free range - A CHILDHOOD MEMOIR
BY DEBBIE BALLIN
free range - A CHILDHOOD MEMOIR
BY DEBBIE BALLIN
We have moved into a new house. Number 7, Station Road, Radyr. It’s massive. It’s got seven bedrooms and a giant front room. We needed a bigger house. There were too many of us to fit in the old house.
First there’s my Mum and Dad, Frances and Malcolm. My Mum really likes babies. She’s got one called Laura at the moment. At my new school when I said how many brothers and sisters I’ve got, some of the other children laughed and said, ‘haven’t you got a telly’. I don’t know what that means. It’s something to do with sex and having babies.
My Dad doesn’t come back from work till late. Not till its nearly time for bed. Sometimes when he comes back from work he’s a bit cross and he shouts at us. Then other times he is really happy and calls us funny nicknames.
Next are my oldest brothers Ben and Pat. They are twins. Identical twins. Sometimes even I can’t tell them apart. They look exactly the same from the back. But they don’t like it if you muddle them up.
They have lots of clubs and games. I’m not allowed to join. Only big boy’s can play. They did have a club called Fun Club. If you wanted to join you had to slide down the slide and they would pee on you when you got to the bottom. I never wanted to be in it, but Miranda did.
Next is Jessie, my big sister. Her real name is Jessica but we all call her Jessie or Jess. She has her own bedroom because she is the oldest. We are not allowed to go in her room or touch her stuff. If you do she gets really cross and shouts at you.
Then it’s Miranda; she is just above me. She’s my best friend. We play together all the time. Our favourite games are Catherine game and Batman and Robin. The only thing is, is she is a little bit bossy. In all the games she is in charge. In Catherine game we have magic powers and can fly. She can fly all the time but I have to ask her permission if I want to fly. If she says yes, then she sews my wings on and I can fly too. When we play Batman I always have to be Robin.
Then it’s me, Debbie. I am number five. I am at a new school now because we have moved house. It is called Holy Family. We go there on a bus. That is because we are Catholics. There aren’t any Catholic schools near our new house.
After me is my stupid little brother Raf. He is six. His birthday is on the sixth of the sixth and he was born in 1966. We say he is the devil child. He is a show off. He always climbs on things and stands on his head. He has cracked his head open six times and had stitches. I’ve never had stitches. Sometimes we have big fights and I make him cry. Other times we play dares and wrestling. I can make him submit by kneeling on his head.
Next it is the little ones. Rachel and Carla and my new baby sister Laura. They all sleep in a big room together except Laura sleeps in Mum and Dad’s bed. I help Mum with changing Laura’s nappy and pushing her around the village in her pram.
Finally it is the animals. Honey is our dog. She is a long legged Corgi. She has a ginger coat and pointy ears. She chases motorbikes and barks at them. We got her because I was scared of dogs when I was a baby so she is kind of my dog really. Then we have a guinea pig, Stella, lots of gerbils and Miranda has some terrapins. Mum says we can get a cat as well.
I have drawn a map of our house to show where all the rooms are. We did maps at school with Mrs O’Reilly. I did a map of where our school is and all the things near it. This is my map of our house.
Before it was our house a man called Alan Wood lived here. He was an artist. The giant front room used to be his artist studio. It was all messy with paint on the floor. Mum and Dad have made it modern now. They have put green carpet on the floor and blinds you can open and close by pulling a string.
There are new settees made of wood. They have bright orange cushions with little pink stripes on them. You can take the cushions off and pile them up on the floor and use them for jumping on and hiding under. There is a new white table. It is square and shiny and has wheels. Miranda and me use it as a stage for putting shows on. Raf pushes me around the room on it as well.
Dad has a new bureau. I don’t know what a bureau is but he had to make it out of lots of different pieces of wood. He got really cross when he was doing it. It has a lock so he can put his private things in it. It looks a bit wonky so you are not allowed to lean on it.
At the end of the room we have Grandma’s piano. Ben and Pat have piano lessons. They can play songs from Oliver and Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream. I can only play a bit of chopsticks.
In the corner at the end is Granny’s cabinet with all her precious things in. Miranda and me love those things. There are lots of tiny things in there like a teeny-weeny tea set. My favourite are the little cups and saucers made of blue and gold china with pictures on them. We are not allowed to take things out of there, by ourselves, or Dad will get very cross. We can look at them and play with them but only if Mum or Dad are with us.
There is something really good in that room. A hatch that goes through to the next room so you can pass food and stuff through it. Raf and I can climb through it. You have to wriggle on your tummy and be careful or you get stuck.
The best rooms upstairs are the attic bedroom and the bathroom. They are all made out of wood. The other rooms are just bedrooms. The orange room is Mum and Dad’s bedroom. We are not allowed in there but sometimes I hide in there to read my book when I can’t find a quiet place anywhere else.
Miranda and I share a room together. It is a little room next to the bathroom and has bunk beds and a sink in it. For my birthday I got an orange furry rug to put on the floor. I am on the top bunk and Miranda is at the bottom (she wets the bed sometimes).
At night I climb down and get into her bed. We play games and talk. Sometimes we play a game called backs. Where we have to take it in turns tickling each other’s backs.
One time when I had to tickle Miranda’s back I got bored of just doing tickling. So I put different things on her back and tickled her with those, like the little bridge out of the terrapin’s tank.
Miranda and me argue sometimes. Mostly it’s because I am messy or I touch her stuff. One time she drew a line with a piece of chalk down the middle of our bedroom. She said one half of the room was hers and the other was mine and I wasn’t allowed in her half.
She said, “If you put one toe over that line. I’ll chop it off with a carving knife.” I was really scared. Her chin went all wobbly. Trouble is, the bed is on her side of the room. When I wanted to go to bed I had to climb across the cupboards and onto the sink to get into bed. Just so I didn’t put my foot on her side of the room.
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