I’m four years old and I’m kneeling on thick pile carpet, opening a small door in a bedroom wall and feeling like I’m about to enter Narnia. My mum is nearby, hoovering the landing of our big house. I say ‘our big house’ because that’s what we call it, but we actually live in a damp bungalow up a dirt road a mile away.
My Mum cleans quite a few houses around here and, seeing as it’s 1958 and everyone still remembers the war, an element of Blitz spirit hangs in the air. It can’t be dusted away, it’s everywhere, staring at us from framed black and white photos of husbands and sons lost in action. But life must go on, so it’s okay to take your child to work in this coastal town of Peacehaven.
Consequently I get to grow up seeing how the other half live. Behind this small door is a vast collection of children’s toys that the children in this house have grown out of, so I’m allowed to play with them while my Mum scrubs the kitchen floor. There’s no judgement on my part, no ‘man the barricades’ class consciousness. Just sheer delight.
My mum seems happy here too, maybe because everything works and she can breathe easily for a change. In our bungalow everything needs fixing. Including my Dad who’s still addicted to the Dexedrine they gave him to stay awake on bombing missions, and my three elder brothers who just ARE a tree-climbing, knee-grazing, den-building feral gang.
My grandad, who also lives nearby with my gran, is a builder. He trained my Dad to be a surveyor, but my Dad is always turning up onsite late, so he gets him an office job as a quantity surveyor. There aren’t many perks to this job other than the glossy design magazines he brings home when they’re out of date. Once again I get to see how the other half live, and work, marvelling over these futuristic buildings that hum prophetically, “Don’t worry, ‘bout a thing, ‘cos everything little thing’s, gonna be all right”.
As our family grows in size my grandad decides to build us a house. This is THE most exciting news in the world. We go to see the plot of land and leap around like monkeys who’ve just discovered an orchard full of ripe plums. Several months later we discover that our grandad, in that ‘must make ends meet’ spirit of the fifties, has built two semi-detached bungalows on the land so not only do we have to cram ourselves into one of them but we have to keep the noise down because he sold the other bungalow to a very old couple indeed. They were younger I am now!
Leaping ahead I open that toy box cupboard door in 2001 and discover Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The theory goes that none of us can concentrate properly on spiritual things, which could be as simple as listening to music or icing a cake, until we’re confident we have a roof over our head.
You’ll have heard the story of the President Kennedy visiting NASA and asking a janitor, mopping the floor, what he does there. The guy looks up proudly and says, “I’m helping put a man on the moon”.
In your job, providing reliable housing, you’re helping hundreds, thousands, millions of people express themselves. But we’re not just walking on the moon, you’re helping us dance, and sing, paint and drum. Grounded, here on the earth. You’re keeping our hearts safe so our imaginations can take flight, knowing there’s a warm home to come back to.
We wouldn’t take off otherwise