My grandparents’ house at 1755 London Road still seems present to me, as if I could walk through the shadowed corridors today and throw open the brocaded curtains.
I can see the ancient dust that would swirl above the dining table with its green velveteen cover, descending on the desiccated fruit in the fruit bowl (my grandparents believed that fresh food such as fruit could be displayed but was dangerous to eat – the only really safe food was tinned food, or biscuits, or else something that had been cooked for many hours).
Planks of dusty light would populate the room. They would fall on the coloured cut glass vases on the sideboard, vases that themselves contained more dust and dead flies. They would play on the yellowing embossed wallpaper and the pre-war fittings for gas lighting. They would touch shelves where herbal-smelling cigar boxes and Dresden china figures stood, and pass over the framed photographs of Thames barges and tugs of the kind that my grandfather’s company owned and operated in the waters below Tower Bridge. There were no books – in another room my grandmother kept a library of Christian evangelical religious books and pamphlets, but books of any other kind were not to be found and to the very end of his life my grandfather maintained as a point of honour that he had never read a book.