Alison R Reed (also writing as Marianna Bell and Michael N Allison)

No 9 (continued)

Negotiating the stairs again, you find that you are facing the living room, affectionately known as the 'front kitchen'.  Here is an eclectic mixture of all sorts of things.  The shelves built on either side of the plastic-wood coated fireplace are bending under a plethora of shells, photographs, nick-nacks inscribed 'a present from somewhere', piles of birthday cards dating back to the 1970s, a full set of colourful children's encyclopaedias and packets, jars and tins of unopened liquorice, toffees and mints.  The gas fire was only installed in the late 1980s although the white tiled fireplace has been in-situ for some fifty or more years.  It replaced the old leaded range that warmed the room and provided tea for the Catholic priest who used to visit regularly in earlier years.  The heavy utility two-piece suite has been recovered at some time in its life with a green, leather-look vinyl and the cushions seem a familiar red colour.  In fact they match the curtains hanging in the uPVC window and the pillow on the rocking chair upstairs.  The sideboard is also part of the set and it is only by judicious jiggling that the doors are opened to droop sadly on well-worn hinges.  The two drawers above also need persuasion to open far enough for their overfull contents to spill onto the floor.

The kitchen is the other downstairs room and is now quite spacious because the coalhouse, which was an integral part of the house, was pulled down to make room for a small pantry, wooden cupboards and fridge space.  It takes some imagination to picture the mess that must have ensued when the coal was delivered.  Even with the doors closed, the house had to be be cleaned from top to bottom because of the thick black dust that settled on everything.  The relief that must have been felt when fuel was tipped from the black sacks into a concrete bunker in the back garden more than made up for the inconvenience of going outside in the rain and snow to collect a scuttle full for the open fire in the living room.

The table is solid oak, blackened by age and covered in a red formica top, anything to make life a little easier and it was still cheaper than a new table!  The solid hot plate on the electric cook (new in 1940) is pitted and scarred by years of use and the top grill door is permanently open, the spring having gone and spares are no longer available.

Off the kitchen is a small, green-tiled bathroom so practical for miners walking home from the nearby pit and coke works.  Of course, originally there would have been a white, free-standing, cast-iron bath and a china sink but those were replaced as late as the 1970s when the extension was added.

The single-storey extension built onto the kitchen holds a broom cupboard and the toilet, onto which is fastened a large Belfast sink fitted sideways and the washing machine, which only recently replaced the old twin-tub that used to stand in the corner, is squeezed, like an after-thought, behind the back door.

The concrete bailey outside is almost black with age and an old bath perched on the garden, two steps up from the house, is still home to several goldfish.  They are protected from unwanted feline attention by a thick, green plastic netting supported by wire hoops and tied on with twine.  The owner will tell you of days gone by when chickens ran loose in the garden and his son kept boxes full of white mice in the garage.  Although falling into decay because Tom, an ex-miner, RAF fitter and steel worker, has been admitted into a home it is a typical house of a by-gone time.  It accurately reflects the village where the old shops are closing and being replaced by take-aways and video rental shops.  Thomas-the-Steps is no longer available for provisions, instead a branch of Londis provides for early morning and late night emergencies such as milk, bread and lottery tickets.  The old houses are being bought up and 'made over' and the fields that were the roaming ground for many a dirty-kneed schoolboy have been carpeted with executive housing.  It is the end of an era for Number 9.  It won't be long before it too is sold to a young couple from Port Talbot, perhaps, who want to work in Cardiff and see a short cut to riches by purchasing a 'compact house with scope for improvement'.  They'll work on it at weekends and furnish it with impeccable but impersonal items from MFI and Homebase.  And as they tip out the old, they will take away its soul, piece by piece, and number 9 will become just a number instead of a home.


This piece was written in 2004 for a non-fiction competition and it won!