If you want to read from the very start, this is the place to do it.......
In forty-plus years of existing on this lovely big sphere we call earth and attempting to do that thing often known as ‘living’, I’ve think learnt a thing or two along the way. One of those items of accumulated knowledge is the proverbial adage to never judge a book, or anything else for that matter, by its cover, for things are never quite what they seem. In fact, from my own personal experience I’d hazard a wager that almost everything is different from how it first appears. Sometimes those variances are subtle whilst other times they are as obvious as a politicians lies! Take a look at my house for example, number twelve Brunswick Mansions, for a start it’s not a mansion, nor do I ever think in any of its past lives it was what one might reasonably call a mansion. From the outside it looks just like any other house along the little stretch of the seafront, they are all very similar, dating back to the 1880’s and unremarkable and nondescript. Admittedly, unlike many of its close neighbours it hasn’t been converted into a series of poky one bedroom flats or grotty bedsits hardly big enough to swing a hamster let alone a cat by the tail. Nor have I elected to transform it into a funky boutique or classically cheesy chintz infested guest house, as seem endemic along this stretch of seafront. There are probably a number of reasons for that lack of action, most probably an apathy for ambition and a distinct lack of available funds head that list. My favourite excuse though is a lack of time, I’ve only been here just a little under five years. Now, I know that for most people five years is an awfully long time and pretty much most things can be done in that duration, renovate half a dozen stations on the Jubilee line, build an Olympic park, have four new year’s eve bashes and plan another for instance. However, none of those had me at the helm of the organising committee, if they had, well that would be a different story and they’d never have been completed. Plus I’ve not been the owner here all that long, a little over five years or so and to be fair, being here is not what I had planned out. In fact had I never planned to be a property owner, at least not in this neck of the woods or even country. To be completely honest with you I’d not believed I’d ever have been able to fund even jumping on the lowest rung of the property ladder, not considering the seemingly unending stream of dead-end jobs and temporary engagements that pepper my curriculum vita with a regularity that would have any self-respecting HR manager ushering me out the door and contention in a matter of seconds. That’s not saying I’m lazy or work shy by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just I somehow lack the drive, determination and ambition that you seem to need if you want to build and enjoy a ‘career’. Mind you, if you ask me I’d venture that careers are so over rated, I mean you spend all your early twenties, working your ass off doing the grunt work to build a career, in your thirties you start to make head way and earn promotion. In your forties you’re almost there, the top job is within your grasp, it’s got your name on it when along comes some fast-tracked pimply-arsed university high flyer and steals it right from under your nose and there you are, pushing fifty with nowhere to go and answering to some arse-wipe call Crispin or Quinten who hasn’t the faintest of clues as to what’s really going on. Alternatively, you do make it, you’ll reach the dizzy heights of the top of your chosen career, the top job, the big cheese, the man in control before your forty-ninth birthday, you’ll have a bald spot, a stomach ulcer, the a waist the size of Ben Nevis and you’ll be just one deadline away from a nervous breakdown or one board meeting away from a heart attack and either way you’ll be on the scrap heap before you hit the big five zero.
I had no direction, no career and no money and the idea of me owning a shoebox let alone a five floor seafront terrace property would have been preposterous beyond belief. I was working in a book shop three days a week in Exeter when I got a letter from some solicitor’s office in Milton Keynes of all places informing me that my uncle John had died and left me his summer house on the coast. Oh and also I’d inherited his collection of just over two thousand decorated milk bottles! My first thought was ‘what the fuck are decorated milk bottles’ and how on earth could anyone collect over two thousand of them. It was only after pondering those questions for a good five minutes that my mind pricked with the wonderings of who the heck uncle John was and where and what exactly the summer house was. After half a dozen phone calls to distant relatives and the Milton Keynes solicitors I learnt that Uncle John was a kindly distant relation that I once stayed with for a weekend when I was about ten and the summer house was in a sleepy little town on the south coast. Nobody could shed any light on why he’d left it and the bottle collection to me, rather than any of the other and almost certainly closer relatives and some were, to put it mildly, a bit peeved that such an inheritance should come my way.
I had to borrow the money for a train ticket from my boss at the book shop to first go to Milton Keynes and sign some papers and get the keys to the aforementioned summer house. It was then down to the southernmost part of Sussex to see this so called ‘summer’ house old Uncle John had left me. Now, I’m not sure what I expected as I headed down on the train, I remembered my mother having something called a summer house in our back garden when I was a kid in short trousers with scabby knees and a snotty nose, but that had been little more than a glorified shed with a couple of extra windows in it. No amount of wondering and guessing could have prepared me for the sight that greeted me when I turned up outside the address the solicitors had attached to the keys they’d given me. I mean if I was to say summer house to you, what would you think? I’d wager that a five floor six bedroomed pile from the 1880’s in a prime seafront terrace would not have jumped to the forefront of you mind. It didn’t mine that’s for sure, so much so that I had to check the address on the keys twice and then confirming with a passing old lady with a net shopping bag that I was on the right road.
There was some trepidation when I put the key in the lock, I thought it wouldn’t work, I had a vague notion waving somewhere from the back of my mind that this was some sort of elaborate hoax or wind-up, although quite why someone would go to such lengths to pick on me, was beyond my comprehension. With only a little resistance from an evidentially rarely used lock, the key began to turn and open the door of my inheritance, of my new home and in fact to my new life.
Chapter Two - First Impressions!
Here I’ll recount my immediate impressions and thoughts as I started to explore my new home, the house on the seafront left to me by a distant relation I can’t ever remember meeting.
Here I’ll recount my immediate impressions and thoughts as I started to explore my new home, the house on the seafront left to me by a distant relation I can’t ever remember meeting.
A bizarre sweeping swirl of emotions contested for attention as I stepped forward in the dark and somewhat dusty interior. There was a musty, dusty aroma of the unloved and of the forgotten in the air that lingered in my nostrils after I negotiated the threshold and closed the big old wooden door. The old flaking blue paint of the outside was carried through on the inside, although protected from the English Channel’s continuous onslaught, the shade was so much darker and therefore closer to what I imagine would have been the original colour when the first strokes were applied many years ago. I tried the light switch with little hope of illumination, yet my surprise was prodigious when a fraction of a second later a single old fashioned sixty watt bulb flickered into use. My eyes were immediately drawn to the long and rather impressive imposing staircase that was immediately in front of my half way along this entrance hall. Sure it was dusty and even from this vantage point I could see some of the banisters were missing, yet its length and width were remarkable and evocative of times gone by when the size of your staircase was a symbol of your wealth. I had an urge, albeit a rather childish one, to run all the way up the five flights and slide down all the way, I resisted, but only just, yet in the back of my mind I made a mental promise to myself to give-in too such urges before too long. I further explored the hallway, there was a dark blue colour painted upon the walls below a dado rail that ran just below waist height on all walls. Above was a dark murky green colour that first appeared to be paint, yet upon close inspection was some kind of wallpaper or covering that’s surface had been dimmed and discoloured by age. ‘One day I’ll clean that up to its former glory’ I said to myself, yet even as the words played out in my mind I knew in reality that a day for me to be cleaning anything to its former glory was a day that would be a jolly long way off! The floor in the most part was left to bare floorboards, the wood was dark with age and decades of polishing or waxing, still managing to shine through a thick layer of dust. There was a runner carpet in the centre of the hall, this long thin strip of carpet was a deep dark red, with a swirling pattern of leaves, flowers and what appeared to be dragons. I let my eyes follow the hallway, to the bare wooden doors leading to who knew where and up to the ceiling. The colour was a rather non-descript mottled beige yellowish colour that could have been white or yellow originally. There were surprisingly few cobwebs, just a couple here and there in the corners and I wondered just how long the house had been empty. I knew nothing of this mysterious uncle of mine, so I had no clue how often he used this ‘summer’ house, it could have been every summer or once a decade for all I knew and it was this sense of the unknown that sent a shiver through me.
The first door on the left, like all the doors in the hallway had been left in its natural state, unpainted, unvarnished and unspoilt. The light wood grain showing through a thin layer of dust, for some reason my fingers trembled as I gripped the round knob and turned it gingerly. It opened freely yet with a slow yawning creek the like of which you hear in scores of horror films of a certain age that seemed to echo throughout the hallway. I was surprised that the room was appeared empty, save for a wooden sideboard along one wall and a bench seat in front of the window that overlooked the seafront. However as I stepped forward I noticed a row of hooks on the nearest wall behind the door, upon which were various coats, jackets and hats. Beside this row of outer clothing was a big brass bucket containing half a dozen or so walking sticks and umbrellas of various descriptions and styles. I allowed my fingers to stroke the back of some of the coats as I moved further into the room, noticing a row of shoes, boots and sandals on the floor under the coats as I did so. I think I may have even shivered slightly as the fabric tingled my fingertips, I was touching the past and perhaps it was a realisation that Uncle John had been a real person, that these were his clothes, his shoes, his belongings and that this was his house that caused me to take a sharp intake of breath. You see up until this moment, things had happened so fast that I had barely a second to consider this odd distant relative that I didn’t know or remember was more than just a name on a piece of paper, he was, or rather had been, a real person. He had had a life and part of that life had been here, in this house. I felt something well up deep inside me, I’m not exactly sure what, perhaps it was an ambiguous supposition that I didn’t completely belong here, that although I was now the official owner of the house, it wasn’t and would never really be ‘my’ house.
Chapter three....finding the bottle, the exploration continues......
A strange almost voyeuristic sensation swept rapidly through my mind as I further explored this seafront house that was now, at least in name, mine, although I wondered as I took the back stairs down to the lower ground floor if it ever would feel like home. There was a half glazed door to what appeared to be a small rear courtyard, I tried the large old fashion key protruding from an equally old fashioned lock, but turn it would not and thus the courtyard would remain unexplored, for the present time at any rate. Immediately to the left of the bottom of the stairs was another door, all natural wood as those on the upper floor, pushing it open it revealed a small cloakroom. The toilet had an old wooden seat and the cistern upon the wall seemed so old that I’m fairly sure it could have been an original feature from the 1870’s or 80’s, which made me smile for some reason. I passed a leaded light window on the rear wall overlooking the rear courtyard and found that the room opened up passed a white painted wood panelled pillar. I gasped audibly as I found myself in a large cavernous kitchen that occupied almost all of the lower ground floor stretching all the way to the front of the building. There was an incredibly large wooden table positioned in centre, its surface faded and covered in a later of dust, yet still its beauty was evident. On the left hand side of the room was two large butler style sinks, beside which appeared to be an old butchers table upon which stood old boxes and bottles of various detergents and cleaning supplies. Further along was a large free standing cupboard with frosted glass doors, through which some tins and cartons could just be made out. A range cooker the like of which I’d never seen before, at least not in real life, seemed to dominate the centre part of that long side wall. It was vast and I wondered how on earth I was ever going to be in a position to use it all, assuming of course I could learn how the blooming thing worked. A further wooden work surface and open shelving storage beside that conveyed a myriad of pots and pans of various styles shapes and sizes that indicated Uncle John must have been a jolly keen cook. Another freestanding cupboard with matching frosted glass doors seemed to mark the end of the kitchen area of this lower ground floor of surprises. Further exploring I found that on the opposite wall was a large upright refrigerator and next to which, of equal stature was a freezer, thankfully or not, both were empty and either switched off or unplugged. Beyond the freezer against the wall was a long dark desk, piled high with papers, books, magazines and the odd newspaper. The latest offering I surveyed was a March 2012 edition of Private Eye with a photo of Barack Obama and David Cameron on the cover and I somewhat assumed that must have been the last day this slightly ramshackle building had had any human occupiers. At the front end of this impressive room of mammoth proportions was a large open fireplace, piled with logs and beside an empty but definitely used coal scuttle and for a fleeting moment my mind fast forwarded to many month from now on a cold winters morning where I’d build up a big log fire and banish those winter chills. The though dissipated away as I sat on the arm of a rather shabby sofa that had been pushed up against the far wall in the kitchen, what was indeed the front of the building, under a rather high window. It was only for this position that I noticed firstly that the floor was all flagstone, except around the range cooker where it was red brick and secondly there was another door, this time to the front of the building, which I hadn’t noticed at first. I tried the key that protruded from an ornate and old fashioned lock in an almost obscene fashion. A little resistance from a mechanism stiff with inactivity and the salty sea air eventually gave way with a resounded and reassuring thud. The handle turned freely and with a firm pull the door opened inward and the sea air once again breezed into the vast kitchen, for the first in goodness knows how long. I stepped out and looked around, it was a small courtyard, an alcove with two dark green wheelie bins, a few old empty plant pots, a rusty tin of exterior emulsion paint and an equally rusty bicycle frame, minus both wheels and saddle. Other than an addition of what appeared to be an electricity of gas meter cupboard, there was just stone steps back up to street level, which I’d somehow missed on the way in. I re-entered the house, closing and locking the door behind me and walked back through the kitchen and up the stairs.
For some reason the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention as I climbed the stairs, first to the ground floor and then those of the more grandiose staircase at the front of the building. Perhaps a sensation of mild trepidation seeped into my consciousness as I took the beautifully traditional stairs deliberately, as I rounded the top stair into another foyer or landing I wondered if I’d ever feel at home here. There were a number of doors, just like the ground floor, all natural unpainted wood, although in truth I would imagine there had been stripped back to their natural state many moons ago, I inwardly conjectured how many layers of paint would have been removed before the natural wood appeared. The first door was an anti-climax as it transpired to be nothing more than a cupboard of shelves devoid of everything except dust.
The second door opened to a large room overlooking the rear courtyard which had evidently been Uncle John’s study for it was occupied by a massive, almost stately writing desk positioned right in the middle of the room, facing the window. The surface of the desk was obscured by papers, documents, old newspapers, magazines and a pile of dog-eared books. Also on the desk was an old lamp with a green glass shade, much like those seen in the banks of old movies and a ceramic pot with a single pen poking lonely out of the top. Against the side wall were a number of old roughhewn packing cases, which, after a casual glance seemed to be full of old books, papers and other such items of a similar nature. The only other furniture in the room other than a small chair sat behind the desk was a shelf to the right of the rear window upon which sat a half-finished bottle of jack Daniel’s and two upturned glasses. I must admit, despite disliking the taste of the rusty orange coloured American sour mash liquor, I was tempted to reach for the bottle and take a swig. Temptation resisted I continued my exploration of the house on the seafront.
The door to the next room opened freely and only with the merest hint of a creek and once open revealed the contents of the room which in turned cased a sudden gasped influx of breath, I’d found Uncle John’s odd special bottle collection. Before me, on wooden bookshelf’s against all the walls of this room was an amazing collection of milk bottles either decorated with painted pictures, funky designs or sporting a remarkable variety of advertisements for an equally diverse number of products and manufacturers. The sight completely took my breath away, for I had never seen such a collection before, it was most remarkable and must have been the results of many years’ worth of collecting. At first some of the bottles appeared to be still full of milk, however upon closer inspection I found plain white paper had been carefully inserted to resemble their former liquid content. It made me chuckle to myself, Uncle John must have had plenty of time on his hands, although thinking about it, if he could afford to have a house this size as just his summer or occasional residence, he quite probably didn’t need to toil away like the rest of us.
There were a couple of cardboard boxes, the size of which must have been similar to the wooden ‘tea’ chests of old and a careful manipulation of the flaps upon the top revealed dozens and dozens of bottles sans the white paper. I was both fascinated and alarmed by the discoveries of this room, fascinated by all the various designs and adverts, yet alarmed by the notion that these were now ‘my’ processions and therefore it was my responsibility to do something or nothing with them. I could have spent hours hour’s pondering that very question and examining each of the milk decanters, however I decided that would be a job and a question for another day, as further exploration today as necessary.
Back in the hallway I opened the door to what I thought would be another room, only to find it was little more than a small store cupboard, with empty shelves and a broom minus its handle its only contents. The next final door on this hallway gave a little resistance when I turned the handle and creaked loudly as it began to open. I found myself in a grand sitting room with a high and ornate ceiling complete with fancy coving, cornicing and a central rose from which upon a big looped chain hung a chandelier. Even in its dusty and unloved state the sight was impressive, dozens of dangling glass or crystal droplets or pendalogues still managed to shine and reflect light from the huge floor to ceiling windows on the front wall overlooking the narrow balcony. Despite it being day time and the room being filled with bright natural sunlight, I couldn’t resist flicking the light switch beside the door. After a brief flicker, a dozen little bulbs upon simulated candle sticks upon ornate crystal or glass bobeche danced into life and shafts of light from the myriad of prisms shimmered evocatively over the room. I have resented the fact that I hadn’t waiting till dusk or evening to flick the switch, for in darkness the beauty of this chandelier must be tenfold. Then just as a small child might, I filled my lungs with a giant gulp of air and blew out with force and despite its relative height, the lower levels moved and danced in the manmade breeze. However the large gust of wind from my lungs also dislodged a fair portion of dust that seemed to cloud the view somewhat. It was clear the extravagant illumination hadn’t been cleaned or dusted in a vast number of years and immediately I flicked off the switch and added its cleaning to my mental list things ‘to be done’. Occupying the central position on the right side of the room was an impressively large ornately carved fireplace. I knew little of such things, so I couldn’t even begin to guess as to its age or origination or relevance to this room, it was just an impressive sight for the eyes to behold. The relatively any coal, wood or kindling, so I knew not if it was a working fireplace, so to find out was yet another thing added to the ‘to be done’ list.
The front and two side walls were painted a rather unimaginative and disappointing magnolia, while the rear had been covered in a contrasting dark almost burgundy coloured wallpaper that seemed perfectly suited to the room and I almost wished it had been used on the remaining walls as well. The floor was laid to bare floorboards, all dark stained with age and decades of wax, polish or stain and seemed to be in apparently good order and worn much less than the floors in other areas of the house. I gazed around this rather impressively sized room, no paintings or pictures hung upon the walls and only two items of furniture occupied this cavernous chamber. For there, in the centre of the room, standing stoutly under the chandelier facing the vast windows was a single dark green traditional three seat Chesterfield sofa which seemed to evoke images of times gone by, or perhaps that was my mind working overtime, yet it seemed perfect for this room, perfect for this house and even indeed this very town. The other item of furniture was a matching and apparently well used Chesterfield footstall immediately in front of the sofa, beside which was stacked a pile of old books. My assumption on their age came from that fact that there all appeared to hard cover volumes, sans dust jackets and you don’t seem many of those for sales in book shops these days. I walked to the windows and gazed out at the rippling sea beyond, it truly was a remarkably lovely view and I could quite easily understand why there was no other furniture in this room, it seemed perfect for sitting and reading in solitude or gazing out at the never still sea. For the briefest of moments I envied my uncle for being able to enjoy this tranquil sanctuary at will, then I remembered it was no longer his, he was no longer here and it was mine, mine to enjoy. I had to keep mentally and physically pinching myself, this wasn’t a dream, this wasn’t a fantasy, no this was a reality.
|View from the balcony|
© 2014 Copyright Josh Jordan