Saturday - Petts Wood
We lived there once.
We moved in just a week before Megan was due, I brought her home from the hospital to the first house she ever knew. As she grew up, we walked through the town almost every day, crossing and re-crossing the foot-bridge over the railway, from east to west, past the library and the church, between school, shops and home. We picked blackberries in Jubilee Park when the weather was good, pick-and-mix in Woolworths when it was bad.
We learned about the Pett family as we played in their woods. I read the faded information boards, green with the moss and damp of the surrounding trees and told my children how the Pett dynasty had built ships for the royal navy. I was busy building my own dynasty then.
In Station Square, there used to be a gentlemen's outfitters. I remember peering into the carefully dressed window as I passed on my way to the bank or the chemist, it was full of tweed jackets, cashmere scarves, woollen socks. I never bought anything then, and I'm sorry about that now. Today it's a coffee shop.
Sitting in the window where the clothes once were, I stir my coffee and look out across the square. There's a huge pub called the Daylight Inn. It was named for William Willett, a campaigner for daylight saving. I know there's a memorial for him in the woods; a huge sundial. Just behind the Daylight there used to be a kitchen shop, with a small office above it, where I worked for twelve hours a week while Megan was at nursery. Cornwall Lord Chartered Accountants moved away long ago; but I still remember how I used to dash out of there at lunchtime to pick Megan up, I remember how she loved to cross the road to the bakers on the corner for a hot sausage roll.
Sunday - Sidcup
We lived there once.
I was nineteen when we moved in a month after getting married, and it was the first house I ever owned. In the nine years we lived there, I learnt to cook and clean, knit and sew; I worked out what it meant to be a wife and a mother.
Today, Megan is sitting in the car beside me as we drive into Sidcup. As we go past Queen Mary's hospital, where all my children were born, she chatters on incessantly; but I'm tense and tetchy with her, not really listening to anything she says. As we pass the roundabout, where I once thought she might arrive too soon, she reaches forward and turns up the volume on the CD player and just as we've done so many times before, we both start to sing.
A few minutes later, she points to a house up ahead "there it is - the one with the white fence." I turn into the driveway carefully, trying hard not to hit the gateposts, trying hard to sneak a look at the house.
Megan's friend Lara opens the door. She's smiling as she tells us to mind the wet floor "I've been cleaning for hours" she says proudly. We follow her into the kitchen, and admire the purple accessories - the toaster that matches the washing-up bowl and the cutlery, the purple leather bar-stools and the empty glass fruit bowl. Then she takes us on a tour of the rest of the house; the other rooms are big and bare. Upstairs we look at the bedrooms; I ask questions about where the furniture will go, I smile as she describes a small bedroom as a walk-in wardrobe.
We come to a third room "And this will be my room" says Megan. I picture the room she's left behind this morning, the bed piled high with black plastic sacks full of clothes and rubbish. I try to imagine what this room will look like in a month or two, when she's settled in here and forgotten to be tidy.
I don't stay long. They both come to the door to say goodbye. "come and see us as often as you want" says Lara generously. "Not too often" adds Megan.
I drive away slowly, not really thinking about where I'm going, along streets that were once familiar. It's only five minutes from the street we once lived in. Five minutes, more than twenty years.
I remember the excitement of moving into our first house in Sidcup, the pride of bringing Megan home to her first house in Petts Wood. I know today's a good day.
I just wish it hadn't come so soon.