Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local
I wonder who invented porches. Was it the Romans? According to Wikipedia, the word comes from the Latin porticus, ‘a colonnade’. Nothing posh like that round here. Porches are so sensible. Places to pause before entering, out of the wind and rain. Places of greeting and welcome. Places offering clues about the residents of the house. Walk along your road and enjoy their infinite variety. Some are heaped up randomly with cast-off boots and shoes. Relaxed and endearing. (You can almost hear the voices of schoolkids arriving home: “Hi Mum, what’s for tea?”) Some are home to exotic plants in elegant pots. Others contain a small picture gallery. In my porch, I’ve got one of those curvy hat racks. I saw it in a charity shop and loved the sculptural shape. A bit like the horns of a regal deer. But the hats are far from regal: one is a crimson, cardboard fez and another is a child’s straw hat with pink ribbons.
Now, I guess you are wondering why we are talking about porches at all. Look: just this week we had the best news for months, a hint of a light at the end of the lockdown tunnel. Encouraging results about vaccines. There is reason at last for cautious hope that before too long I may be able to resume my scribbles out there rather than in here. So, I thought it seemed permissible to chat a bit about “in here” before that happens. And the porch was the obvious place to start.
I grew up in this house from the age of 13. My older brother had the room over the garage. I envied him because it had windows at both ends. But I don’t remember ever questioning his right to it. The oldest child, and a boy. I still regard him as ‘the head of the family’. How old-fashioned is that. The twins came six years after me. A red letter day! Now, when they visit, they are quite likely to stroll through to the fridge and help themselves to a glass of wine, so strong is the sense of returning to their family home. That garage room now houses four bunk beds I assembled – with some help – for my grandchildren. Only one (grandchild) had arrived at that point. But I was hoping for four and was not disappointed.
There’s a large bathroom off the kitchen, with plenty of room for the ironing board and the clothes rack and shelves where my biography section lives. You can linger on the loo in the company of Richard Branson or Felicity Kendal. Ronnie O’Sullivan is there too, or you can dip into Jeffrey Archer’s extraordinary prison diaries. It’s on the west side of the house and floods with pink when there’s a spectacular sunset.
From my back bedroom, you can see Canary Wharf and the mushrooming cluster of buildings all around. In the seven years before he died, when my husband was paralysed and in a wheelchair and needed all-night care, I used to say goodnight and leave him with his carer downstairs and go upstairs and stand at the window and gaze at the mass of lights in Docklands. It was reassuring to observe the signs of the hurly-burly of ‘normal’ life that we had left behind. Clearly, it still existed. This room is crammed with family photographs. Recently, one of my young granddaughters commented – over the phone – “I suppose you just have to chat to our pictures when you go to bed during lockdown.”
The living room is where my fiction occupies a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. I can’t think why it’s called ‘fiction’ when there is often more truth about the human race in novels than in ‘factual’ histories. Yes, Dickens is there and Austen, Bronte and Trollope. Intriguing crime stories and whodunnits too. Rankin and Rendell and James (P.D.) and Simenon; writers old and new daring to delve into the depths and heights of what makes us human. Picoult, Tremain, McEwan, Greene. A reading-list for your next trip to the library? But before that, you can enjoy dialling up quotations on the web. “When an idea comes, spend silent time with it,” (Tremain). “I think to be driven to want to kill must be such a terrible burden,” ( Rendell). “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in,” (Greene).
I was standing in a long, socially-distancing queue outside the bank yesterday in brass-monkey temperatures. (A brief ‘permitted’ outing). Ashamed of myself for feeling annoyed when the person in front of me invited a new arrival to take a slot ahead of her. Even more ashamed when it crossed my mind that I, too, could try turning up with a walking stick. Are you shocked? My mind wandered away (far, far away from masks and viruses and quarantine) to another bank: a bank of memories of some very special holidays recorded in earlier diaries and stored in a cupboard in the dining room: Breakfast in a small pavement café in Seville. Flamenco demonstration this evening… The highlight of the day: our visit to the Amber Fort, east of Jaipur… Today it’s a polo match, at Holders House near Bridgetown; Barbados v. the US… Our first evening in Oslo. A ‘reserved’ table immediately offered to us, overlooking the city, in the heated arcade around the Cathedral Café… Time to relax on the Una Watuna beach after the long, clattering bus ride from Colombo down to Galle.
Next, please – I’d reached the head of the queue.
What a wonderful world ‘out there’! But I think those wheelchair years, confined at home, may have unknowingly prepared me for the situation we are all sharing now. My admiration for NHS staff in particular has soared sky high. They really are ‘out there’ and if my contribution is simply to stay ‘in here’, I say THANK YOU with all my heart.