A work contact of mine told me over a pint recently that she’s lived in the same house her whole life. I on the other hand have called 16 different residences home so far and I suspect there might be more at some point. That means in theory I have moved abode every two and a half years, but the reality is somewhat different.
I was born in Northampton and spent the first eight years of my life in a semi-detached three bedroom house on a leafy suburban drive located between two golf courses. My bedroom was a young boy’s dream. I had a train set on a board fixed to the wall with a line running off it down another side of my room. Under the board I made a den. I had an old record player and tuner to listen to the handful of music I played to death. There were toy cars everywhere, a passion of mine at that age. My bedroom window overlooked our substantial garden with views over one of the golf courses to the left. I used to drive my trike on the patio before launching myself into the sandpit, next to which was the hutch that contained my rabbit Snowy. Snowy was eventually killed by a fox, a day that lives in my memory as my dad was frantic and adamant I didn’t look out of the window to see the carnage. I was scared of the pantry in the kitchen after I saw the biggest spider of all time running up it. I loved the street I was born on and used to ride my Raleigh Chipper up and down it almost every day. One particular bloke was obviously wealthy and used to buy impressive cars that I would spend days staring at. I remember when he got a Triumph Dolomite and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and so much better than the Hillman Imp and the Ford Escort we had on the driveway.
My first home - Northampton
At the end of the Seventies my parents decided to become Christian ministers in the Salvation Army. We moved to a training college in South London and lived in the smallest two bedroom flat you could imagine. It didn’t even have its own kitchen or bathroom – we had to share those facilities with four or five other families. I shared a bedroom with my sister. We got along fine so it was never a problem. I loved living at the training college because there were loads of other kids there. We would ride our bikes around campus and build huge dens in the children’s club building. There were two parks and plenty of places to play hide and seek. I had my first girlfriend there when I was nine years old and I though Lesley was the prettiest thing I had ever seen apart from that Triumph Dolomite.
In the summer of 1980 my parents were sent out on work experience as part of their minister training. We lived in a house in Pontymister, a village half way between Caerphilly and Newport in Gwent. It wasn’t a great few months. I was sent to a school where I was the new boy (and an English new boy at that!) and didn’t make many friends. I spent most of my time playing on the nearby train lines which I had been told to stay away from. I was thrilled when we moved back to London.
Having completed their training my mum and dad were appointed to run the Salvation Army in Archway. We lived in a terraced house for four years. I took the rough with the smooth. The rough was that the only access to the bathroom was through my bedroom so there was a constant parade of people in and out waking me up after I’d gone to sleep and again early in the morning. There was no garden to play in. And the street itself was rough – lots of fighting and sirens. We were burgled at one point and I don’t think I ever felt truly safe there after that. The smooth was the park we could see from the back garden and Friday nights watching Sherlock Holmes movies whilst destroying a huge packet of Twiglets.
Chez Field – Stonebridge Park
By the time I moved to Stonebridge Park in 1985 I was starting to find my feet in life. Our three bed semi was a quarter of a mile from Wembley Stadium and I recall many happy days sat in the garden listening to music being played and football fans celebrating as their team put the ball in the back of the net. I had the box room and loved it, apart from the very dodgy wallpaper I inherited from the previous incumbent. My old man bought me my first stereo during the two years I lived there and that kick-started my eventual adoration of music. The house was cool in the summer and warm in the winter and I remember being very happy there. It was at this time I had what now seems like a ridiculous journey to school. It would start with a twenty minute walk to Stonebridge Park station where I would jump on a train to Willesden Junction. I would change there to catch the North London Line to Gospel Oak, then change again to go one stop to Upper Holloway. I would then walk up to Archway to catch the 210 bus to Highgate. I would leave the house at 7am and be lucky to get home for 6.30pm. Six days a week. As I was at church most of Sunday and doing homework during the weekday evenings I didn’t have much time to myself during that period. A cliché I know, but the kids in my house don’t how lucky they are - moaning about having to get up to be given a lift to school and are then ferried home again at 2.30pm........
In 1987 we moved back to the training college so my parents could teach the students. Times had changed and this time we moved into a bigger flat. My room was pretty cool – Rush posters covered the walls and I had inherited my dad’s awesome Marantz hifi which sounded great in it. As I turned 18 my parents arranged for me to move into my own flat in the same building, an unused student room. I had the best of both worlds – my own space and some privacy whilst still enjoying my mum’s cooking and laundry service! I started my first job and had what felt like loads of disposable income. I got my first CD player in 1989 and spent every spare penny on compact discs, gig tickets and going to the cinema. I never seemed to run out of money or have any debt. Happy times which continued when we moved to a much bigger flat within the complex in 1991.
Flat 1, Lancaster – the day we washed the mop’s head (don’t ask........)
By 1992 I was finally ready aged 21 to fly the roost. I gave up my job in the City and went to Lancaster to do a degree. The best three years of my life commenced in Halls of Residence. I lived in Flat 1 with five other guys. By the end of the year we had quite a reputation. We held legendary parties and our kitchen was always full of visitors who had come round for the craic. I soon realised that the first year at university was a waste of time in those days as the coursework and exams didn’t count toward your degree. This meant you could concentrate on having a bloody good time free of the worry that you might flunk your course. I was always good at writing essays anyway and did the minimum amount of work required to get away with in.
For the second and third years I moved into a student house with my girlfriend Wendy and four other pals. The house was a hovel, despite Andy and Sarah’s very best efforts to make it the opposite. I started off with a bedroom in the attic but ended up having the huge lounge as my resting place. I got up around 5pm most days and went to bed at 7am. I often ate one meal a day at the burger bar I worked in (see my April blog for that sorry tale). We didn’t have a shower and I was lazy so washed infrequently. This didn’t seem to stop me being attractive to members of the opposite sex so I didn’t care. There were good and bad times in that house: some great parties, some hysterical late night essay writing sessions, and bizarre food experiments in the kitchen. The bad times revolved around having six strong-willed and disparate people living under the same roof. We were either best buddies or at each other’s throats. My rose tinted spectacles tell me it was mostly good but a couple of the people who lived there have a different perspective.
Graduation marked the end of my student experience and returning to reality was a shock. I had racked up debts, had no job and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. By now my parents had moved to Sale and the easy thing to do was to go live with them. Bless them for allowing it but I must have been hard work. I was 24, self-centred, scruffy and a party animal living smart, caring Christian Ministers. They saw right through me a year later when I said I was moving into my new girlfriend’s spare room in Swinton.
The Swinton house – with my son James
The Swinton house was awful. The landlord had painted the lounge dark red so it was dingy and cold. The whole house was riddled with damp. The neighbour spent most nights having a blazing row with God so we were kept up ‘til all hours. I didn’t mind though because I was head over heels in love with the new woman and had my attention focused on her. But once married and with a baby in tow it became clear we had to move for the sake of the child’s health.
I would live in our house in Worsley for the best part of ten years. I bought it before it was built and enjoyed driving down once a week to watch the builder’s progress. Hindsight shows that it was thrown together at the last minute and was full of defects which I would now pick up but was too naive to think about then. But over the course of ten years we would make that house a proper home including a beautiful kitchen and double glazing. All three of my children spent their formative days in that house, weeing on the carpet and falling down the stairs. We had great neighbours and many friends on the estate. The kids’ school was brilliant and a mere 5 minute walk away. Summers included barbecues in the garden whilst winter saw us warm and cosy.
When my marriage went south I rented an apartment near my office. It was never home. I had a handful of possessions so it was sparse. The neighbours upstairs were noisy and I didn’t connect with anyone in the block. It was always cold even with the heating pumping. I was happy to see the back of it. The end of my marriage was marked when I took a lease on a fully-furnished terraced house just up the road. It looked great when I viewed it but I soon found lots wrong with it after moving in. And when my new partner moved down from Scotland six months later with a houseful of her possessions it became apparent it was far too small. Money was being cast down the toilet as it was expensive to heat and light, and I was paying for two storage units containing the great many items we couldn’t fit into it. It served a purpose though and I remember we had a great Christmas there in particular.
My beloved Renault on the leafy street outside our home
Nine months later we moved to what looked like a great house in a leafy, quiet street elsewhere in Worsley. Once again my luck was against me. It was even colder and costlier to heat than the last two houses as the garage hadn’t been lagged and there were rooms next to and above it. The boiler was cranky, the electrics barely legal and the kitchen greasy and grimy even after several good cleans. The best things about it were the sizeable, lovely garden that we made the most of during the summer and the whirlpool bath that would ease any aches and pains. We probably would have stayed there but when the landlady announced she was missing her home and wanted to move back we find ourselves on the march again after barely a year in residence.
And so to the street where I presently live. I’m currently in the second house I’ve rented on this road but details of that can be found elsewhere in my blogs. I like this one. It’s big and warm with a huge garden, great neighbours and room for everyone to breathe. I hope to stay here for a long time but I’m not counting on it. A combination of my luck, my choices and the whims of others have seen me move house far too often over the last few years. I’ve had a nomadic spirit since my youth and don’t fear moving, but I’m getting to the age where settling down and staying somewhere is not just preferable but something I’m actively seeking.
Regular readers will have noticed shorter blog entries since the summer (well, up until this one anyway!). Life has been hectic. Work continues to dominate and November was no different. Whilst continuing to seek out tender opportunities and entertain potential clients I’ve also organised my company’s annual festive lunch for 120 clients. It wasn’t easy or straightforward and the last full week of November was particularly stressful. But I made it through and the event was a resounding success. Whilst I will be keeping the pedal on the metal right up until the two-week break on 22nd December I am sure the month will be altogether quieter. Whilst I don’t look forward to Christmas as much as many people I know I will be grateful for that fourteen day rest. 2012 could be another interesting year so a chance to recharge the old batteries is no bad thing.