Number nine Headland Park Road – Paignton 523610 – was a pink house, not originally, but it was distinctly, among the varying shades of beige and white of Headland Park Road. It was a big, semi-detached pink house, six bedrooms in all after losing one to gain another two in the loft. It had a green front door with a brass knocker on it that looked like Aslan, but originally it was blue. The house was called Mirador almost sounding as though, in fact, it was a Narnian house in our childhood Narnias.
First, to get to Mirador, you had to come down Headland Park Road, normally by car in third or even second gear, through a series of steeply dropping chicanes and past the sign-post towards Preston Sands veering off to the right. Either that or walk up in bare feet from the beach, gritty with sand and occasionally stinging with sea-salt from toe-stubbed, bloody injuries gained by running along the promenade without any shoes on, past the red tractor and the only ice-cream hut that did whippies.
Down from Mirador, Headland Park Road (HPR) dropped to Preston Sea Front, a mere 30-second rolling descent on a bicycle, precisely timed, without stopping, through the green traffic lights at the bottom, to the black fenced-off area where there would be no dog poo. That’s where we played a lot of football and where a lad in the year above me at school once ruptured my cruciate knee ligaments at the age of eleven. The carefully-timed bike roll down the road would begin after slamming the reverberating double-gates shut with your trailing leg while refusing to dismount from the bike’s saddle to save precious time. We were told not to slam the gate but we often did, in fact, slam the gate.
Beyond and up from Mirador, HPR climbed to the top of the world, or so it seemed, and over-looked the gigantic post-card panorama of Torbay that often sparkled in the sun and hummed with distant speed-boats and jet-skis. Sometimes, it even roared over-head with the Red Arrows. What a view. It afforded an aerial perspective of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham as though you could see Torbay’s every resident, ranging from Thatcher’s Rock and Paignton Pier all the way to Brixham’s breakwater.
But above the reverberating, battered double gate of Mirador was a single, black gate with a latch that let you through onto the brick path that approached the green door of the house inbetween two patches of grass and strewn palm tree leaves. The flower beds here, including a rose plant, at least had a chance, unlike out the back, where there were no footballs being hoofed. It was always important to close this small gate to stop dogs and other stray animals coming into the garden. But the small gate was, in fact, often left open. The red tiles of the floor of the porch were always slightly loose too.
If the front door was off its latch, the door handle would need the faintest of anti-clockwise turns for the door to obediently open but, if it wasn’t, the door would balk upright, as though offended, and not budge a fraction. Then the loud door-bell, linked to the dining room, would immediately resound alerting the entire house, and via a barking Holly and Bramble, (two Scottish Terriers) inside or out the back, that somebody wanted in, most-likely impatiently. Impatience often bred further potential door slamming which was even more strictly forbidden, given the sheets of glass in the front door. There were, in fact, occasional cracks, I think.
The hallway invited you in to one of the two lounge rooms, the Pink Room or the TV Fire Room. The Pink Room (because of its old-lady sofa of that colour) was originally the TV room but then it was relieved of its duties once the other lounge had the open fire built-in. The stunningly intricate, Victorian tiled floor of the hallway was unveiled one year when the thin brown carpet that we used to play marbles on was ripped up to reveal the treasure underneath. The Pink Room hosted an ugly gas fire which in recent years was left redundant but in earlier years was a faithful early-morning companion for quiet times or children’s television programmes. The Fire Room’s door needed a precise closing procedure, a certain ‘click’, for it to close properly to prevent it rattling in the wind. And often the wind would cut through underneath if it didn’t have the wobbly sausage protecting the room from the element’s knife-like intrusions.
If you didn’t want to lounge downstairs but wanted a cup of tea, or something to eat, you’d ignore those rooms and head to the second door on the right that opened to the Dining Room, and, immediately the small kitchen at the back of the house. Christmas lunch photos of years gone by always provide an accurate record of the changing décor of the Dining Room, along with constant changes in fashion and hair-styles…and even family personnel. It was the busy hub of Mirador’s frenetic activity whether for family meals or for house-group socials, always involving vast spreads of food that we were never allowed to touch before the guests arrived. The food, in fact, was often touched before the guests arrived.
The kitchen was tiny. Mum didn’t like the kitchen, it was restrictive to cook in but some phenomenal meals were made in it all the same – including deep-fried crispy potatoes made in the conservatory. And it was probably because the conservatory was bigger than the kitchen that the potatoes were fried out there. That and the smell they made. Woodpecker cider was the only alcoholic drink in the house in those days. It would usually feature for Mum and Dad during a Sunday roast lamb dinner. The plastic bottles that it came in would then be placed next to the kitchen bin where upon my brother and I would swig away liberally in secret, much like the food that wasn’t, in fact, to be touched before the guests arrived.
Our conservatory leaked when the wind blew in an Easterly direction. The rest of the time it seemed fine. That is apart from when one of us kicked the ball in the garden too high, again, and it smashed one of its glass panes. The garden was awesome. There would usually be a worn, muddy patch at the top where jumpers for goal posts marked the spot where whoever was in goal would stand and dive around. Mum’s shrubs also suffered horribly as our technique improved year on year and the ball was progressively struck harder and harder. A grumpy old neighbour, several roads behind Mirador, also had a nightmare dealing with a specific type of apple one year, a plethora of which were lobbed beyond our garden on one occasion in the mischievous hope of causing some damage. We were, in fact, occasionally, very naughty boys.
Back inside the house, if you didn’t need the use of the downstairs bathroom with its green 1970s décor and walk-in shower, or something to snack from under the stairs where Mum stored the nibbles, or anything from the cloak room where Bramble was born, you could run up the stairs that were directly opposite the dining room door, past the hallway mirror or first left after the Pink Room on your way in through Aslan’s door. It was always advised not to pull on the wooden banisters on the right as you went up the stairs, or to ever run down the stairs in haste, in case the stairs couldn’t handle it. I think I ran up and down the stairs occasionally, and they seemed fine though certain steps did creak and you did have to be careful to not instinctively pull on the banisters. That did, in fact, occasionally happen.
Mirador’s second toilet was immediately at the top of the first flight of steps via a mini-landing before the right turn and the two other brief steps up to the main landing itself. The toilet had a high ceiling, was most recently decorated blue and had one of those small, silver sliding locks to keep people out. Often times, if you didn’t want to have to go all the way downstairs but you wanted to communicate with someone in the garage, the garden (front or back) or just in the drive way, you could open the slanted toilet window via two latch locks, and speak to them that way. Or through the large landing windows that looked broadly across to Berry Head.
Up on the main landing, the first bedroom on the left was originally my bedroom. It was small but it still had bunk-beds, two wooden shelves that I loved for my books and Italia ’90 stickers and a view of the back garden with a window that you could throw things out of if you needed to. There was also a brown, peculiar electrical meter cupboard in there, with a circular handle, that was only unlocked one year after locating the small key for it. Inside the locked cupboard there was literally only a redundant electricity meter, some orange and white linoleum, a lot of dirt and some children’s drawings, if I remember correctly. Weird. Anyway, I loved that room. Apart from the noise of the upstairs toilet flushing through the wall and the adapted out-pipe (where there used to be a sink) in which I once got lots of my pens stuck.
Next to my old bedroom was the upstairs bathroom complete with its bath (with a chip out of it where a pumice stone was once dropped), a sink that suffered with water hammer, a wall-mounted cabinet and a large airing cupboard where all the spare sheets were kept. Along with the bottle of CIF. The airing cupboard had a funny little turning lock on it that could easily cut your finger if you weren’t careful and an immersion switch the other side of the wall that needed to be ‘on’ if you needed a bath and ‘off’ after you’d finished.
Further along the landing, the first of three large adult bedrooms came next, straight ahead after the corner where one of the toy boxes were kept. This used to be my sister’s room in the early days with white wallpaper with red love hearts on it. In this room, I seem to remember two vast, long white shelves with lots of little bottles of assorted alcohol on them – she was a student after all, I guess. And Mum and Dad had their Woodpeckers. I remember having a conversation with one of my sister’s boyfriends in there once. His name was Grant. The other thing I remember about this room was the use it had when occupied in later years my younger brother: he used to arrange thousands upon thousands of toy soldiers and a mixed array of other toy vehicles in detailed, scripted scenarios. Amazing.
The other two bedrooms belonged to my older brother and my parents. The one adjacent to my sister’s room belonged to my brother. The main thing I remember of this room was the plausible emergency exit route out of Mirador, in my head, were it ever to catch on fire: out through another one of those same slanted windows that opened wide enough to easily climb out of, on the right, on to the roof of the porch underneath, scale to a safe point to jump and then down onto the front garden grass or flower bed beneath. I also remember throwing a shoe at my brother in there once which, unfortunately, unintentionally, hit him on the head with one of his metal blakeys. I think he had a small cut. He probably punched me several times after that.
Mum and Dad’s bedroom was largely only memorable for two things. Firstly, Christmas morning when we’d all pile onto their bed to open our stockings and, secondly, the location for the household’s first personal computer where I would edit lines of computer code (autoexec.bat and config.sys files) for a floppy disc to boot the computer up to enable us to play Sensible Soccer and then, in 1991, FIFA Soccer from E A Sports.
In the earliest days, in between Mike’s room and Mum and Dad’s, was a tiny little, ferret-sized room that my little bro used to have as his room. He had a window view to the front road outside – HPR – facing the houses, one upper flat of which belonged to Constance, an elderly lady who I used to visit to make sure she was OK. Steve’s room became the point at which a new flight of stairs was skilfully built by my brother-in-law, (not Grant) when the roof-space was converted into two new bedrooms.
And so this became the new summit of the house: two, new bedrooms to for two teenage boys growing up out of the two smaller rooms of the middle floor of Mirador. I had the one on the left; my brother the one on the right. This changed once or twice and, ultimately, one became Dad’s office when my sister’s room, with red love hearts on it, became available below and my brother preferred that option down there – with his millions of soldiers and cars.
Before that though, I have vivid winter-time memories of the noise of the electric heater timers ticking away all night. The glorious, early-morning heat that they gave off for 30 minutes as we stirred from slumber was a sure warning that an alarm was about to go off, calling us out of bed, and it would be time for me and my brother to again crack on with our morning paper rounds around Preston. We worked for Dennis in the sweet shop at the bottom of the road, up on the left, that later became a barbers shop.
The two loft rooms were quiet and a useful vantage point to attempt to shoot sea-gulls with pellet guns or from where to throw unwanted packed-lunch sandwiches out with a superior trajectory for them to land, concealed, by the garden’s large ever-green trees. I tried to start a fire from behind there once too – there was a little kind of concrete ditch running behind there that I thought would be ideal, up from the walnut tree, but I failed. Praise God.
And so this is Mirador. A large, pink family home that is now occupied by another blessed family, I pray.
Now there are also many other things that happened in that house, including reading my Every Day with Jesus on my top bunk, or all the Christmases or playing darts in the garage with my brothers and engraving my initials anywhere I could. But were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books, or blog pieces, that would be written.