Friday, January 03, 2014

Street Views

Today, my father would have been eight-one years old.  Tonight, I happened to come across the house where he would have been born.  It still stands.  Yellow paintwork instead of blue, the silver-painted conch shells along the top of the wall and the roses behind all gone.  Old gardens have been excavated, the network of workshops gone, and in their place a concrete yard selling gas cylinders.  There is a bathroom upstairs now, I expect, and an indoor toilet.  But, despite this, the place seems more austere: like a new plastic seat instead of an old worn leather one.

My brothers and I used to watch the cattle trucks going past from that garden.  We used to race through the corrugated iron sheds where my grandfather used to work his stone.  One forbidden kingdom leading into the next: lino floor then cinder, each door more stiff to open than the last.  Once we came across a pigeon my grandmother was tending while its wing healed.  On high days I was given half a crown to spend in Woolworths, and I was allowed to walk there alone -  dodging the places where the wedges of pavement disappeared into corners.  I'd buy pens, paper, crayons and then take them back to one of those green sheds to make books out of pieces of wallpaper.  Beneath my feet the marble chips crunched.  Against the green-painted furrowed walls the slate leant waiting for an inscription.

I zoom out on Street View.  Wait while the clunky software reveals the front.  It's still there.   A piece of slate the size of a post card next to the new aluminium front door:  D. W. Jenkins and Son.  And for a moment it seems like my father is still there too: touching the newly-incised letters with his fingers.  Monumental Masons.  The presumption that he'll take up the family trade.  Knowing even then it is something he'll never follow.


Blogger jem said...

Beautiful piece. I've been thinking, and consequently writing, about family a lot recently. And place is such a central part of every memory. And I'm always amazed at how many tiny details come back to me - how much we can store away.

Mon Jan 13, 09:46:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Jem - I am sure whatever you you write about family will be beautiful too. It is a great source of tales because it is the one thing we all know intimately...well, those lucky enough to have one.

Mon Jan 13, 11:40:00 am  
Blogger jem said...

Very true. And of course some of the best family writing takes a look at the unbeautiful bits too.

Thu Jan 16, 10:04:00 am  

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