Many many years ago, when the world was younger, pre our children, we went house hunting.
We wanted to live in this suburb of Leeds because, well, its quite nice, I was raised here, and it just seemed like a good idea at the time.
This particular suburb was built in one fell swoop between the years of 1955 (when this current house that we live in was built ) and the mid 1960s. It was built by three or four different contractors who only seemed to have built one style of house each – so the whole district consists of streets and streets of mainly semi-detached houses, all of them identical to their neighbours until you find a break in the street where one of the other builders obviously took over and then you have lots more of his sort of houses – you get the picture.
So we’re looking at a particular house style within our price range and we’ve already seen dozens of them and we could walk around them all blindfold, there’s only so many times you can say to a householder, “oooh you’ve decorated this room lovely” and sound like you mean it.
And then one evening we discovered that not all identical houses are identical.
How long does a house viewing take ?
Ten to fifteen minutes ?
We were three hours looking around this particular house, and bear in mind that we’d already viewed at least a dozen identical houses – but not exactly as identical as this one.
They were a retired couple, he had a bad heart and was on oxygen so didn’t get up to greet us, he explained that they were looking for a house close to the hospital that treated him for he was expecting his next heart attack any time soon and didn’t want to delay the journey to his defibrillator, he invited us to sit down and then proceeded to tell us all about his house.
It had been built in 1962 and he and his wife had bought it from the builder, more than that he had mainly built it himself for he had been a carpenter working for the main contractor on the site, he had worked in every house on the estate but they’d bought the plot before their particular house was built, and so when his started to rise from the ground he was there, waiting, chippy tools in hand with his own ideas on how these houses should have been designed.
“Show them the secret cupboard” he told his wife
“Which one” she said, and we should have realised at this point that we were in for a long stay
She pressed a panel in the wall that divided the living room from the kitchen and a door that we hadn’t noticed until then sprung open just like they do in those movies about a mass murderer in an old house where a gang of kids are camping for the night.
“You can’t have enough cupboards” he wheezed through his oxygen mask
Well actually old wheezing man, you can have enough cupboards and in his custom built house there were enough cupboards to hide everyone on the estate’s junk for decades, his wife made us a cup of tea and brought out some cake and we sat in the living room while she showed us all of the secret cupboards that her husband had built into the living room, including one that was hidden inside the plaster coving.
And that was just the living room.
It took us an hour to do the tour of the house, stopping every yard or so for another demonstration of another secret cupboard, before his heart condition took a hold of his life he’d spent the previous thirty years turning all of the cavity walls in his house into secret cupboards, none of which were useful to store anything bigger than the TV remote control or a single cup of tea, we found a set of false teeth inside one such cupboard in the bathroom and his wife exclaimed “I wondered where my mothers teeth had gone”
Indeed the bathroom held the most ingenious secret cupboard, they had a normal bathroom medicine cabinet, glass fronted, you opened the mirror door to reveal the medicine cupboard within, all very normal, but if you pressed the top corner of the medicine cabinet it swung open to reveal a secret cupboard inside the wall cavity – a secret cupboard for false teeth within a normal cupboard.
I’m not sure who was the madder, the carpenter or his wife, both were extremely proud of their house of cupboards but I just cannot imagine me spending the next thirty years removing plasterboard from internal walls every weekend with a cheery “I think we need a secret cupboard here my love” and Suzanne replying with a cheery, “Oh undoubtably, you can never have enough cupboards you know…”