At the other end of the kitchen was a fireplace. The hearth was big and before the stove was invented or arrived, the fire had been used to do the cooking. The hearth was big enough to sit a chair in and at the side were a pile of logs far enough away not to catch fire. Hooks and turning rods were still in the chimney and they were not used for anything anymore, except when Uncle John would hang his socks over the rod to warm, if the fire was lit, and Chris and I had to keep a watch but the drifting aroma would lead an elephant with a cold to the room in no time.
Up the stairs were three bedrooms.
Auntie's had the furniture that she had brought with them from Gidea Park, but the other two rooms were filled with old dark, heavy wood furniture from the dark ages. The furniture did not leave much space to move around. Miss Faversham would have felt cosy.
The beds were iron frame with thick mattresses. We found that they were super duper bouncing frames for when we played the Three Musketeers. Auntie became more than worried that we would bring the ceiling down, so mum warned us to stop, or else!
The bathroom was a wonder of modern plumbing, with lead pipes running up and down the walls and along the top of the white glazed tiles that nearly reached up to the ceiling, and most of them were crazed and the lines stood out in black like lots of spiders webs.
The metal enameled bath was monstrous and had marks in it not unlike the tiles. Half way down towards the bottom of the bath a yellowish water mark with green edges rushed down towards the plughole that took your soul and dirty water to eternity and beyond. To imagine that you could be sitting on that without knowing what was going on down there.
The sink on the wall in front of the opening door, with the toilet next to it, was almost too high for me to see into but I imagined that it was probably like the inside of the toilet. My face was just about on a level with the taps but later uncle John made us a step box so that we could get washed without help. Aunt Edna told mum that uncle had used Spirits of Salts on the stains in the toilet but they always came back. Uncle used to warn auntie that if she kept using the Spirits, that one day they would burn right through the bottom of the pan and drop on her head when she was at the stove cooking dinner. She joked that they would probably make her hair grow, but I didn't think so because Spirits of Salts are pretty nasty and not to be played with at all.
She said that we were lucky. Could we imagine what it would be like to have to go down to the bottom of the garden in the winter, when snow was on the ground, and a freezing wind was blowing from the 'Urals', and sit on a wooden seat over a hole in the ground. Sounded worse than the bath plughole. She took us to the back bedroom window and pointed out that four or five of the houses still had outside toilets at the bottom of the garden. They weren't used anymore, she said, but it wasn't so long ago that they were and the 'midnight walk in a snowstorm' was accompanied by a hot water bottle.
We didn't need a snowstorm as we soon found out that winter, because the bathroom was freezing!
The stove was damped down for the night so that the house soon got cold, only the kitchen staying warm. If the temperature outside was below zero for a few days then everything froze up. It wasn't worth leaving the kitchen door open because the little heat from the stove was wasted on the rest of the house, and there wasn't enough coal available to keep the fire active all night. The pipes were always frozen, just like us, and spent most of the winter being wrapped in sacking. The pipes, not us! Then they still burst.
Mr Oliver was the plumber. Mr Oliver's van spent so much time parked out front of our row of houses that other people in the area wanted to know if he had given up his nice house in Clacton and moved into a house on Railway Row.
Mr Oliver's wiped joints had to be seen. What he couldn't do with a wet rag and a blow lamp wasn't worth mentioning. (my brother wants to know why I am telling you then? he just doesn't understand) Mind you as soon as he was gone, leaving the smell of Metholated Spirits* and scorched wallpaper, a pipe burst somewhere else. Sometimes we just kept containers in the kitchen and waited for the thaw. If we were frozen then so were the other houses. Most of them couldn't get coal like uncle, although one could go along the railway line picking up lumps thrown from the engine, but everyone did that. Mr Oliver said that it was disgraceful that L.N.E.R didn't do something about the plumbing, which he reckoned dated back to the 'Great Exhibition'. Uncle John would say that L.N.E.R had a lot of other things on their plate at that time, but every time he sent in Mr Oliver's bill, he usually included a note if it was big, to say that it would be cheaper to do something about it. Mr Oliver, who had a funny leg from another war he wouldn't tell us about, would limp to his van, get in and as he was driving away say something like: "Mind, without you good people and the North Eastern Railway, my kids would starve!"
He had an accent and a way of talking that I can't write but his kids looked looked pretty well fed when we saw them.
Anyway that was the house and very soon dad left for home covered in hugs, kisses and tears, making for a pretty soggy journey.
*Metholated Spirits is something that I have never come across in this country although I have been an American for 20 years now. A pressure blow lamp or a camping cooking stove or lantern would burn Kerosene but to get it started you would pour the Spirits into a cup on the lamp and ignite them to heat and vaporize the Kerosene to burn. Don't need all of that stuff anymore. The Meths in England were coloured purple but some people still drank it instead of booze.