In 1970 my father took up a supplementary job that came with a large house.
I loved that house and you are going to hear a great deal about it. My mother always called it Irish Georgian on the basis that Georgian styles came to Ireland rather later than they did to England but it said 1884 over the front door which is very late Georgian indeed. It was a substantial rectangular house over four storeys. It was set in reasonably extensive grounds with a large back garden with metal swings, 12 apple trees and a big vegetable garden off to the side.
In the hall, there was a picture of the laughing cavalier and a long mirror in front of which I would prostrate myself looking at the dust motes dancing in the sunlight that streamed through the fanlight. The great thing about a big house was how much you got to be left alone. There was a chaise longue against the wall which was used as a kind of stair gate when my brother and sister were of an age to hurl themselves down the stairs. I can remember sitting there with my mother trying to learn how to tell the time, desperate to get away.
Off the hall, on the right was the telephone room which had an unpleasant red floor which had to be regularly and laboriously waxed. It was an uncomfortable, functional room and, I think, it also held a chest fridge freezer. It was from the days when people didn’t chat so much on the phone.
My father’s study was off to the left as you came in and we were only allowed in there on special occasions, like when he filled up his little steam train with water and let it steam around the carpet.
The kitchen was further along, past the stairs on the right. It had a large wooden table which I used to like to sit under. My memory is that we children took all our meals in the kitchen with Cissie (who minded us) except on very rare occasions when we were allowed to eat in the dining room (birthday parties, I seem to remember). I have no recollection of ever cooking except at Christmas when we would all help to make the Christmas cake in a big bowl that had a beige knitted jumper pattern on the outside. Whatever happened to all those bowls? We would ice it later to look like a snowstorm (my mother who made and beautifully iced her own wedding cake was conscious of the limitations of her children in the icing department).
Off the kitchen was the playroom which was small and dark with bars on the window. On the floor there was yellow lino with black and red dots. The deeply unappealing black and white portable television was there mounted high up on the wall. We could watch it from a leather sofa with stuffing poking out. The only time I remember either of my parents watching the television was when the Pope came to Ireland in 1979 and my mother spent some time on the uncomfortable sofa while I languished in bed with a cold wondering why no one was bringing me up orange juice. By way of aside, I must tell you about my cousin who was offered the opportunity to serve mass for the Pope. He asked what would happen, if he didn’t agree. He was told that he would have the day off like everyone else. He took the day off to the lasting horror of all his relatives.
The playroom looked out over a flat roof where, I think, the boiler was housed. It is probably for that reason that snow sublimated off the roof. My mother attempted to bring this to my attention once and I was not interested. To this day this incident is dragged out as evidence of my complete lack of scientific curiousity. My mother was always keen to bring science into our lives. I was on a course recently where the tutor tried to explain critical path analysis to the participants. I longed to say that it meant putting the potatoes on first because they took longest to cook – my mother’s line “CPA would suggest that…” was an integral part of our childhood.
There was a small back stairs from the playroom up to Cissie’s bedroom and my mother’s sewing room.
From the kitchen I could, at a running jump, reach the dining room without putting a foot on the hall floor. The dining room had a large table known as the “governors’ table” which belonged to the house. One hideous day the governors’ table had my initials carved on it with a compass. I have no recollection of doing this but honesty compels me to say that there were really no other likely culprits. There were serious recriminations and I was very abashed. That Christmas I asked for Topp’s furniture polish and spent many futile hours rubbing at the table. The governors didn’t seem to mind. I remember that one of them was a rather unpopular bishop of Cork (very holy and all that but not a great man of the people) of whom I was very fond as he gave me 50p every time he came to a meeting. There was also a mustard velvet sofa in the corner of the dining room (people, it was the 1970s) that my mother had reupholstered herself and where Hodge (our cat) used to hide when she was little and it all got too much for her.
At the end of the hall there was a bathroom and a random room for gathering stuff, sort of the dividing line between inside and outside. Like a shed but inside.
Tomorrow, we might go upstairs. Hold on to your hats.
Oh, and in other news, a big round of applause for the Americans. Yes, they can.