Number 47- If you don’t hold your breath until you get past….the bogey man will get you.
Number 47 is different to all the other houses on this street.
It’s bigger, three storeys, double fronted, large bay windows on either side of the solid front door.
Mr Harrison built this house for himself. Took some care over it, used decent materials, bullied the workmen, his workmen to take a little care, add some fancy edging, a bit of coving, a carved centre rosette to hang the lamp shade on.
Mr Harrison built all the houses on this street and the next street and the street after that.
Mr Harrison made a little Victorian empire, homes for the clerks and the shop workers and factory foreman.
Homes for the decent and the hardworking.
And just in case, in case someone didn’t know, didn’t know that he was the builder, the architect, the planner of this corner of a Midlands town.
Mr Harrison spelt out his own name in the first letters of every street where he built the houses.
Omsk St and
Then, when all the houses are built, he moves his wife, his three daughters and two sons into his house and lives there until September 1918, when his second son, one already lost at Paschndale, is posted missing, presumed dead and then, quietly, with as little fuss as possible, he goes mad and spends the rest of his life in the asylum at the edge of the town.
His wife and daughters live on at number 47, all a little mad with grief and loss and sadness and time goes on and one by one they die and there is no one to leave the house to except a distant cousin and he doesn’t want it.
The neighbourhood has gone downhill, is still slipping downhill with no sign of the descent finishing yet
. The decent clerks and shop workers have moved on, aspire to semis with a bit of garden and somewhere to park the car and number 47 is an awkward size, too big for a family, too small to be made into flats.
So, it stays empty for a bit and starts to fall apart, just a little at first, but as the years go by, more and more shabby, more and more the kind of house that children run past without looking and adults fear strange illicit uses late at night.
And then, the polytechnic begins its sprawl and spread from a respectable red brick building So suitable for the education of draughtsmen and teachers and engineers and underwear designers and starts looking for spaces to house new courses that confuse the old guard lectures, passers on of knowledge that makes things and sends those sandwich course and evening class students into the world of real work, and so, a little mysteriously the department of cultural studies ends up, not on the real campus, but a 15 minute walk away and in academic terms, so far away as to be on another planet.
The house is tidied up, but retains its inherent housiness, desks and bookshelves and all the paraphernalia of academia sit uncomfortably in rooms that are still sitting and sleeping and eating rooms and no one remembers to get the bath removed.
In the heatwave of 1976, the pale young man who is trying to convince his senior colleagues that soap opera is a legitimate area of study, spends most afternoons lying in a tepid bath until his skin wrinkles and puckers.
Time passes and cultural studies becomes more popular, outgrows this outpost and is allowed to sneak back onto the main campus and the house becomes an overflow for the lecturers on part time posts and then, even they are found room in a new brutal tower block and the house falls empty again.
In the1980s, some graduates remember its existence and break in one winter afternoon and squat in the house.
The locals are suspicious, wary of the music that floods out of every open window.
The squatters paint the front door and all the window frames in bright neon colours and hold chaotic week long parties to which they invite their neighbours, who never come, but who do call the police and the university as the polytechnic now calls itself.
Finally, the squatters move out, the 90s are coming, greed is good and they long for the lifestyles they see each month in The Face.
Shared meals and badges with slogans and lentils seem a little sad, a little embarrassing and so,the house is left again.
The university almost forgets that it owns the house and the garden begins to move indoors and the wood on the window frames and the once sturdy front door begins to warp and crack.
Every couple of years, a resident writes to the university demanding that something is done about this eye sore and there are rumours that the house has been bought to be redeveloped or that it will be demolished or that a long lost relative of the almost forgotten Mr Harrison has been found and intends to move his or her family into the house.
But today, it’s raining and the wind is blustery, making the remaining glass in the Windows rattle.
The cats have long colonised the house. They particularly enjoy it on days like today, when they fill the rooms.
Some seek isolation, staring out of windows at passerbys,others take part in desultory mouse hunts and others yet curl up together, sharing body heat and mutual grooming.
A large black and white boy cat is snoozing, he has eaten his own science diet dry kibble, finished off a bowl of tesco value chicken flavour meat and scrounged half a sausage from a teenager eating his breakfast on the way to the bus stop.
The cat is full now, he lies on his back, occasionally licking the fur on his belly.
He has chosen his spot carefully, out of the wind, close to a hole in the wall where he is sure that the remaining mice have hidden.
The floor is padded with books left by the squatters and the last of the cultural studies lecturers.
The cat has found a good thick one, still in pristine condition, no sign of any wear and tear. It makes a perfect cushion.
The cat, whose family have called him Snuff, but whose real name is quite,quite different and much harder to pronounce, taps the front cover with his paw
“ Of grammertology “ Jacques Derrida.
The cat wonders if it’s any good.