Today my parents moved out of the house that I grew up in.
Since my mother went into labour on moving day, nearly 27 years ago, this house has been the centre of our family life. This was the house I was first brought home to from the hospital, was suckled, and where I first slept through the night. It was the house where I learned to crawl, to walk, and to bundle myself and my infant brother up in duvets and tumble down the stairs.
It was the house of first pets, first playdates, first instruments. First shoes, first bras, first periods, first mood swings. First parties, first drinks, first hangovers. First loves, first heartbreaks. The backdrop to scenes of the bitterest enmity (my bedroom door existed only as a blur and a thud from 1998 to 2002) and the scene of some of my happiest memories: Christmasses, long summer holidays, and, once Tom and I and our cousins were tall enough to be considered interesting and capable of mixing and delivering drinks, epic family parties.
The house has been a family home to hundreds of people who aren’t technically family, a place to sleep for countless friends-of-friends, and the means of creating many new friendships. It represent more than bricks and mortar in our collective subconscious: it’s a monument to our family history. The red front door often features in my dreams. The kitchen, in my mind, is permanently full of people and food smells. The hallway rings with familiar voices. The garden is a mess of mud, sprinklers and bruised shins, the bedrooms exist as quiet oases of privacy, and the attic is not so much a room as a sacred reliquary of childhood.
Literally. One of the first things I liberated from my ‘treasure box’ was an envelope full of milk teeth that I had evidently began to stockpile during a particularly magical period of my childhood (the usurious interval between grasping the value of money and abandoning belief in fairies). Just what exactly are you supposed to do with your own milkteeth? Throw them away? Bury them? Wear them on a chain? Cook with them?
This was one of the smaller decisions I’ve faced in recent weeks. My parents, having identified a need to downsize, were keen to disabuse me of the notion that I could continue to use my old room and the loft as a free warehouse. In recent weeks I’ve spent a lot of time sifting through childhood artefacts, sorting them into tottering piles of ‘keep’, ‘charity’ and ‘skip’.
An early stab at the patriarchy. It must have been something I picked up from less enlightened children at school. Luckily, my parents introduced me to Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants, thus guiding me safely back to the path of righteous feminism.
I’ve blogged before about the importance of childhood books, but until this week never realised the extent to which I was affected by Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Look – my entire fashion sense has been shaped by Sophie’s mummy.
My childhood wasn’t particularly religious, but Tom and I owned a set of lushly illustrated children’s bible stories, My Bible Friends, by one Etta V Degering. Seeing these books again awoke all sorts of emotions, the strongest ones being a strange attraction to the young Daniel, and a keen sense of the importance of pulses in the diet.
“Probably written by Mormans”, my mother (who purchased the books) says darkly. Here she is.
Looking through my childhood scribblings, I’m overcome with a sense of nostalgia for the old me. The me that was bold with colour (the current me never draws). The me that danced furiously in a clown-covered tracksuit to please my parents (the current me needs a stiff drink before considering the dancefloor). The me that had a reading age several years ahead of my age-group but remained entirely unaware that teachers had any kind of interest in me (the current me is only too aware of my intellectual shortcomings). The me that was fierce with love for family and obsessed with documenting their lives in colouring pencil (the current me always hopes that they just know).
I feel like a proud parent. I can’t work out whether I’m being nostalgic, or narcissistic, or both, or neither.
The hardest thing about the last few days has been the sense of performing so many ‘lasts’ in a house that was the setting for so many firsts. It has to happen, it was always going to happen: it has happened. But it’s a funny feeling.
I can’t quite work out how to finish this post in the time I have available (three minutes), so I’ll draw to a close with some classic childhood obscenity lols.
Today was a big day.