The removal van’s outside again. Six owners, now, in only twenty years. Folks don’t seem to stay around for long. Spend all their money doing the place up nice, then bugger off. Well . . . I say, nice. Too many fancy shades for my taste. That dining room’s been all the colours of the rainbow. Chocolate brown first off. Horrible it was. Not creamy Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Real dark Bourneville. Nigger brown we used to call it. But you can’t say that now, can you. Though I don’t see the harm. Like the frigging black hole of Calcutta it was in there. Sierra Sunset the folks before that did it. Though it looked for all the world like orange t’me. Took several coats for the next ones to tone it down to Crème Fraiche. Crème Fraiche! It was white, for Christ’s sake!

Magnolia was about as fancy as you got in my younger days. If you painted. I preferred papering. ‘Papering over the cracks!’ my wife used to say. A cover up job, she called it. Liv liked slapping on the old emulsion.

‘Still, this bamboo print’ll do wonders for the dining room,’ I said. ‘You see. You’ll like it.’ And she did! Didn’t even mind her painting the doors that mushy pea green. Always hated that colour. Told her so later on. Not then. Then we was happy: a house of our own, looking forward to the future.

This area’s gone up in the world now. They’re all hoity-toity around here these days. Nobody does-it-themselves. Too much like hard work. They’d rather pay a small fortune so someone else’ll pick out colours for them, then begrudge the small amount left for the fellas who do the real grafting. Interior designers! These are four-bedroom terraced houses, not bloody stately homes! A couple of wallpaper books from the Coop, a shade card from Woollies, and two hard-working weekends was all we needed.

Leisure time. People expect it nowadays. Yet, when they get it, still seem hell bent on rushing about, always having to go somewhere. Cars choking up the street: parked nose to tail, day and night. The rare occasions me and Livvie got leisure time, we’d get out the deck chairs, sit under the old apple tree, and not bloody move. Mind you, I’ve got more leisure time than I bargained for now, and still can’t seem to rest.

The last two – them with the Crème Fraiche dining room – were a rum lot. Poofters. Gay, they say now. But can a man be happy doing what they do to each another? Can’t be right, can it. Makes me sick to think of it. Course, it’s always gone on. Went on in the army in my time. I stayed well away from those fellas, believe you me. Shaking hands with a bloke is all I’ve ever done since I was ten years old. My Dad was Sir and we shook hands from then on. I didn’t cry, not even in front of Mum, because if he heard me blubbering there’d be ructions, and mother’d get a piece of his mind for being soft with me, so I kept buttoned up. No more cry-babying. I was a man and that was that.

These last two, Purves and Kurt, took up all the carpets – even on the stairs! Floorboards everywhere. Noisy lot, clomping up and down. Though, if I remember rightly, they did put carpet in their bedroom. Heard them talking about getting ‘a nice bit of shag pile’. Laughing. Though I couldn’t see the joke. Messy looking stuff it was. I preferred what they’d ripped up. What went on in that bedroom doesn’t bear thinking about. I was glad they only stayed three years. Kept the place spick and span, mind. Heard the new owners remarking on it as they went round with the estate agent, walking down the back garden, looking up at the roof, checking it out.

They got the carpet layers in last week. Well, I say carpet, but it doesn’t look much like it to me.

Livvie liked choosing the carpets, wanted the place just so. But what she’d pick wasn’t cheap. I’d get riled. ‘It’s my money that has to pay for it, Liv!’ I’d say. ‘You’ll have to like something else, dammit!’

She’d get upset. Liv never liked me raising my voice.

Axminster and Wilton were names you could rely on then. Quality stuff to last a lifetime – or more. Now people’s fads and fancies change with the wind. This new family’s covered the place in . . . sisal I think it’s called. Dull looking stuff the colour of old sacks and hard underfoot, not cosy like a nice bit of wool.

‘C’mon, Greg, lay down beside me.’ It was after the green Axminster went down in the sitting room. ‘Come!’ her lovely smooth arm held out, ‘Feel how soft it is.’

I knew what she was about, and wasn’t having any.

‘I prefer our firm mattress upstairs,’ I said, ‘that’ll suit me fine.’

She sighed, got up, and sat in the armchair reading her Woman and Home until bedtime.

Can’t imagine this new couple getting up to any hanky-panky on that sisal stuff. Very uncomfortable that’d be. Mind you, they must’ve been up to a bit of it; they’ve got two kiddies and another on the way. Saw her bump sticking out, even though she’d got a thick coat wrapped around. Freezing it was. A real cold snap. Still, cold doesn’t bother me. It always feels like winter in my aching old bones.

Their two kiddies are a handful. Pretty little things mind. You should see the clothes they get kitted out in. Dressed up different every other day!

I only ever had two suits all me life, stayed trim, so they always fitted. Well . . . Livvie moved the buttons on the waistbands, just a fraction, when I turned forty. She was good at making do, was Liv. Turning collars. Darning socks. Making things last. For years she never bought herself a dress. She’d get a bit of material down the market, for five bob, run it up, and in no time be prancing around the room, looking lovely.

I’ll never forget when she finished the dress with the big blue roses all over it. She looked a treat. Slim as a reed! A waist I could ring with my two hands – should’ve done it more often, shouldn’t I, Liv. Liv never lost her figure. Though she wouldn’t have minded if she had, poor love …


Virago Press, September 2011

“Liv wanted us to see somebody, have tests and the like…”