»  62 Friars Avenue — Plan of the Upper Floor

62 Friars Ave

 

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[North is at the right in this diagram.]

The upper floor of 62 Friars Avenue — "first floor" in British English, "second floor" in American — was the same size as the lower, minus the bay window.

The layout was as simple as it could be. Stairs from the lower floor led to a landing. The landing had doors leading off into three bedrooms and a bathroom. All three bedrooms had built-in closets.

The master bedroom (southwest) had a fireplace with a small tiled hearth. In the closets of the second bedroom (northwest) there was a water tank, heated by the Beeston boiler down below in the kitchen. The third bedroom, bathroom, and landing were unheated.

Light for each room was a single bulb fixture in the middle of the ceiling. The bathroom light was operated by a string pull at left of the door as you went in. The master bedroom light was on a two-way switch: one regular switch at right of the door as you entered, and a string pull from the ceiling near the east wall, where the main bed was thought likely to be (and in our case, was). The other bedrooms had a single regular light switch next to the door. There was a two-way switch for the landing, the other switch on the west wall of the downstairs hall.

 

The master bedroom.

My parents slept here. In my early childhood they shared a big double bed, its head set against the east wall. In the style normal at that time, the bed had a bolster — that is, a single long pillow spanning the whole width. There were regular individual pillows on top. It was my pleasure, on a Sunday morning, to wake early and climb into bed between Mum and Dad. Dad would generally get up at this point or soon after, often with some humorous remark about how "You'll still be climbing into bed with your mother when you're twenty-one." (The midcentury psychoanalysis fad had not penetrated the provincial English working classes, which was perhaps just as well.) Then I'd lie there cozy with Mum while she read Argosy or Woman's Own. Sometimes Judith would come in and we'd play at hiding in the bedclothes. The bed seemed enormous to us, though I doubt it was even queen size.

Mum had a dressing table in the southwest corner of the room. The northwest corner, filling the chimney recess, was built-in closets and drawers. This was for Dad's stuff: all his clothes, and some books and knick-knacks. Dad's WW1 memorabilia were in here: an illustrated two- or three-volume history of the war, a framed picture of the Cenotaph; another framed picture of himself in uniform; his medals.

Fixed to the north wall near these closets, from about 1950 on, was a full-length mirror.

During their last years in the house, Judith and I both gone, Mum took over the back bedroom, leaving the master bedroom to Dad.

 

Judith's bedroom.

The back bedroom (i.e. at the north side of the house) was my sister Judith's. Its only distinguishing feature was a big array of built-in closets and drawers at the east wall. High up in the north half of these closets was the hot water tank, heated by the Beeston boiler directly below in the kitchen. Under the tank were some open-work shelves — spaced wooden slats — for airing clothes; so this whole top-north section was "the airing cupboard." Below the airing cupboard were drawers. The bottom-most drawer was charmed. It was in there, from October on, that Mum stored our Christmas presents. We figured this out very early, and the presents got well played with before Christmas. The south half of the complex was a big wardrobe with a single drawer underneath.

 

My bedroom.

My bedroom, overlooking Friars Avenue at the southeast corner of the house, was the smallest. It was made smaller by its northeast corner being part-lost to the stairs. The truly lost part was only the lower three feet or so; above that was a single square closet.

In my very earliest childhood my bed was set east-west under the window. A little plywood crate painted creamy yellow was my bedside table — always, in my imagination, with a glass of milk standing on it. After a year or so the configuration changed, my bed now set north-south (head at the south) along the east wall, where it then mostly remained.

The advantage of my room looking out over the avenue was, I could see who was out there playing. Calling from the window to playmates in the street below got me my first scar, however. I slipped and cut my left eye open above the lid on the red tiles used for interior sills on all the house's windows. To my mother's horror, I appeared at the head of the stairs, howling and with blood pouring down my face. She hustled me off to the general hospital (where she was employed at the time), and a friendly nurse spared me the usual stitches by applying a butterfly dressing.

 

The bathroom.

Bathtub (north-south along the east wall, faucets at the north end), handbasin against the north wall, toilet pedestal in the northwest corner.

Baths were taken weekly, on Sundays, when Mum fired up the Beeston boiler. We kids, when small, were given midweek body washes at the kitchen sink, seated on the left draining board, with water heated in a kettle on the gas range. My mother was, by the standards of the time, fanatical about hygiene. This was a consequence of her nursing training in the 1930s. At that time medical science had far fewer weapons in its war against disease than it has now, and correspondingly more time in medical and nursing training was given over to just keeping things clean and sterile. I don't know (and I think would prefer not to know) what nursing-school "mission statements" say nowadays; but my mother's mantra was:  "A nurse's job is to keep the patient clean and comfortable." She was always mortified by any suggestion that she was sufficiently inattentive to these things; as when, one day early in my school career, I was brought home by the nit nurse.*

The bathroom being usually without hot water, my father took his daily shave in the kitchen, too, from a kettle full of hot water. He shaved with a safety razor and brush, using a little stainless-steel bowl manufactured by Sankeys of Wolverhampton. I still have the bowl, now presumably well into its seventh decade.

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The nit nurse traveled around the town's schools searching the pupils' hair for nits — the telltale tiny black blobs halfway up a head hair that showed a louse had laid an egg there. If you had nits, the nit nurse took you home and gave your parents some hygiene instruction, and a nit comb. (That is, a fine-tooth comb. The expression "a fine-tooth comb" is merely an empty metaphor for anyone born much after 1960. For my generation, it represents disgrace and pain — try having one of the damn things dragged through your hair to remove the nits.)

 

The landing.

In the ceiling of the landing was a square trapdoor leading to the roof space. I can't recall ever going up there in childhood. Living in the house in the early 1980s, I stored things up there. It was perfectly unfinished.