We moved to 8th Avenue at the beginning of April 1953. What a magical place it was. It had been built about 1907 and in its glory years had been the home of a magistrate, but by the mid-nineteen fifties its pretensions to grandeur had ceased to pretend. We didn’t care about that. The back stand was the most marvellous playground any child could wish for. Firstly there was a stable and a garage on the western side and on the eastern side was a garage, where John later kept his pigeons. Next to that was a servant’s room, probably originally for a married couple, maybe the cook/housekeeper and the butler /driver / gardener, and next to that was a much bigger room that probably had been a dormitory for several maids. The rest of the stand was covered in fruit trees ( including a walnut tree, a row of quinces up against the back wall, an apricot, several types of plum and two or three different peach trees.( Heaven to me, was sitting up in the big plum tree with an exciting book to read, and being able to put out my hand and eat as many plums as my tummy could hold.) There was a drive coming down from the big worn out corrugated iron gates that displayed the address, 75. In the large area between the stable and the eastern garage and servant’s quarters, there were still vestiges of the gravel that must have covered the driveway. Behind the garage ( or carriage house, as it had been in its ostentatious days ) and stable that were on the western boundary grew huge fir trees, and next to them in the corner was a big oak.
This WAS the Faraway tree. (I once fell out of this tree; there was no Slippery Slip I found to my chagrin and had to break my fall by grabbing the edge of the corrugated iron fence below that separated us from the neighbours. I bear the scars to this day!) We used to play on the rather rusty roof of this garage, having climbed up via the oak tree which almost reached the roof; after a rather daring leap we would be into another kind of wonderland amongst the thick fallen fir ‘leaves’ where we found huge egg-shaped cocoons which held ugly white grubs. I learned quickly to stand my ground and conceal my shudders while my mischievous older brother made me hold one of these wriggly horrors. This resoluteness stood me in good stead when I was faced with having to pick up frogs and grass snakes and huge locusts and other uglies. I knew instinctively that had I shown my fear, my life would have been miserable for ever afterwards.
Once we had attained this rather dangerous eyrie we used to play that we were on a space ship hurtling through time and endless space to another Universe which we called Veronica. We zipped through the Milky Way; We flew at incredible speeds, hurtling past millions of galaxies, whizzing around myriads of brilliant, singing stars and their marvellous planets. What strange creatures might we find roaming down there? But we weren’t distracted as we braved the perils of our mission. Then we would be brought back with a bump as mom called us in for lunch, and with my heart in my mouth, I had to put my trust in that tiny branch once more, to descent to the land of Earthlings.
I recall that day we moved in, the excitement as we explored everything. When we had visited the house before we bought the place, I had peeked into the housekeeper’s room. That old lady and her husband were sitting quietly and when I peeked around the half-open door and I jumped, not expecting to find anyone there. They greeted me with solemn kindness and I was about to continue my exploration of the property, when I saw a curtain in the corner which obviously concealed the servant’s clothing, but I imagined that it lead to some other mysterious room, maybe a staircase to somewhere else! I could not investigate at once of course, but excitement tickled in my chest at the thought of what could be there. It was one of the first things I looked for on the day we moved there. The door of the servant’s room was slightly ajar and it creaked as I pushed it open with anticipation giving me cold shivers. I crept into the shadowy, rather musty room and was very disappointed to find the room was empty and all there was in the corner was a blank wall. Shades of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe! I know exactly how Lucy must have felt when she couldn’t go back to Narnia, because the wardrobe was no longer a way of getting there. It was just that. A Wardrobe. This was just A Wall. And I never did see the Other Room. Except in my imagination.
The unfortunate part about these buildings was that they were dangerous in that they had only used a mud with a bit of concrete, it seems, as mortar. The whole lot were very shaky and we really couldn’t do anything with them except demolish them, which was a real pity. But they remained for several years for us to enjoy before they finally were torn down.