Mum & Dad's Room


It's hard, looking at this window, to think back to the fifties, because of the much stronger recent memory of Mum's last few days, bedridden here, before her final trip to hospital. When I took the picture, Mum only had a week or two more to live. By this time, the room had become Mum's room of course, but in happier times it was always Mum & Dad's room.

Except for Sundays, Dad was always first to get up in the morning. His routine was to start his (cold) bath running then go to the kitchen and prepare the coffee percolator. This was great, because he would take the old grounds through to the bathroom and chuck them into the thunderbucket, where they would stick to the white Shanks Vitreous China. If you got up at just the right time, you could make streamy pictures in the dark coffee grounds. You were doubly rewarded for this game, both by the pattern produced and by the combined smell of stale coffee and urine. Sadly, none of these artworks are preserved, since none survived the first pulling of the plug.

The next duty was to gather up Dad's discarded pyjamas and dressing gown, roll them into a ball and carry them along the corridor to Mum & Dad's room, throw them onto the bed and shout 'Bundle!' After his bath, Dad didn't go directly back to his room, but stopped off in the spare room to shave with an electric razor and apply Uwapus*. Sometimes, he'd give me a quick shot of the razor. It was warm and buzzy.

Mum's dressing gown was red and had four or five buttons so that you could find out how tall you were. Usually about the same as yesterday, as the buttons were six inches apart, but hope springs eternal. Douglas was a whole button taller and Derrick was off the scale.

And that, dear readers, concludes this tour of the house by windows. Somehow, I forgot to take a picture of the bathroom window, but as the bathroom has had an honourable mention in this last episode, I don't feel too bad about it.

* Uwapus - Other stuff, obviously...

The Back Room



The Back Room was my first bedroom, and the bed was a cot with dark wooden safety rails and casters. Betty said, "Do you want a hurl?" I'd no idea what a hurl was and thought I was going to get something to eat, but she just pushed the cot across the floor to clean underneath it. That may or may not have been the same day I asked her if she cleaned every house in Ayr, which made her laugh. For some reason, she was less amused when I asked her if she was a servant or a slave.

The back window was for 'giving Daddy a knock' when he was in the garden and tea was ready. Apart from the lawn which was made of weeds, the garden was made of sand, which was great for digging holes in. You sat in a fish box with a short plank stuck through the grip-hole and were indistinguishable from a real mechanical shovel.

Things to play with in the garden included the clothes pole (for pole vaulting), cold chisels (for striking sparks on the granite wall), the sledge hammer (for weight-lifting) and the Iron Bar (for pile driving into the ground). The jungle gym doubled as a climbing frame and James & Jenkins bicycle factory where we invented the chain drive and sold our first production model to Queen Victoria.

There was a walk-in cupboard off the back room where the idea was not to bring down the coat rail when trying to climb up to get the bagatelle. The bagatelle was, without doubt, the best thing in the house. That rumbling noise, the smell of dusty wood and the cold steel taste when you put a ball in your mouth...

On top of the school there was a furnace chimney that was the biggest in Ayr of course, and right beside it was the fire horn that went off at 12 o'clock every Saturday and every time there was a fire. It was very loud. Even people in London could hear it.

Sometimes, a plane would fly over. Most planes had propellers but there were a few jets too. The best plane was the (de Havilland) Comet with its back-slanting wings. Somehow, we knew it could do 200 miles an hour and to fly in it cost £200. We knew we'd never get to fly. That was for rich people.