There is so much more room there. Wider footpaths, wider streets, thick berms of grass separating the two, roots bending knees through the concrete and gutters full of fallen flowers. I never though twice about that grassy stretch that broke up road and pavement, on both sides of the street, on most of the streets. It seemed a normal way to keep pedestrian from road, to protect the small families from the fast cars, and now I wonder at the wide, stretched-arms of space, and the decision to give it to spikes of grass, and yellow flowers, and bees, and not to another lane for another car, or a thicker intrusion of concrete. After all, it’s not used for anything useful. Garbage bags collect on it, or spiny dumps of inorganic rubbish awaiting collection. Clumps of school kids wander along it at angles. Why would you leave so many spare cuttings of your carefully-planned, barely-considered city?
Sometimes I think of how the house I grew up in had an entire spare room for the washing machine. It contained that old, humming hunk of metal and plastic, vibrating across the concrete as it churned muck and sweat from three sets of school uniforms, and one large sink, used for overspills of laundry, or hand-washed silk (rare, but there, sometimes, black from Moochi, amongst the Glassons). An ironing board that stood always, because why would you collapse it and keep it in a cupboard, ready to trap your fingers upon next erection, when you could leave it perched, unplugged iron balanced, for the next collar, hem, pleat. I don’t even own an ironing board. Sometimes I think of buying one of those very small ones with very short legs to be used on very small tables in very small flats, and then I remember being 17 years old and buying a white shirt to wear at my waitressing job, and my mother telling me never to bother buying anything that needs to be ironed, and me buying them all those times since, and all the times I’ve never, ever worn them. The one, crisp white Cos dress that hangs off me like a lost costume for a nursetenniscoach, stuffed at the bottom of a bag of winter clothes.
The house I did the majority of my growing up (sleeping over, heating up, showering off, sneaking out) in had too many doors, the sliding plastic kind with the dark metal frames and the long silver locks with black tips to flick up for locked and down for unlocked. More door than wall, all open to the sea and wind and seagulls. A house on the end of a peninsula, all doors and no walls, is something out of a novel where a widow paces an upper balcony and waves pound at the cliffs, but my childhood was all kayaks and bunny rabbits and dishwashing liquid on the trampoline.
Working my way around: one set of sliding doors from my parent’s bedroom, one from my sister’s, two from the computer room, one from the dining room, one from the lounge, the front door, and another from the garage. Now I have two front doors (one ours, one shared) and one back door, and the back door gives me pangs such that we might need to get a security camera so that I can look at it and see that it is shut, shut, shut. The wall of our garden backs onto an estate, and sometimes they throw food over. Yesterday, a peach with a big bite taken out of it.
I didn’t give a shit about the separate laundry while I lived there, a laundry big enough that one year, when we renovated the kitchen, we cooked in it for six months, a microwave and a slow cooker, living out of one bedroom and the garage while they ripped up the floors and knocked down walls and put in a thick silver crooked finger of a kitchen bench, which we loved, and which was the first thing they took out when the house was sold. In London it would be a double bedroom with natural light and rustic floors. It even had a huge built-in cupboard that was filled with old leaflets and bike helmets, not fit for protecting skulls.
There is no inorganic rubbish in London. It’s not even a concept. Instead, people leave things on the footpath with signs scribbled on paper, Free, Take Me. Our nice neighbours are moving out and so they keep leaving plastic bags full of items in front of our shared hedge, Free, Take Me on plastic plant pots and bags of cutlery. The cutlery is gone. Halfway up the road there is a big wood and glass cabinet, with inlaid doors and carved handles. One leg is broken, all the glass is smashed.
I can recreate my whole childhood in one long moment inside my skull, recently stuffed full of parks in sun and beers in pubs and mornings in office buildings, but more permanently, padded all the way around with a lock snapped open, and a door slid wide, bare feet on rings of brick, warm toes on pricking grass, down concrete steps imprinted with the steps of children, a muddy, stone slide of a path, new wooden steps, concrete, rocks, mud and the sea.