Friday, May 14, 2010


I fear that unless I summon up and exert all of my will power I am in danger of becoming a stalker.

Not for me the telescope through my neighbour’s curtains to catch a glimpse of her camisoles (why go to that expense when I can see her knickers on the washing line every day? Note to self: probably better to edit that line out later). Not for me the surreptitious car chases or, coat collar up, following someone to and from their place of work on foot, hoping to catch a glimpse of a shady décolletage.

No. I’m stalking a house. A red cube of bricks and mortar.

I couldn’t resist walking by my grandparent’s house yesterday lunchtime. Although, of course, it is not really their house any longer. A new car had parked itself on the drive. Dark green. Unkempt looking. With horribly filthy hubcaps. My grandfather would never have allowed that.

It hurt. This I freely admit. It hurt seeing signs of other lives going about their business inside those walls. It hurt realizing that I can no longer go inside a house where I was, without fail, always, always welcome. I found myself craning my neck to see through the net curtains (still my Nan’s), noting that no furniture had yet been moved inside, that the bird muck on the patio windows was still there and visible via the light bleeding through from the back garden.

I did two walk-bys feeling furtive and fugitive. I caught a glimpse of the back garden fence – the boundary that, when blowing bubbles as kids, my sisters and I would delight in sending our little soapy missives over. Amongst the hundreds of photos rescued from my Nan’s possessions is one of me in a yellow romper suit, barely 12 months old, being held by my Nan on the back lawn.

I have stood on that very spot a few times in the lead up to the sale of the house marvelling sadly at how fast, how coldly time seems to fly by.

I’m steeling myself to stay away for a while. To try and come to terms with it all emotionally – and I am sorry to be going on about it yet again here (how boring for you all) but I am shocked at how difficult I am finding this new reality.

It feels wrong. For as long as I have been alive that house has been my Nan’s. I’m pretty sure they were the first people to move into it and in my mind it is forever associated with her and my granddad. It feels like a huge chunk has been bitten out of the world. Or I suppose a better analogy is that of an amputated limb. I know it’s not there anymore but I can still feel it.

In a bizarre kind of way I feel suddenly shut out of my childhood.

The one positive from all this emotional upheaval is the sheer number of memories that have come flooding back to me. Helped along by the mass scanning project I have now begun to back-up all my Nan’s old photographs, I have remembered things I had completely forgotten I remembered (if you see what I mean). I will no doubt record some of them here over the coming months to save them from falling into the abyss of my mind once more.

In the meantime, please bear with me people. I’m going to put my binoculars away. I’m going to shred my little notepad of comings and goings. Normal service will be resumed shortly.


Being Me said...

1. Bless you for spelling "steeling" correctly (or is that just testament to the poor-spelling company I keep? Oh how "stealing" used in the same context offends me so)...

2. Please don't apologise for using your OWN blog to crunch the numbers (and other things) on this most monumental change in your life.

3. Your words "It hurt realizing that I can no longer go inside a house where I was, without fail, always, always welcome" struck me deeply. Very poignant.

4. Your last few posts on this topic have gnawed at my memory more than I'd have liked to admit. Now I am having flashbacks to the feelings I got when I forced myself to drive past the home my grandparents built with blood, sweat and tears here in Melbourne after they emigrated in the 50's from London - a home they owned and proudly maintained for over 50 years when my grandma died suddenly in front of me of a heart attack in 2000 - and I saw her same mint green curtains (she had an elderly moment of lashing-out and chose "bold" curtains that clashed with her olive paisley wallpaper, ugh it was such an ugly pairing) still hanging in the windows some 12 months or more after the house had been sold. And I saw a new flat screen tv inside and some walls were changed (yes, yes, I looked through windows from the street when it was dark). But the exterior was the same. The gates were the same, the hedge was the same, the house essentially looked the same....

That drive-by was 5 years ago. I've never been back. Some memories, to me, are best left intact. But now you have me rather curious. It might be time for another drive-by. If I can just toughen up a bit first.

Steve said...

Being Me: you're immensely kind thank you. You've made me a feel a bit better. :-) My wife tells me - quite correctly - that I am chasing a feeling that will never come: a feeling of acceptance that it's gone and that that era is over. I daresay it may come upon me in slow degrees as the years pass by. I have made a promise to myself though that, should I win the Lottery jackpot, I shall buy that house back again. And I get you over the curtains... it almost offended me to see my Nan's nets still up but then I would have been offended if they'd been torn down. And to be honest the poor new owners have barely been in the house 48 hours! At least I'm referring to them as "owners" and not "interlopers"!

Val said...

I've felt exactly the same as you about my maternal grandmother's house and, to a slightly lesser degree (as it's further in the past than your experience) still do. I cannot physically stalk her house anymore but I used to wistfully visit it quite frequently after she died as I went to a college nearby and had intended to have lunch with her every day - she died just before I started at the college, which was an extra blow to me. In fact, I used to take my lunch and homework and sit with her cat each day instead. But that made me too sad, so eventually I had to stop.

However, despite now being too far to visit the house (I'm in mid-Wales, the house is in London)I can still stalk it, by using Google maps and that irritating detachable little man. I also stalk my own family house - which actually I hated, and it's now been through two sets of owners - as well as my primary school which I loved - all via Google maps.

May I make a suggestion? As you like scale models (yep, I look at Legotropolis from time to time), maybe if you were to make a small model - 12th scale or even smaller - of your grandparents house, and put in it miniature items that you remember, you could then have a symbolic version that you could also leave alone when necessary. I've made countless sketches of my grandmother's sitting room (which was the heart of her house) as I still remember it vividly, and that has helped a lot. The model could be in clay (airdry or fimo), or in wood or card, or even - if you've enough blocks - lego. Up to you. Or you could choose just to try and move away from the memory. Personally I think you're far too close to it at the moment to pull yourself away and think you should continue to write about it til it eases out of the picture naturally.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I don't mind these posts of yours at all. I like to share in other people's deeply felt experiences.


lunarossa said...

I totally understand your senso of loss and sadness. As I told you before, I felt something very similar when my dad sold my grandparents' house. The difference is that I was here in the UK and didn't have the opportunity to go around it one last time. It hurt me but I hid it well as I dind;tr want to upset my parents and when I went back and the house was old I didn't to look at it anymore. It was gone and there was nothing I could do about it. Strangely enough I had the same idea, that I'd buy it back if I won the lottery. Maybe I'd better start playing....Hugs...A.

Steve said...

Val: thank you. The idea to make a model is an interesting one but although I'm a complete Lego nut it strangely doesn't appeal. In a way though I have a virtual model of the house on my computer as I took lots of photos and movies of the house shortly after my granddad died last year. It's kind of like visiting in the same way as a flight simulator is kind of like flying. Close, evocative but not quite as good as the real thing. And I think you're right. It is all too close and intimate at the moment. My mind seems to drift off at the slightest inclination.

Lunarossa: let's hope we both win the Lottery tomorrow then. Ordinarily I'd want the jackpot all to myself and be the lone winner but I'd be quite prepared to share it with you and have two winners instead.

Gina said...

As I mentioned before when talking about this, I think it is much harder when you live close by. I felt exactly as you do about my grandparents' house but when I had gathered my bits and bobs I drove several hundred miles away and inevitably it is easier to move on and forget. I have been back to peep - just once - and there was a family living there and that made me feel good about it all. It seemed right that the house had a new life.

Hopefully someone new will move in and you will feel the same way. But Steve, when they do, you are going to have to stop trundling past or the police are going to come looking for you.

Give yourself time. It'll happen. Really it will. But for now, indulge the memories - consider them a balm. It's all part of the healing process.

You must scan in the yellow romper suit photo!

Big hugs xx

Anonymous said...

Whenever I visit my parents grave I still drive past the house where my parents used to live even though it has been many years since they died or lived there.
It is nice to see how the house and gardens have developed.
Spooky side note,my 19 year old has a friend on Facebook who after being friends with for a while, she found out her friend lives in the house!
It is a small world.
And Yes, if I could buy the house I would.Ally

Steve said...

Gina: as soon as it is scanned in I will publish it here and write a post about it! As for the rozzers - they'll nevva take me alive! ;-) You're probably right about my proximity - it isn't helping but at the same time, paradoxically, it is a source of comfort also.

Ally: I can see there's a lot of people depending on this Lottery money! I, however, have first dibs! ;-)

Anonymous said...

You can never forget your roots and thus, your past. It has a huge significance on your life as it is today and no matter how many times you try not to think about it and "move on", something will always trigger a memory for you. That is why you need to smile whenever you think of your nan, smile when you see her house and remember how many wonderful years you spent there, hoping the next family will get as much joy as you obviously did.

CJ xx

Steve said...

CJ: I feel a bit beyond smiling about it all at the moment but I can see the wisdom in what you say. Hopefully in time those smiles about it all will begin to creep in again.

The Accidental Author said...

Steve, it's immensely difficult saying goodbye to somewhere that has been such an integral part of your life, never underestimate just how difficult. I've no doubt you will keep stalking the house - and complaining loudly at any 'improvements' they make. I've done the same. It's normal, really it is.

Steve said...

Previously (very) Lost In France: normal. That's the one thing I don't feel at the moment. But it's nice to know that that in itself is normal!

libby said...

Well as you know Steve, I am not far from there every week...I could offer to do a 'recce' for you,and report chances etc., via blogland, and give you a chance to step back from stalking and move on....but in reality, you and I both know that 'time heals all' and pretty soon you will find you are feeling better about things.
ps. if you want me to do the spying thing can you supply a mac, a beret, dark glasses and a notebook!!

Steve said...

Libby: equipment on it's way to you now. Have included a magnifying glass, a telephoning bugging kit and a "How To Talk Like Colombo" book. Weekly reports please - with photos. ;-)

Joe Bloggs said...

Hi, Steve; just short Oid clutter by and be meoozual gutterall - ahem - selfishnish, and get it out of me systeme: Apeartopsy, like.


Anonnovel Off Realfriction Based on Fantableeds And Barefaced Lies.

Timidy Bould

Yerh, know watcha mean. Sort of. Sin dare, butt didden doit, hornetsnest, guv - itch justice fought grime, yo?> xxxcute my luvly nme, me? Nah, at leash.. Eyeopeknot - I mean for fuss ache, for a hole yeahr I bin telling mesælf; don't go to gaol, pass past, collect reassurarse dolemoney; forgive BAH! AND forget? (forget it) BAH! (sheepishyly) and lettim stew in hiss own duecess (looked prickly fudged last time I sore hiss ugly mush) but I fink Ale just psychole past its house agin donight and hrrmmphhh!!! reel choired like to meunself under me breadthdepth - juicedeath mucketh sore S.W.A.T. Ail never no or yes/bee shore if'll give him a wave or a shove.

Ever felt extraraspberry in a supermarket situation? Dr. Joey provides RIPTHEIRFUCKINHEADSOFF viscereallessons in sumptiousunctuousnice in a cellar nearbye. Cut-throat prices gar-gar-gurgle guaranteed.

Fran Hill said...

You write about this so movingly. There's probably a reason for that.

Anonymous said...

My parents moved out of the house I lived in from the age of 12, and I can't face ging back.
I still believe somehow that if I take the Rhondda turning off the M4 in South Wales I can drive to Herbert Street in Treorchy, open the door of no. 38 and find my grandmother in the back kitchen.... except she died in 1993 and the house was sold.I can still remember every detail of that house, and how it felt to be there.
Hugs. Your writing is so true x
Helen (Codd)

The Sagittarian said...

Thinking of you in all this, I still get a bit stirred up just driving NEAR where my grandparents lived let alone going by their house!

skatey katie said...

In a bizarre kind of way I feel suddenly shut out of my childhood.
i know what you mean. my michael was only four when my gran died four years ago. he has vocally missed her many times since, articulating it louder than any of the other kiddos. i love that he still feels so connected to her. we have a few of gran's precious bits here, and danny actually lives in her wee house, the granny flat on the ground floor of mum and dad's place.

anyway, the other day my mum gave me a *savings card* that she'd found that was gran's - the sort you swipe at the food shop counter and collect points - i have a little smile everytime i use it cos gran is still collecting points, even though she's not 'here', ya know?
kind of macabre, but i feel the love every time i swipe it.

and even though someone else is living in the house, our people are still alive in our memories, huh. here's to long-remembered childhoods X

Steve said...

Joe: seems to me that Timidy Bould nose what he's talking about.

Fran: indeed! ;-)

Helen: yeah, it's exactly that. Emotionally all is still as it was - it is reality that is somehow out of kilter. Thank you.

Amanda: the whole part of Leamington where they lived (Lillington) is chock full of memories of them for me. I associate the whole area with them.

Katie: I think it's cool that you are still using your gran's swipe card! Hope you buy stuff she would have enjoyed!

Anonymous said...

Such wonderful evocative writing again Steve, it really stirs up a lot of latent grief for me. ( in a good way).
I think you are fabulously courageous to be so proactively confronting your pain.
After my mother died I could not even face coming back to the UK for 7 years, I lived an ersatz life in denial, ultimately not very healthy.
You're doing the right thing, seeing it, feeling it, writing about it, and sharing it...

Steve said...

MissBehaving: thank you, you're immensely kind. Not sure I'd call myself courageous though - just a bit maudlin!

Old Cheeser said...

It must be totally weird knowing that complete and utter strangers are going to be moving into your grandparent's abode, a place that had so much resonance and meaning to you over the years. You're going through a grieving process at present so it's hardly surprising. Would love to see some pics of Nan though.

Steve said...

OC: I will definitely be posting some here (or at the other place) over the coming months as I scan them in! There's some rather embarrassing ones of me too!

Old Cheeser said...

All the more reason to post them, ha ha!!

Owen said...

Steve, you are many things, but never boring... write on, write on, right on... Loss is one of the great themes, inexhaustible perhaps.

Nothing wrong with the kind of stalking you're doing... now, you neighbor's knickers, that's another story !

Steve said...

OC: Hmm. I'm not fully convinced by your argument. ;-)

Owen: that's one story that I do not want to get into...!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I don't think you can stalk an old friend Steve.

Or perhaps you can if you can't accept that 'it's over.'

How particularly annoying that a tribe of chavs seem to be moving in though. I feel for you.

Let's hope your grandparents haunt them good and proper and make them sit up straight and eat their greens or they can't leave the table!

The Joined up Cook said...

I wouldn't call it stalking. It's an attempt to come to terms with the loss by reminding yourself of the connection.

You could even do it via the street level Google maps.

Steve said...

Laura: you can't stalk an old friend... yes, I like that. That made me smile and made me feel better. Thank you.

AWB: yes, I keep meaning to do that! I've been fairly ambivalent about that item of technology but not I might actually find a use for it!