The top floor

My bedroom was on the top floor, on the right as you look at the picture. I shared it with my sister. It was a long room, 12 or 14 feet wide and maybe 20 feet long, but I’m guessing that. There was a gas fire and, because I was an indulged child, I made my sister get up first in the winter to light it. Once, I forgot an apple I’d left on the fender, for half an hour or so and looked again to find it was half-baked and very tasty.

I must have been a trial to her. She’s five and a half years older than i am, so my childish prattle can’t have been particularly entertaining. At least she was allowed to stay up later than I was, but I have never been good at going to sleep and was awake for a chat when she came to bed. We had an ongoing story, known as The Game, which only she and I know about, until this minute. It was generally based on a book I’d been reading and we played the various characters and extemporised, making up a story as we went along. I was always the instigator – “Let’s play The Game” and she never refused, though sometimes she could hardly stay awake.

On the way up to bed, we passed Bobby the leopard in his glass case. I always patted the case and said goodnight to him. Then up eight stairs to the half-landing, which I hurried past because the window had its top half at the bottom of it (and its bottom half at the half-landing of the staircase beneath) and I always imagined a hand would appear out of the gap and grab my leg. i’ve never told anyone that either – it’s no great secret, but I knew it wasn’t a real fear, even then, so simply never mentioned it. There were two other bedrooms on the top floor, one of which had two steps down to it. Later, that was my bedroom and before, once Wink left for college, I had the smallest room, long and narrow under the eaves. It had pretty blue and white wallpaper, done specially for me – cornflowers, I think – and a blue curtain the length of the room where the ceiling was too low to use. I slept with three dogs, which was quite a lot when it was a single bed, but the bigger room I used later had a double bed, so we fitted on it rather better. Still, three labradors do take up most of any bed.

Otherwise, on that floor, was the Tank Room, which had the four big tanks, each holding 250 gallons of water, which were filled twice a day from the well. Otherwise, it was a lumbar room. And, of course, there was the wooden ladder staircase to the Lookout. That had a trap door to keep all the heat from being lost.

Some years ago, the people who lived in the right hand side of the house invited us for Sunday lunch, which I’ve referred to before. As they showed us round and took us to the top floor, my hand slipped under the banister and found the sliver of wood that was missing. It remembered.

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