No matter what crazy scheme I’ve set my heart on doing, my mam has 99 per cent of the time said one thing: “Eeeee, well, go do it. If it all goes wrong, you can always come back home.” (The one per cent was my New Romantic phase in my early teens, when I tried to go into town wearing Steve-Strange-meets-Dame Edna-Everage make-up, she told me that I couldn’t actually leave the house.)
But now that’s gone. I have no home any more.
Tomorrow, my mam leaves the council house that has been “home” for 39 years and eight months. She’s moving into somewhere easier for her to look after and with people around she can chat to, so that’s fantastic.
So why have I been bawling like a bairn for the last few days?
I haven’t lived in that house since I was in my 20s and the last few years when we’ve gone back to Newcastle to visit, we’ve stayed with my sister so as not to put too much pressure on mam (having to wash bedding etc). Indeed, whenever I went to my old bedroom, there was no sign that I’d even lived there – the wallpaper was different and I’d taken all my furniture with me when I’d moved out – yet I’d still scour the walls looking for pin holes from my James Dean posters, some sign that this was once the most valuable space in the world for me.
It was a few years ago that I realised what I was looking for: ghosts. Not the spectral type that Zak Bagans goes off searching for, but the Henrik Ibsen type. We studied Ghosts in sixth form Theatre Studies and I’d never quite got it (sorry, Miss Heckels), but standing in my bedroom, listening to the distant traffic and looking out over the neighbours’ houses, a view I know so well, linked me to a past that’s long gone – and largely long forgotten. It was my time machine to the past.
There was me and my best friend playing with Pippa and Sindy, graduating to writing torrid love stories about them and Gary Numan-a-likes where we’d pass the epic over at a dramatic point for the other to finish off, the cliffhangers getting dirtier (still more Jackie magazine than Jackie Collins) as we got older.
Then it was a Monday night and the room was filled with my best friends from sixth form, eight of us taking it in turns to go round each other’s house and kick the week off talking about clothes and music and boys and wondering who had had sex and trying to pretend that we knew all about it when reading Shirley Conran’s Lace was probably the closest most of us had got.
And then there was me on my wedding day, back in my bedroom after four years away, putting my make-up on in front of the mirror as I’d done so many times before.
Sometimes in later years, when I’d left the country and embraced a whole new culture, I’d go back and the memories would be so strong that I’d go upstairs and open a cupboard only to be shocked to discover my history A-level notes were no longer there (although I did receive a text this week asking if they could throw out the Patch annual from 1987. There was such a thing as Patch? Thankfully, it seems they’ve saved my copy of Stand and Deliver.)
David Cameron and his ilk see council housing as a commodity, something to be monetised and temporary, with people having to reapply to stay every few years. With their ancestral mansions and townhouses filled with furniture they didn’t have to buy themselves, they can’t see the value of a house owned by the local authority.
But a home isn’t the bricks and mortar. It isn’t the growing equity. It is a place of life and experiences and ghosts.
And in that council house with bedrooms once so cold that at night I’d go to bed wearing thermals and see my breath hang in the air, where the windows were so flimsy they’d rattle in the wind and I’d be woken up by the 7am siren summoning the shipyard workers in for their shift – in that council house, I had a home. For 39 years and eight months.
I hope the young family that are moving in have the same.