Throughout my time at school there were two roads that I always walked down: the one I lived in, as you’d expect, and another that ran from north to south. At the southern end was a passageway that led to my primary school. At the northern end was the High Road, and my route to senior school.
I walked these roads tens of thousands of times, on school-days, at weekends, during the holidays. I now live a mile or so from where I grew up and no longer walk down either of them as often as I used to. Recently, walking down the road that runs from north to south, I noticed that one of the houses (#36) is being renovated, although that word hardly does justice to the amount of work being done. Through the hoardings at the front you can glimpse the scale of the job. All that remains is the external brickwork and the load-bearing walls inside. Windows, doors and floorboards have been removed and you can see clear to the back garden.
For at least 40 years before all this, the house was a local landmark, for me at least. In the words of Tom Jones’s UK #1 “The Green, Green Grass of Home”, “The old house [was] still standing, though the paint was cracked and dry”. The front door and the window-frames had not been painted for decades. Broken panes of glass had been taped up, held together in places with bits of cardboard. The curtains behind every window were closed day and night.
But the most notable feature of the place was a collection of decaying motor vehicles in the front garden, some hidden beneath those grey weather-proof covers that were much more common in the 1970s than they are now. They, and the cars themselves, probably dated back to the 1970s, or maybe even earlier.
All those tens of thousands of times I walked past #36 I never saw anyone enter or leave, never saw anyone in the front garden, tinkering away at a car or rearranging the covers. I never noticed any movement of the curtains. As the years went by, the house stood out more and more. Neighbouring properties went through regular cycles of maintenance and improvement. I could say “gentrification”, but the road was pretty fancy to begin with. #36 was stuck in a 1970s time-warp, a time when houses like that didn’t stand out quite so much.
The front garden is now clear of cars, home only to a skip or two. No doubt it will be tidied up along with the rest of the property, ending up either as a landscaped area or (more likely) a freshly paved space for two or more cars. Most of the neighbouring houses have at least one four-wheel-drive parked out front. Some have gates controlled by security systems with key-pads. Others have clear driveways.
I’m not especially curious about how #36 ends up. It will doubtless be very similar to the surrounding houses. But I rather wish I’d taken some pictures of it in its dilapidated state. Instead it will remain as a memory, with no photographic evidence to support it.