09 July 1999

Move

We moved to Weston-super-Mare in 1983. We had been visiting with more and more regularity, eventually every weekend or fortnight, and the motorway between Birmingham and Weston was travelled along so often that I got to know the precise length of time the journey took: on a clear drive (and there were enough trips to talk of the average time on clear drives) it took more nor less than ninety minutes between door and junction. My mother found a job in Worle, at the far end of Weston; my stepfather found a milk-round in Bridgewater, some way to the south; he'd have to commute, but not too far. We moved into rented accommodation just off the sea-front, at the top of a high pink house.

“What do you want to go there for?” the stepfather’s relatives had challenged in their grey and dreary accents: “It's been dead for fifteen years. Weston-super-Mud!” As if Birmingham were alive, I had thought. There were the woods up on the hill behind us, running for miles along the back of the town, and no more than ten minutes away; the beach in front, no more than two. From the front-room window I could watch the tide crashing against the sea wall, throwing waves thirty feet into the air; best in the evening, when the sea-front lights were on, swinging madly in the winter wind. Often we went out on nights like this, running under the waves, trying to avoid getting wet but delighting in it if we did. The four of us would rush about, the brothers and our mother shrieking wildly, the stepfather smiling indulgently, joining in sometimes, sometimes running with the mother to the protection of a wind shelter while the boys continued the game. Then there would be fish-and-chips and the taste of sea salt in the air, the hot greasy bundles warming our hands. Then gradually home, dry, off, and a drink before bed; we had no television.

The stepfather grew up on a council estate. Our mother had owned the house in Birmingham, or was at least a large part of the way through paying a mortgage. She decided to give the stepfather joint ownership of the new house in Weston, when we found one. He'd never owned a house and she reasoned that the sense of ownership, along with the experience of living outside Brum in the Weston we loved so much, would revitalise their relationship. Both would readily admit it was turbulent, that it had it’s ups and downs, but now, out of the grey and dreary city, everyone knew that spring was in the air.

The house, when we found it, was on the hill, halfway between woods and beach, on the corner of a road. It was actually the ground-floor flat of an elegant old Victorian house which had been split into half. The front of the original house, facing the beach, had been made into three flats; the back, facing the woods, into a house, the cellar of which, since the original house was on a hill, was on the same level as the ground-floor flat which we bought. At one time there was even discussion with the neighbours about buying their cellar and expanding the flat further back, but the plan never came to fruition.

If anywhere, any one house, could be said to be home, it was this one.

We visited the house several times before buying it, and became superficially friendly with the present owners; at least so it seemed to me. In reality, my mother and stepfather were haggling about the price, trying to get it down a thousand or so, although admittedly in friendly terms. My  brother and I were frequently invited, and got to know the house well before we moved in, before the deal had even been finalised. There was a vase full of marbles in the back bedroom which fascinated me, and I mentioned to my mother that I wished the vase could stay when we moved in; but it didn’t.

Finally, we visited the house one day after school, but no-one was in; my brother and I played at something in the garden while the mother stepfather looked around the house. We’d done this before, just gone to look, because looking at something expensive helps to decide whether or not it’s worth it. This time, however, the mother calls us, says that the kitchen door was open: shall we go in? The stepfather, conspiratorial, echoing, come on, come on. The two boys unsure about going into someone else's property when they're not there; playing in the garden, all right, we know them, but going in? But if the mother stepfather is prepared to…

Of course, they had bought the flat, and the door hadn't been open, but they had bought the keys with them. That night we all slept at there, bringing sleeping bags and quilts and other essentials up from the other flat; cooking toast on the open fire, excitedly falling asleep late in the night.

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