With the windows replaced, my father was starting to get into the swing of bringing the house on Gipton Wood Crescent up to scratch and this meant attacking the heating.
As I mentioned in a previous tale, initially the house was heated by coal fires and chimneys, but in order to really make an improvement my parents had central heating installed. This was gas central heating and the coal store which was located under the stairs with an outside door was the place for the boiler to be fitted. Looking back, I am not sure how safe this was, but that was where it was put. It didn’t quite fill the space and it had to have a chimney added that led to the outside to vent heat and fumes. The spare area around the boiler began to accumulate junk over the years. Old sports equipment, bits of furniture and even the old violin I had started having lessons with, took up residency and added to the potential fire hazard.
Now I do have a little story that took place when I was about thirteen or so. It was one of those days when it was bitterly cold and there was a thick covering of snow. I believe it had been like that for a few days and there was a slight thaw for an hour or so by midday, but then it re-froze. This produced some wonderful icicles hanging off the gutters. They had grown to over a foot long and I know, because I tasted some of them, that they had a definite smoky flavour. I arrived home from somewhere and I had expected my parents to be in the house. They weren’t and I didn’t have a key. It was bitterly cold and it started to snow again. I had no gloves and was at a loss what to do and finally decided to shelter in the coal store next to the boiler which was on. It was quite warm and, despite being cramped, dark and smelling of gas and fumes, I felt quite comfortable, even if I couldn’t stand upright. I wasn’t completely foolish and kept the door slightly ajar so there was some access to fresh air. I seemed to be there for hours and to while away the time I began to etch into the soft plaster that lined the little store. I think I put my name and the date and I am not sure what else. I would be interested if the current owners have seen the results of my boredom and whether it is still there. Anyway, I clearly survived the hour or so I had to wait, avoided hypothermia and carbon-monoxide poisoning as I am still around to tell the tale.
Carpets of the time
The central heating was only fitted downstairs and the theory was that the warmth would rise up the stairs and heat the bedrooms. How my brothers and I wished that was the case, as we still remember freezing nights shivering under the covers, thick ice on the inside of the windows. There was a thermostat in the hallway downstairs and my father had a ritual of checking that it was on 21 degrees and never above. Of course, if we were cold we would turn it up and this would prove a constant source of friction.
My father’s next challenge was to cap the chimneys and remove the fireplaces. This was a fairly major job and took a long time to complete. Looking back, I am amazed that there ever were fireplaces as the rooms were very small. When removed there was quite an extra bit of space, but there was nowhere to stand ornaments, or to act as a focal point, so he went about building in a surround that provided a space for the TV and a cupboard. He used mahogany-veneered chipboard for the shelving areas and added a very modern stone-effect fibreglass front. This mock-stock was quite impressive and came in sheets of three dimensional stones with a groove for the grouting between the stones. He then had to carefully add a sandstone-coloured grout filler to create a realistic stone effect. The wood was then polyurethane varnished to produce a high gloss finish. I must admit he was very though and skilled. Again, I wonder if it is still there. A small electric fire was built into the centre of it with three bars. My father was never keen to have it on, due to the electricity usage, but Mum often had it on. Surprisingly, there was a round fish-eye mirror above hung on the wall with a cream coloured metal frame of ivy leaves. I say surprisingly, not because of the mirror, but because to look in the mirror meant almost pressing yourself against the fire and the likely chance of setting your clothes alight. I know that at this time there were a lot of accidents with the modern synthetic and cotton materials for nighties, pyjamas and clothing catching fire.
On the left hand side of the chimney breast was the space for the television and a short while after moving to Gipton Wood Crescent in 1968, colour television began. The first colour TV that I remember was a strange rental one. I don’t think we kept it long. It had a slot on the top and you had to feed it fifty pence pieces for it to work. A man would come and collect the money from it every so often and refund my Mum any extra money. This machine was replaced by a much more modern colour TV and this one had a remote control. The control was very basic compared to nowadays and only allowed the volume to be altered and the channel to be changed. I say remote control, as it wasn’t wireless. There was a cable which connected it to the set, but it allowed basic operation from your chair. Dad was in control of this, if he was in, but then it would be Mum and pass down the kids by seniority. A year or two later this was again replaced with a TV that had a unwired control and this really was modern. It was a large hand-held controller, but once again it could only control the channel and I think the volume. When colour TV first came it seemed very unnatural and we wondered if it would ever take on. Every set seemed to have the colours set very vividly, but in a short while we just became accustomed to it and our brains adapted. The pictures were quite fuzzy still, particularly compared to the ultra-hi-definition giant televisions of today.
The lounge room and front room still had picture rails and Dad quickly removed those and then replaced the light fitting. I think it had been a light bulb on a flex with a lampshade on and this was replaced with a modern round fitting with a round fluorescent tube and a glass dome covering. Very modern. Shortly before this, the house was re-wired and all the plug sockets were changed from being round-pin to square-pin and the new colour code for wires was introduced. I can still remember bare wires being pushed into the hound sockets and held in with pencils, which must have been dangerous. New plugs also had fuses which was a great safety move.
The dining room housed the TV and a small dining table and four chairs. It had a small section that could be added to the top to make it larger, but it was only ever used at Christmas. Later it was replaced with a table that had fold-up leaves which gave us much more room and usually only had one side up. With there not being much room, Mum decided to buy a small three-piece suite and she and Dad went out and had ordered a new one. It turned up a while later and it comprised of a thin wooden frame that matched the mahogany colour of the fitted cupboards. It had thin cushions that rested on a series of thick rubber bands. Now they looked really modern and replaced an old bigger set. It was only a two seat sofa, but the three boys, only being small, we could fit on it. The shortfall of this set up soon became apparent. In a few weeks’ time the rubber bands began to stretch and when you sat on the sofa or chairs the cushions would slide between the gaps. And after a year anyone heavy would find themselves almost sitting on the floor. As kids we tended to stop using it and just sat on the carpet anyway. We didn’t care. I can still remember watching TV lying backwards off the settee, upside down, head on the floor and loving every minute of it. My younger brother, Stuart, spent the first few series of Doctor Who hiding behind the chair and peeping out, only to hide away again during a scary bit.
Speaking of carpets, that was another area that my parents modernised. When they bought the house the carpets were square and had a bare floorboard border of about eighteen inches around them. This was common and the floorboards were varnished and stained. Fitted carpets were now the way to go and Axminster carpets, with Duralay underneath was the crème de la crème of modern. It took quite a long time, but bit by bit, the carpets in the house were replaced. Stair carpets originally were a strip that covered the main walking area of the hall and stairs. The stair sections were held in place by metal clips that folded over and stopped the carpet coming loose. Other carpet edges were held in place by rings that were sewn into the carpets and clipped over tacks into the floor, or the carpet edges were tacked directly into the floorboards. The original carpets had an underlay of what was a brown felt-like material, whereas the fitted carpets had rubber underlay and the edges had wooden, clawed edging strips which allowed the carpets to be stretch-fitted and cut to fit each room. The problem was that if you had bare feet it was easy to stand on these strips on the stairs, which could be painful.
My final memory which incorporated the staircase was needing to go to the loo. When we were all sat around the lounge watching TV the rest of the house was dark. If I had to go to the toilet it meant going on your own and this was quite scary. I would hurry up the stairs, do what had to be done and then flush the toilet. I would then run down the staircase at breakneck speed, frightened, and jump the last half-dozen steps to get back to the safety and comfort of the lounge. Ridiculous, I now know, but not at the time. Maybe there is some instinct that warns children that being on your own in the dark is dangerous. Maybe it’s from our early ancestors who lived in forests where wild creatures roamed. Who knows? It seems that a lot of children feel the same.