‘This is a strange question, but do you still have an air raid shelter at the bottom on your garden?’
As openings go, it’s quite an ice breaker, and the woman’s eyes did widen. But I’m getting a tiny bit ahead of myself…
This morning I decided to take a long walk, out by the house where I spent my childhood (we moved in when I was one and out when I was 11). I’d driven past it several times but never stopped. Knocking on the door and telling the people living there that I’d grown up the in the place…well, it seemed a good way to receive a suspicious look.
Today, though, I was on foot and just thought why the hell not. I was there and I had nothing to lose.
The woman, it turned out, had lived in the house since 1970, five years after we left. Thankfully, she believed me, invited me in and showed me the place as well as the garden, understandably her pride and joy.
I mentioned that the house and street featured in a couple of my novels.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked. I told her and her eyes widened again. Because she’d read (and thankfully, enjoyed) Dark Briggate Blues and been astonished to see Carr Manor Parade in there. I mentioned that her actually house was going to be the 1940s home for Lottie Armstrong, the main character of The Year of the Gun, which comes out in 2017.
We talked, and finally I set off again. I felt blessed by the sort of welcome I had never dared to imagine, and an invitation to return anytime. Thank you, I truly appreciate it. Some days the gods really do give you pearls.
And the house? In many regards it was much the same – a big old cupboard in the kitchen, the drying rack on a rope, the stairs – but inevitably smaller than in my memory.
Oh, the air raid shelter? It’s still there, just blocked off these days.