house and all the guests were in the drawing room. A friend of my mother’s asked where she was and I brought her next door to the spare room where my mother was breastfeeding my sister and they were both mortified and I can still remember how very puzzled I was by that and wondering what I had done wrong. My 3 year old brother was, meanwhile, going around the room polishing off all the sherry left over by careless guests which meant that all he could do by the end of the party, somewhat to my parents’ consternation, was roll around on the carpet giggling.
The drawing room was next door to the spare room and was the most splendid room in the house. It had two or maybe three large windows facing towards the front looking out over an ornamental garden with a bird pond in the middle (which always froze in winter – so exciting to break the ice) and one looking out to the side. The only time I ever remember being smacked was when I swung on the curtains while my mother was entertaining and brought down the curtain and the pelmet. I ran downstairs and retired to the coal house outside weeping bitter tears.
You came into the room at the top and opposite near the window was a door which led to a walk-in drink cupboard. There was a large bookcase against the back wall (formerly belonging to the canon in Kilmallock, I think) and then a lot of space for building card castles and running around before coming to the couch and armchairs around the fireplace. The couch, due to my brother’s regrettable habit of wiping his nose on its back boasted little silver trails which were regularly removed. In another corner there was an enormous baroque floor to ceiling gilt mirror. Years later when the house had been made into offices I visited it. The drawing room was full of desks and documents and filing cabinets but the mirror still stood, incongrously by then, in the corner. It made me very sad. What is now my parents’ dining room table – taking up almost all the space in the dining room nestled inconsequentially in the fourth corner of the room.
Outside the drawing room there was a little door to the right leading to the stairs down to the playroom, Cissie’s room and the sewing room where my mother created her works of genius: curtains, clothes, dolls’ clothes whatever you were having yourself really.
Shortly, the third floor.