At Seventeen

A seventeen year old boy has died at the Reading Festival this year. This is a tragic event for him-his young life ended just as it was beginning-and for his parents, family and friends. It set me thinking back to my life at seventeen.

Seventeen is an ‘in-between’ age, at once awkward, daring, angst-ridden and thrilling. You’ll be on the verge of leaping from childhood into adulthood, preparing for university or employment, marriage [as my mother was] or parenthood. Janis Ian’s heartfelt ‘At Seventeen’ describes the longing and the turmoil involved in being the age:

‘And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone’

As a seventeen year old and the youngest in our family I appeared to have been granted a lot of freedom for the time [the late 60s]. The hippy period was underway. I had a suitably Lennon-esque, guitar-playing boyfriend with a car. We roamed the county in search of music gigs, getting to see everyone from Fairport Convention and Family to John Heisman’s Coliseum and Chicken Shack. I wore long, trailing skirts and often went barefoot out of school hours. I went on camping trips in a group that consisted of all boys, trusted by my mother because the boyfriend and all the others were choirboys! Little did she guess…

We experimented with weed, drank more than we could cope with, spent long nights listening to entire albums [LPs as they were] by our favourite musicians. When I was left at home for many weekends while my parents went to help out with caring for my sick grandfather I either spent the days at the boyfriend’s, lolling about in his bedroom while his mother made meals for us, or holding impromptu, drunken parties in my own parent-free home. The aftermath of these drunken and weed-ridden bashes meant Sundays attempting to clean up and formulating explanations for broken items, aromas or stains.

At the watershed that was end of school and start of student life, Boyfriend and I went our separate ways, figuratively and literally-he to Sheffield and I to London. When I announced to my mother that a subsequent Boyfriend and I were to share a flat she astounded me by being outraged, spluttering ‘You needn’t think you are doing that in this house!’ Could she really have had no idea at all about my activities as a seventeen-year-old?

My own, post-Aids era offspring were of course more circumspect, more grounded and less wild. They grew up in the Margaret Thatcher, shoulder-pad years and without the benefits of student grants; with 80s music, Rubik’s Cubes and Angel Delight.

Parenting is tough. Kids can’t be sheltered forever. You have to arm them with common sense and knowledge of the facts, be there when needed and then let them go-with fingers crossed tightly behind your back. You might be horribly unlucky, as were the parents of the boy at the festival or you might be fortunate, as were my own, blissfully ignorant parents.

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Moving on…

A letter to the new owners of this house:

Welcome to your new home. If you can be just a fraction as happy here in this rather grand, elderly house with its unbeatable location and its creaking, gurgling idiosyncrasies as we have been you will have made the right choice. Estate agents like to describe it as having ‘kerb appeal’ and judging by the attention it is given from passers-by this may be correct.

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When we first came to look at it twenty years ago we’d no clue it would be located on the cliff top, a short stroll down a zig-zag path to the vast sweep of Bournemouth Bay, since there was no mention of its position in the small, black and white advert in the local newspaper, merely a smudgy photo of the front door. It seems incomprehensible now that a sea-front location would be unmentioned. Upon entering the house I experienced that immediate recognition that this was the house for us, even though Husband needed convincing.

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To begin with it was locked into an earnest, seventies style décor and many of the original. 1920s features had been replaced with teak-effect and wood chip wallpaper but the beautiful staircase and elegant doors were all there. We set about alterations, combining three rooms to provide the spacious kitchen/dining area that is still a popular choice today. Much later, longing to be elevated to a level where we could enjoy a sea view, we had a section of the roof cut away and the loft converted to provide a crows’ nest. It altered the appearance of the house in a way many would consider a travesty but has been the room we’ve lived in the most. The garden is unrecognisable from the bland space it was and now boasts mature borders, a beautiful pond, trees, a summerhouse and two patios. The old garage is adorned with Virginia creeper and climbing hydrangea and a riotous tangle of honeysuckle, jasmine and ornamental hops tumble together from the fence.

 

Every home carries in its fabric stories of the inhabitants down through the years-even if they are untold. Here there have been wedding celebrations [two], arrivals, departures, parties, Christmas gatherings, murder mysteries, milestone birthdays, air show gatherings, musical soirees, a new generation coming along to explore, visitors, a burglary, barbecues and so much more.

My homecoming from work was always a joy, the sky becoming vast as I came nearer, the sunsets stunning and the winter gales a thrill.

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Our next home is a complete contrast, having been built much more recently with a light, contemporary interior, loads of glass and an open-plan design. We are swapping our sea panorama for a view over the river and the water meadows and the garden is a wedge of lawn leading to a small wooded area containing giant trees. The historic centre of the provincial town is just a few minutes’ walk along the road. Will we be as happy there as we have been in the old house? It remains to be seen.