47 Ritherdon Road, Wandsworth, South-West London.
Nanny & Grandpa Jones live in a flat on the middle floor of a three-storey Victorian semi-detached house at 47 Ritherdon Road in Balham. Mum & Alan drop me off for my weekend visit and I cross a checkerboard of tiles and pass from daylight into a dark hall. Stairs rise to the left; shiny dark brown doors face me; I’m conscious of the stairs that descend into the basement, but I’m afraid to look down into the shadows as I move across the hallway to climb towards the flat. There is an ambient smell – cooking, dust, polish, damp. It lingers faintly, like distant music; it speaks to me of the past, of the ghosts who are sealed beneath wallpaper and paint.
The kitchen is warm. Nanny cooks. She slices slivers of butter into a frying pan. The creamy yellow brick that she holds down with her left hand she bought that afternoon at Sainsbury’s in Balham High Street. A bald man in a white coat cut it from a huge block and he beat it into shape with two paddles like cricket bats and then he wrapped it in greaseproof paper. I play at the kitchen table with wooden building blocks, utterly absorbed. They are different shapes, colours and sizes. Some are cylindrical, some rectangular, some square; some are formed into half circles and they accommodate the cylindrical blocks perfectly. These I make into tunnels and bridges as I run my rainbow railway across the table’s rough surface.
At 6.00 PM Grandpa listens to the News from the wireless in the Living Room. He demands total silence. I sit behind his chair with Nanny’s sewing basket, passing a ball of amber beeswax from hand to hand. Its surface is laced with the tracks of the lengths of cotton she pulls across it to stiffen them when she sews by the evening fire. The chair creaks as he leans forward towards the mantelpiece for his pipe and tobacco. I see his arm reach for a paper spill from the copper container shaped like an ice cream cone. He grunts as he leans across and takes a flame from the fire and I listen to him draw it into the pipe bowl with a reedy crackle. Seconds later the aroma reaches me as he leans back into his cushions. I breathe in its richness.
I sleep in a creaky folding bed placed across the unused fireplace in Nanny’s and Grandpa’s bedroom. The cavity is concealed behind a wooden screen on two ornamental feet. Every inch of it is covered with pictures – items from ancient magazines, newspaper and catalogues, book illustrations, old photographs, box tops, Christmas and birthday cards. Nanny made it, she tells me each time I come to stay, when she was a ‘young married’. As the light fades after bedtime, I study each picture that is visible above the tideline of the counterpane. I lay my head opposite Little Miss Muffet in a hooped skirt and a cartwheel hat and I drift off to sleep…
Alan, Mum (with cat Tarkie), Grandpa & Nanny Jones
outside 47 Ritherdon Road.