When I Was Twelve

Today’s Writing 101 challenge – describe where you lived at the age of 12, paying particular attention to varying sentence lengths to provide a nice rhythm and flow…

A dozen years in the egg-box of life, and here I am coming home from school, just rounding the corner to my street. It has been a long day at school. My bag is heavy. I am hungry. It has taken two bus rides to get here, from one side of Croydon  to the other.

Bracken Avenue is a turning to the left as I walk along Gorse Road from the bus stop. All the streets have plant names, which is why they named this estate of (what is now called) social housing “Shrublands”. Of course, it was the other way round – to paraphrase the Jesuits, give me the estate name and I will give you the street names.

Number 39 is a three-bedroomed terrace house built in the early 1960s. The white woodwork cladding complements the yellow brickwork. My parents are at home, with my sister (9 years old) and brother (2 years young). We will have our evening meal – I can’t remember what we called it, probably “tea” whether or not it was something cooked.- at the kitchen table. Later, we will watch television in the “front room” by the coal fire that is lit through a gas pipe. A “gold-framed” picture of “The Laughing Cavalier” had pride of place on the wall of the chimney breast.

For readers not attuned to the niceties of the English class system, the descriptions above betray my working class roots. I am proud of this. My parents were aspirational, they wanted us children to succeed in a world that was rapidly changing.

We had an out-house just off the kitchen. Here there was an old kitchen cupboard that now housed a collection of tools, cleaning materials and shoe-shining kits. Next to this was a large chest freezer. The backdoor led to a short narrow garden with a shed at the end. We overlooked the back gardens of the houses in the next street, and had a good view of a large block of flats. It was in these flats that the folk singer Ralph McTell lived for a while – I saw him once with his guitar, getting into a van. He might have known the “Streets of London”, but I knew the streets of Shrublands.

Upstairs there was a separate bathroom and toilet. There were three bedrooms, but I can’t remember how they were allocated. I thought I had my own room for a while, but I must have shared with my brother at some point.

I am aware that I have used a number of different tenses in this piece. My justification? That the powerful parts of our past seep into the present, sometimes in our dreams and sometimes by deliberate recall.

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One thought on “When I Was Twelve

  1. I don’t mind the mix of tenses at all since this is a memoir. It would be different if I was trying to follow a story line in a novel. You set a scene of family — and use humor, humility and talent to carry the reader’s interest through.

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