I can still remember quite vividly, my first real bedroom. I was about four years old.
We had moved around a few times and had taken refuge in other people’s homes, sleeping on floors or sofas, glad to have a roof over our heads.
At first glance, the walls were brownish beige. (I am assuming that the last tenants were heavy smokers). A very faded light blue and white striped patterned wallpaper lay underneath the nicotine. A naked lightbulb dangled from a black flex in the middle of the ceiling. The floor covering was a square piece of light blue linoleum, which didn’t fit ‘wall to wall’ but did cover where we walked.
There was a grey ‘army’ blanket stretched over two nails for a curtain across the single sash window. It looked out on to a very small concrete yard, complete with outdoor toilet and a tin bath hanging from a nail in the brickwork. You could see across to the other identical backyards and the alleyway that ran between the two rows of terraced hovels.
You couldn’t really called them ‘houses’ as they were condemned buildings, part of the ‘60’s regeneration programme of knocking down all the old slum terraced houses and moving everyone, road by road, community by community out to new housing around the edges of Liverpool.
Instead of keeping communities together, people were split across various sites so you lost all your neighbours and friends as no-one had a car to go visiting.
At that moment, there was a shortage of new housing (nothing changes), so people still lived in the condemned slums, waiting to be relocated and still paying the local council rent for the privilege!
You could look out across the horizon of black slate-tiled rooftops and smoky chimneys (the days before smokeless fuel) for what seemed like miles. You could smell the coal smoke in the air most of the time.
If it was foggy, the smoke would mix with it and become smog. We were warned not to go outside, and keep the doors and windows shut. But if you had to go out, you had to wear a very thick scarf across your face to stop you breathing in the toxic air.
The fog/smog could be so thick, you couldn’t see someone six feet in front of you. It had a slight yellow tinge to it and smelled of sulphur. Some people carried little battery torches, but I think this sometimes confused drivers who were crawling along, driving slowly in the fog as the torches looked like bicycle lamps.
My two sisters (two and three years old at the time) and I, shared the bedroom and also the big rickety, black iron framed, double bed that was well passed its expiry date!
It was so old, I think it actually had a horse hair mattress. It was high off the floor to us, with our little legs that we had a wooden orange box next to the bed we could step on to enable us to get into bed!
The smallest sister would fall into the well in the middle of the bed whilst the two older sisters would cling to the edges of the mattress, hoping not to roll into the middle and squash the youngest in their sleep.
We had flannelette candy stripe sheets and matching pillowcases, a candlewick over-blanket and if it was really cold, a few grey scratchy ‘army’ blankets and a great big old Abercrombie overcoat which weighed a ton.
It always made me feel sorry for soldiers, as I imagined them wrapped up in these awful scratchy blankets, not being able to sleep. I don’t know whether they actually were ‘army’ blankets, but that’s what Mum called them.
The pillows were feather filled and we usually spent first half hour in bed, pushing the feather shafts back in to the pillows so they didn’t stick in your face when you were asleep.(if we pulled the feathers out, Mum would go bonkers)
There was an old dark wooden chest of drawers against the wall opposite the bed and we had one drawer each for our meagre possessions.
The wooden floorboards creaked and moaned under the linoleum as you walked across the room, so there was no chance of sneaking out, even if you could get the big iron latch open on the heavy black wooden ‘z’ door.
In the winter, ice would form beautiful fern patterns on the inside of the single pane window and I would stand in the cold for ages, wrapped in one of the candy striped blankets, tracing the patterns in the ice with my finger and marvelling at the beautiful and sparkly way they lit up in the sun or moonlight.
I sometimes tried to melt patterns into the ice with my fingers, pressing them against the glass to change the pattern. Sometimes, you could peel a sheet of ice from the inside of the window, formed by the condensation from our breath as we slept if it was really cold.
But my favourite thing was looking out over those rooftops at night when I was supposed to be asleep. Elbows on the window ledge, chin resting on my hands – making up stories in my head about ships and the sea, mermaids and airplanes.
Or imagining the people in the other houses – what they would be doing, conversations they would be having, listening to them as they walked up and down the alleyways or while the women grabbed sheets from the clothesline when it rained or the men carried in coal from the coalhole or shed in the backyard.
Or watching the drunks stagger down the alleyway late at night, kicking out at growling stray dogs and swearing as they ricocheted off the walls as they went weaving along, trying to find the back door to their house in the dark.
Barking dogs shouting to one another, and people yelling at them to shut up.
Cats walking primly, their heads held high and tails sticking upright as they made their regal way across the back walls that separated the houses. Yowling late into the night and having empty milk bottles or a piece of coal thrown at them to chase them off.
If it was foggy, you could clearly hear the foghorns of the ships and boats sailing in and out of the Mersey. And me, watching it all – just day dreaming.
© Kate McClelland 2016