When I was 10 the bailiffs came
'I could imagine the squiggly armchairs settling in nicely, whispering about their previously traumatic incarnations to all the erudite bottoms who sat in them'
"The piano might have fetched a few quid. The red couch, with our lost pennies and confirmation medals and broken Matchbox cars down the back, and the armchairs with the funny squiggles on the upholstery, which looked, in our very ordinary front room, like funkily dressed people who had somehow got off at the wrong stop, can’t have been worth much."
I’ve lived in this house for more than a decade now. I never thought I would, I never really looked at this house as a permanent arrangement; I always thought of it as a parking place, somewhere to rest up for a while, a space in which to make a plan and move on.
And now 10 years have passed, more, and the elbow room we made along the way has filled up with more stuff, more life. Cots and buggies have gone, replaced by half-filled copy books and moulded studs and back issues of back issues.
And although I still sniff around the property pages like a lover over a faded letter, I feel the hollowness of my resolve to create that other life, to follow that red-bricked, flag-tiled scent I pursued but never actually caught up with.
I’ve lived in this house for more than a decade, which is longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere.
When I was 10, the bailiffs came to our suburban house, knocked out a pane of glass in the front door, and took away the furniture. They left beds, the kitchen table and chairs and a cooker, but the fixtures of our lives went.
I’m not sure where to, a warehouse somewhere, an auction room probably.
The piano might have fetched a few quid. The red couch, with our lost pennies and confirmation medals and broken Matchbox cars down the back, and the armchairs with the funny squiggles on the upholstery, which looked, in our very ordinary front room, like funkily dressed people who had somehow got off at the wrong stop, can’t have been worth much.
We ourselves left the empty house not long after and dispersed, like the cutlery.
I went into a cafe over a bookshop recently to buy myself a crayfish sandwich and read a diet book. It’s a very pleasant cafe: walnut bread and sprigs of mint in the water jugs, a couple of well-thumbed hardback books lolling around on the occasional tables, pretending they don’t want attention. The decor in the cafe could be described as retro.
Retro covers a multitude, I suppose, everything from vinyl records (which appear to be simultaneously retro and cutting edge) to a flock of china geese wryly flying up your living-room wall.
This cafe is furnished with gear that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a skip, next to a cracked avocado bathroom suite, a couple of decades back. It’s the kind of stuff we swore blind we’d never entertain again: mossy-green velveteen chairs for our posteriors; Formica-topped tables to rest our weary elbows on; pieces that have emerged, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the 1970s and are clinging by their pearl- pink nails to a shred of fashionability.
Anyway, I was eating my sandwich and sipping my coffee, with the abandoned diet book perched on the Formica table top, and I was thinking, ah-ha, so this is where the furniture ended up. I probably had my nappy changed on this damn table; I probably coloured in the legs of this vinyl- upholstered chair with fists full of chubby crayons.
My mother used to set the breakfast table at night, before she went to bed. She would lay out the pastel-coloured crockery, the sugar bowl, the jug. Later my brother would come home, when everyone was asleep, and glue the cups to the saucers, the plates and bowls and jug to the table, with super glue, which at the time was a pretty radical product.
Sometimes he was even more adventurous, gluing the telephone receiver to the cradle. Nowadays he’d probably get therapy; back then we just doggedly scraped away the adhesive to free the ware.
It cheered me up no end to think that the bailiffs’ cache might have reinvented itself in a funky, bookish cafe. I could imagine the squiggly armchairs settling in nicely, whispering about their previously traumatic incarnations to all the erudite bottoms who sat in them. I could hear the Formica table ranting about its former life, to putative novelists and weary readers.
I’ve lived in this house for a decade now, and finally I think we have come to an accommodation with one another. I forget to clean it, I buy new boots rather than gifting it with new curtains – it doesn’t complain.
It’s a modest house, restrained, it neither expects nor demands very much attention; it is altogether stoical, accommodating, unassuming.
It doesn’t fall apart when you leave it, it doesn’t reproach you on your return; this reticent little house, unlike former abodes, is not one for drama. After a decade, I think I finally recognise it as home.