This is my mother's memory, not mine. Its appeal, for me, is in that little family of three, with me waiting to happen. My father paid for that house and told mum that's where they would be living. She trusted his judgment. Love the whole romance of my young parents, mum 25 and dad 27, taking horse-drawn transport from Ripon, North Yorkshire, to Netheredge, Sheffield, albeit in a blizzard. Mum would never have called herself a writer. She wrote loads of letters home - back to England - but didn't embrace 'creative' writing until she was in her early sixties and joined a writing group. This is something she wrote:
We'd changed horses at the inn where we had stayed overnight, but after the long ride over the Yorkshire moors this last long incline had almost beaten the willingness from these once fresh beasts as they stamped and sweated, snorting at the entrance to the drive.
We arrived by carrier, together with bits of furniture, at dusk, in a snowstorm in February 1956. The driver, Miles, was so eager to seek out a friendly place to stay overnight he barely paused for a drink after delivering his load, so pressing was his need to depart.
My need, too, was desperate: to investigate inside this huge stone terrace house I had never seen. I was somewhat dismayed at the size of the bare, unwashed windows blinking a reflected firelight of welcome in the gloom.
It was a route march from the brass-kerbed step inside the front porch down the bare wooden floors to the distant kitchen and my first acquaintance with 'the cupboard'. When in haste I opened the door, thinking it was another room, I bumped into smelly shelves. Later we realised how fortunate it was that I had tried the cupboard door first as an almost identical door led to the cellar.
It is another story entirely, that first year in our first home, that mausoleum of a place we never quite converted into a comfort zone. The task was daunting, but we were too young to know that and we were in heaven.
The kitchen cupboard, however, haunted me. Its cleaning was just too big to tackle. But after we discovered that the slightly sulphurous smell, which occasionally permeated all the rooms, emanated from within its depths, I recognised the time had come. No two ways about it.
Meanwhile I had established nodding terms with the woman next door. Her back door faced ours, and I ventured to discuss the job in hand and she offered, on loan, a step ladder to ease the task. On noticing my advanced pregnancy she sent her son round with the ladder and possibly to get him to suss us out.
The ladder was a help. We literally moved mountains.
The cupboard, on investigation, was stacked with all the things the old man, the previous owner who had lived alone, didn't want or couldn't sell. Jars were leaking or smashed and stuck. Packets were opened and moving! The wretched smell was everywhere. The top shelf was stacked with blocks of white Windsor soap, hard as rock, and rusted tins of mustard and pepper powder. There were four shelves, four feet wide and three deep in the top cupboard, and one shelf separated the darkened abyss below.
The cleaning and subsequent sterilization of the cupboard became our project; our raison d'etre. Remember there was no radio or television. What was a threat to our existence in the beginning became a challenge. We worked on it together, my husband and I, in the early evenings when Reggie was in bed. It became our leisure time when we plotted and schemed and made plans for the future after the baby was born. Sometimes we were cross and raised our voices in frustration, angry that anyone could have left all this filth, not just in the cupboard but the whole house, for someone else to move. More importantly, could it be done before the baby was due to be born at home in September?
One time when we were both in the cupboard we heard a voice. We were more than shocked, but stayed close and silent, keeping even the noise of breathing to a minimum. It was a strange sound but definitely a voice; a tinny voice. What was it saying in that Punch and Judy animated fashion? Was it really saying, through clenched teeth 'Doyouwantacupoftealove?' How disappointing, we thought and laughed fit to burst.
We heard the same question over and over. During the day, on my hands and knees, wedged inside the cavern, I took comfort in the closeness of the unexplained voice. As I discarded ancient shoes and smelly slippers of pre-war vintage, some with socks still in situ - I never looked for feet - I never felt alone. The mud, muck and grime of years came forth and was vanquished. Afterwards when the scraping and sanding was over, of course we surmised that our inside cupboard wall was one and the same as the cupboard wall in our neighbours' home, now with visible cracks as we had scraped the paint and mortar away.
We did eventually finish the cupboard cleaning. Of course we did. It was beautiful, painted flat white inside and out, and sterile, oh so sterile. What a boon it proved to be in our less-than-furnished kitchen and dining room. We were left with a dilemma though. Should we make it known we would love a cup of tea?
The happy ending came after Judith was born at home in September. I was out in the back yard when a face appeared over the wall; a smiling face with clenched teeth. I introduced ourselves, the new neighbours from way back. Straight away she invited us to visit, and then and there, in her kitchen, I came face to face with the voice from the cupboard.
Mrs Baker had a budgie in a cage hanging adjacent to her kitchen cupboard door. Much to Reggie's surprise and delight and my almost suppressed mirth, the budgie said with no prompting, in perfect mimicry of Mrs Baker's speech, 'Do you want a cup of tea love?'
We could hardly wait.