Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Scent of 1965

In 1965 my parents decided to do some mid-Sixties improvements to our 1896 house. My brother was about to be born, and with two children they would need a modern, up-to-date house, with none of that Victorian rubbish left.

Just to fill in those who have not been previously introduced to the story of the house: my parents bought the house in 1959, and then bought the bottom half of next door's garden in 1965. And then in 1999 Stephen and I bought the house from my parents, and they had a house built in the garden, which was big enough to build in because of the extra chunk of garden from 1965. There's still plenty of garden left, and my mother still lives in the new house, though the Communist now lives in a nearby nursing home.

The Communist always hated the Victorians because, being born in 1923, he found them to have existed just long enough ago to be old-fashioned, but not long enough ago to be interesting. He regarded everything Victorian as stuffy and best done away with.

Even at the tender age of eight, I disagreed with him. I hated it when they put hardboard round the old banisters, and removed the large knobs from top and bottom of the banisters, and pulled out the fireplace and replaced it with a blank wall.

But I couldn't remember quite what they'd done to the doors in the hall, except I knew I didn't like the result. The doors were now entirely flat, with hardboard on the top, and then covered in wallpaper of a kind designed to trap and keep as much dirt as possible.

There may have been some good things about the 1960s but, judging from our house, the decor was not one of them. Some people got the Summer of Love but we got the Summer of Textured Wallpaper.

And then, of course, in subsequent bouts of decorating they'd just painted over the whole horrible lot, most recently in a colour best described as Poisonous Mushroom.

Actually, I suspect it was only one subsequent bout of decorating. It's a very big area, the hall, stairs, back passage (oh stop it now) and landing. In September 1977, just before I went away to spend a year at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, the water-tank burst and flooded the hall so the whole area was redecorated and had a new carpet put down.

Then, at intervals, since about, say, 1985, my parents had looked at the hall and thought it could do with decorating. And then thought hey, it's a big job, and left it for another decade or so.

So now, in 2008, having had lots of the rest of this house decorated, we can stand it no longer. But the door to the lounge (oh yes, "lounge" very Sixties word, but that's what we've always called it so that's what it's called) had failed to shut properly for some time.

And, of course, it was still covered in Textured Wallpaper. Today, John kindly looked at it, and declared it mendable, and I explained how I much I hated the Textured Wallpaper. Froggie the cat clearly hates it too: she has scraped much of it off over the years.

Then, in about a minute, off came both the hardboard and the Textured Wallpaper with it.

Underneath was a proper door. Filthy, old and covered in peeling paint, but a proper door.

And suddenly the whole hall smelled of - well - 1965. Amazing. And, looking at the door, there is Fifties Cream on the top, and then underneath yellow, then pale blue, fawn, and finally dark red. I do remember that when I was little the large knobs on the banisters had been painted black, but this dark red showed through where they were scratched.

Through the door you can see the fawn carpet in the lounge: I don't like that either, even though it's fairly recent. It's like painting the Forth Bridge, trying to get this house sorted. But I still like it: those Victorians knew a thing or two and the rooms are large and nicely-proportioned and even the Communist's efforts to ruin them haven't totally succeeded. And it has, I think, a friendly feel to it.

Since we moved in we've done lots - new central heating, new windows, new bathroom, new kitchen - - - and it still needs lots doing. But getting the hall and stairs decorated will be a good step forward.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How sad is this going to sound... I'm really looking forward to seeing the door on Sunday. So does it close properly now without your magic touch as well as looking like a 'proper door'?

Those Victorians knew how to do things properly. Shame they were so very proper themselves.

7:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dad did the same thing - same time. What was it with makng all the doors flat? I mean - just look at it now - it's a great door. it's what a door is supposed to look like.
What I really very much love about old Victorian houses - at least the 'middle class' ones - are the high ceilings. And they seemed to understand more about getting proprotions right than Barrett or Persimmon.

7:55 pm  
Blogger David said...

hardboard around the bannisters ! That is SOOOOOO my childhood !

9:28 pm  

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