Tuesday 5 March 2013


Christmas baubles from our first home ....


Back in 1966 in the police force things were very different to today.  Single policemen 'out in the sticks' had to live in approved lodgings - no cohabiting then! - and when they did marry, were not allowed to buy their own house until they had achieved ten years service.  Until then, you lived in an allocated police house wherever you were sent.  And when you married,  if no police house was available in the town where you were stationed then you found rented accommodation for which you received an allowance. 

Our first home was a 'flat' on the top floor of a tall old house in Locks Hill, Frome.  With hindsight, we should have realised it was far from ideal, but at the time we were too excited to take notice of the warning signs and obvious drawbacks.  To begin with, the 'flat' consisted of just three furnished rooms, a sitting room, a bedroom and a kitchen all opening off a landing.  'Opening' being the operative word.  We had three keys, one for each door, but the landlady considered the landing her territory and was liable to come upstairs at any time to water a plant she kept in the window there, so it was quite possible to bump into her whilst heading from the bedroom to the kitchen in the morning, or at any other time!  The bed was lumpy, the cooker less than reliable, and the only form of heating was an electric fire.  Our electricity was metered, and the owners had clearly set the meter to their advantage - the money we fed it seemed to go nowhere.  It was fortunate indeed that we had young love to keep us warm - but I remember plenty of shivering when winter came in.  Our luxuries were the things we bought to equip the kitchen - a fridge (I insisted on a fridge) and a tall kitchen cabinet with a pull-down that formed a work surface for such things as rolling out pastry. 
The bathroom and loo, believe it or not, were a floor down and were shared.  The bathroom was also kept locked, though mercifully the loo was left open!  And then there was the little matter of use of the washing line in the garden.  As I was at work all week I had negotiated that it would be left free for me on Saturdays, but more often than not I'd come back from a shopping trip in town to find my laundry all pushed to one end of the line whilst the landlady's blew freely in the breeze.
But the final straw came when Terry was on 'lates' - 6pm - 2am.  I woke at about 6 am the following morning to find myself alone in bed.  Terry had not come in.  I panicked - I felt sure something terrible must have happened to him during his shift.  I got up and hurried to the telephone kiosk at the end of the road (no mobile phones in those days, and we didn't even have the use of the phone in the house).  I rang the police station, and asked Debbie, the operator, if she knew where Terry was.  To my astonishment - and relief, of course - she told me he was asleep in the cells.  When he got home at 2 am he had been unable to open the front door with his key as our dear landlady had dropped the catch inside.
After that we didn't waste any time in looking for somewhere different to live, and found it in a flat over a newsagent and tobacconist shop - the owner was very keen to have a policeman on the premises as he thought it would deter burglars.  This time our rooms were spread over three floors, a large kitchen on the ground floor and stairs leading up to the rest of the accommodation simply partitioned off from the shop by plasterboard.  I don't think it would be allowed today, it was a terrible fire hazard, and there was a horrible smell of drains downstairs, but I loved that flat.  We 'adopted' the shop's mouser, whom we named Kitty One, so she became our first pet.  We spent our first Christmas together there - Terry got a second-hand black and white TV from a little shop nearby, and I bought decorations for our Christmas tree.  Some of them survive today, though quite a few have been broken, as they were made of glass.  I still get them out each year - see picture above!

It was at our flat in Badcox that I had my first scary experience.  Being winter, darkness came early, and when Terry was on 'nights' and the shop had shut I was quite alone.  One evening I was sitting in the kitchen reading when I heard what sounded like someone knocking on the door.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.   Soon it was my heart that was thumping too.  I was convinced someone was trying to break in.  The bumps and thuds continued intermittently for a good hour.  I was terrified, but what could I do?  I had no more access to a telephone here than I had in our first flat.  I just had to sit it out.   And was much relieved to discover next morning that what I had feared was a burglar was in fact nothing more than empty boxes and packing cases the shopkeeper had left in the yard outside being blown by a high wind against the back door.

Oh, I loved that flat!  Our first daughter was conceived there - I got confirmation that I was pregnant by ringing the doctor's surgery from the phone box on the opposite side of the road.  And I have to admit that drainsy smell didn't go well with morning sickness ... 

But we were soon to move on.  Terry had applied for what was then known as RMP - Road Motor Patrol - and what would now be termed 'Traffic Cops' or something similar.  He was successful, and in February we learned we would be moving to Minehead.  A world away, it seemed to me!  

I'll tell you about that in the next instalment ......