As some of you may know, I hold creative writing workshops and I also tutored creative writing for the local council for many years before Covid came along. Tutoring adults can be rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans were rarely followed – someone inevitably took things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing and poetry) I’ve kept promising to share some of their work. Here is a thoughtful piece of free verse poetry, written quite a few years ago, by the now very successful author, Alex Craigie. It’s one of my favourites., and, I feel, appropriate for these times.
Trish was ten when her first play was performed at school. It was in rhyming couplets and written in pencil in a book with imperial weights and measures printed on the back. When her children were young, she wrote short stories for magazines before returning to the teaching job that she loved.Trish has had three books published under the pen name of Alex Craigie. The first two books cross genre boundaries and feature elements of romance, thriller and suspense against a backdrop of social issues. Someone Close to Home highlights the problems affecting care homes while Acts of Convenience has issues concerning the health service at its heart. Her third book. Means to Deceive, is a psychological thriller.Someone Close to Home has won a Chill with a Book award and a Chill with the Book of the Month award. In 2019 it was one of the top ten bestsellers in its category on Amazon.
There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today’s memories are from Alex Craigie, a dear friend I’ve known both in ‘real’ life and online for many years.
So many thanks to Judith for inviting me to take part in this series. Everyone has had a different take on the prompt and I’ve loved the diverse and fascinating contributions.
My first memories are of this house that was my home until I was ten.
This one is of me and my brother at Easter. We’re with my mother, rolling hardboiled eggs on the driveway.
It’s a large house. Those pictures are of the side; the front is broader and stretches deep into the photograph.
My mother, a nurse, met my father, a doctor, in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. When the window cleaner crashed through the glass-topped verandah he was fortunate (!) to have people on hand equipped to deal with a medical emergency. (I see it’s been removed now.)
The entrance hall was a cavernous space bordered by a beautiful fireplace on the left and a staircase on the right. A long and creepy cloakroom dwelt under the staircase, dwindling to dark nothingness as it followed the line above it. The ceiling of the hall soared two staircases to the landing of the first floor bedrooms and the hard, smooth flooring was a great surface for playing jacks. One Christmas, I tottered around for ages on that floor in a pair of sparkly Cinderella shoes, aping the sound that my mother made in her stilettos.
Nowadays, I struggle to remember what I had to eat for lunch, but I can still recall the number of the phone on the camphor chest by the stairs: ECC (Eccles) 2048.
There were four rooms off the hall. The drawing room (with the French doors under the verandah) was light and sunny. I wrote my first story there at the bureau when I was six. When my mother read the bit where one of the characters was dismissed, she laughed at my use of the term “you’re fired”. It stung.
One evening I was sent to the drawing room to fetch something. A man with straggly hair was at the French doors, his face pressed up grotesquely against the full-length window. He started shouting and screaming and banging on the glass. I was terrified. My father explained later that the man wasn’t well. Since then, I close the curtains before it’s properly dark.
The other rooms off the hall comprised a lounge, dining room and breakfast room. The breakfast room led to the kitchen and pantry and there was also a door to the expansive cellars where things like coal were kept. For a timid child, the cellars held all the charm of Madame Tussaud’s dungeons. (I was that timid child.)
I have fond memories of Rory, our dog, stealing the brass hearthbrush, racing to the top of the hall staircase, releasing it and then chasing after it. I dropped a glass down them in similar vein –minus the intent– tumbling after it. Again, it was good to have a health professional on hand. A puckered scar is my memento.
These stairs led up to a landing. A corridor to the left, with built-in cupboards, ended in another cloakroom. In the middle was a minstrel gallery backed by a block of tall windows. At night, they threw menacing shadows of trees, and during thunderstorms these windows terrified me almost as much as the incident in the drawing room.
To the right of the gallery was a flight of stairs up to four of the bedrooms. I slept in the third room for a while, but there was a patch of wallpaper opposite the bed in which I could see a clown’s face. When I looked at it, the smile on the face seemed to grow in a sinister way that led to nightmares. I was relocated to the fourth room.
My brother’s cot was moved into this room with me and one morning, returning from the loo, I found him leaning over the bars and staring at his teddy bear melting on the small electric bar heater. There were full-length net curtains at the window. I can still picture the tiny felt circles that were dotted over them. As I took in the scene, the curtain nearest the cot flared up. I yelled for help, dragged Ian over the bars and hauled him onto the landing. When all the excitement was over, all that remained to show for it was an acrid smell, a blackened wall and ceiling, and a large tarry patch on the linoleum. My parents’ appreciation extended to a trip to Woolworths to buy a treat; well worth the momentary panic.
Up another small staircase was the family bathroom –an unlovely room in monochrome with a bath that had a green stain under one of the taps, a discoloured plastic beaker that held our toothbrushes, and greying towels that made great exfoliators. It was a cold room even in the summer.
One final staircase led to the last three bedrooms. The first of these was for the Au Pair girls who stayed with us to learn English and earned their keep by helping out. The second was sometimes occupied by Anne, a live-in servant who came and went according to her tempestuous lovelife.
The third room became my playroom. It’s that window in the pictures at the very top of the house. I could only see out of it if I stacked up my toys and balanced on them. After a visit to the circus, I taught myself to stand on my head in there. I was expected to stay in this room, out of the way. I resented, later, being cooped in there with my brothers, but it was an escape from my parents’ disintegrating marriage. And I had my books.
My free time was mainly spent in the playroom, garden, or with my friend Jane.
Here I am in the back garden with my grandfather. Rory is in the foreground.
Looking back, I realise that I had no concept of my privileged existence. My life seemed very ordinary compared with my immediate surroundings. Jane’s house, round the corner from us, was much grander than ours. It had two impressive staircases and several live-in servants. Backing on to our garden was another palatial house used by the family of someone high up in the USAF. Cheryl was my age and had a massive, carpeted bedroom and exquisite princess and fairy costumes. In the winter, her father sprayed water over the lawn for her to skate on.
My parents divorced when I was ten. My father got the house; my mother got us. We moved to a basement maisonette in Bramhall, Cheshire. I’m in front of it here, on the right, next to my mother, two brothers and a (solemn) friend:
Behind the two windows at the bottom left, were a spacious kitchen and cramped bathroom. Those windows were beyond our reach and daylight was filtered out by the overhanging greenery and architecture. The two rooms above were, in contrast, full of light, but half the size because of the maisonette abutting them. A bijou sitting room and main bedroom were separated by a glass partition. I slept in the remaining tiny room with the older of my brothers. My mother and I repeatedly asserted how cosy it was. We knew we were lying.
Itchy bites turned out to be bedbugs and we had to leave temporarily whilst the place was fumigated. A lecherous landlord proved to be another problem (a divorced woman was often seen as desperate for attention and fair game), and noise seeped freely into the flat from the surrounding ones. We did have a phone, though. BRA (Bramhall) 3969…
That winter, 1962/1963, was one of the coldest on record in the UK. We returned one day to discover the water tank in the flat above us had burst and there were magnificently long icicles adorning our staircase. In the kitchen, I had a skating rink to rival Cheryl’s.
There were financial constraints in this new life, but I had a freedom that I’d lacked before. At the local school, I made friends and played outside with them. I taught the whole class how to stand on their heads. I left before the end of the year but was given a handmade book of poems put together by the teacher and signed by my classmates – most of them ‘with love’. It mattered. I still have it.
The loss of status had a traumatic effect on my mother who spent the rest of her days trying to fashion a residence as impressive as Kingston Lodge. She was a genuinely talented pianist and had a comfortable life but her appreciation for what she did have was overshadowed by what she’d lost.
I loved the old house, but there were other things I loved more.
Her loss was, sadly, my gain.
Alex Craigie is the pen name of Trish Power.
Trish was ten when her first play was performed at school. It was in rhyming couplets and written in pencil in a book with imperial weights and measures printed on the back.
When her children were young, she wrote short stories for magazines before returning to the teaching job that she loved.
Trish has had three books published under the pen name of Alex Craigie. The first two books cross genre boundaries and feature elements of romance, thriller and suspense against a backdrop of social issues. Someone Close to Home highlights the problems affecting care homes while Acts of Convenience has issues concerning the health service at its heart. Her third book. Means to Deceive, is a psychological thriller.
Someone Close to Home has won a Chill with a Book award and a Chill with the Book of the Month award. In 2019 it was one of the top ten bestsellers in its category on Amazon.