Books Magazine

A Very Private Place

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to hide away in a quiet, cosy corner, preferably with a book and a drink (back then, orange juice, these days, tea or coffee) and, if possible, some sort of calorific snack.   
As a child, there’s something particularly enticing about a den, especially one cobbled together out of old bits and pieces – blankets, tablecloths, scarves, discarded cushions – and all held together with safety pins and sellotape. I always went for HCF (High Cosy Factor) so warmth, low lights and a hidden view into the real world were all points high on my agenda.  That little area under the stairs was always good, so long as I had a cushion to sit on, a blanket to throw over me and the door was left slightly ajar for spying purposes.
I’m not sure where, when or quite how this obsession with these very private places started but I know it goes back a long way.  I remember when my brothers and I received transistor radios for Christmas.  We were thrilled.  It was certainly the best present I’d ever received and promised endless excitement, preferably within some sort of den situation.  The bottom bunk, with a blanket as a screen was a speedy solution, but even better was to take the radio under the covers at bedtime and wait, with escalating excitement, for Midweek Theatre, the highlight of my week.  Of course, this was a Wednesday night and I had school the following day.  I was supposed to be sleeping, so this was definitely a covert activity.  One night the play was so frightening that I was scared to open my eyes.  Worriedly, I turned off the radio, missing the grand denouement, and called for the comforting presence of my mum.  Needless to say, I never admitted to what I’d been doing, but whimpered something about a nightmare.  It didn’t stop the bed/den activity but it did make me a bit more choosy about what I listened to.
At about this time I was considerably in awe of my granddad’s shed, which was his little haven from the stresses of normal life (and my grandma).It was small, jam packed with old jars and tins holding an assortment of nails, screws and washers, and had its own unique shed smell: wood shavings, glue, creosote and granddad’s Old Virginia roll ups. Often, when we visited, grandma would be bustling about in the kitchen and granddad would be making something in his shed – tiny chairs made of pegs, crude picture frames, little boxes with ill-fitting lids.Always a man of few words, he loved to be on his own, which probably explains his actions one day when my brother, then aged about three, was sent out to ‘see granddad.’As young children are wont to do Geoff started giving granddad imaginary objects.This went on for about ten minutes until granddad opened the shed door, put a tin on the ground, instructed his grandson, “Here, put everything in that,” and swiftly shut himself back in his shed.
Next door to grandma and granddad lived a family with two girls around my age.My envy knew no bounds when I opened the connecting gate one day to discover that their dad (a bit of a whizzkid in the DIY stakes) had built them a proper brick wendy house, complete with furniture, rugs, crockery and fancy curtains at the windows.How I loved to play in that wendy house.My dad, although capable of basic DIY, could never compete with Ernest Truslove.Only recently, dad told me, with a voice full of incredulity, that years ago Hazel Truslove had revealed they were moving as ‘Ernest had run out of jobs to do in the house.’ The thing about private places is that they have to be just that – private.They’re not places for crowds of people.In my opinion, two adults could be one too many.It’s private, it’s secret and therein lies its appeal.The summerhouse we received as a Silver Wedding present several years ago is the culmination of a lifelong wish to have my very own private place.   I’m sure that desire had its seeds in Ernest Truslove’s wendy house, and although I don’t have fancy curtains or a rug I do have two chairs, a table and a collection of old candles.And a sign that tells me I’m ‘living the dream.’Summer evenings and I am ensconced in a blanket, just me, a cafetiere and a good book. And if the husband wishes to visit he has to knock….

A Very Private Place

Rio in his Den

I wrote the following poem in memory of my childhood hideaways.

My Den - Jill Reidy Pull the blanket right across Secure with pins and sellotape  But leave the smallest gap  To peer through  View the outside world As it goes about its business Whilst I, in my tiny den, Nestle down into the cushion Like a mouse in straw Wrap the rug around my legs Nibble at a biscuit And turn the pages of my book

My mother passes, humming I hear the strike of match And flare of gas on hob Water splashing in a pan And the chop chop chop of knife on board Sunday's leftovers  Are whipped into shape  Bubble and squeak, cold roast beef Peas, and pickle on the side Aromas mingle, waft towards me Finally... I am lured from my tiny hideaway.

Thanks for reading,    Jill 

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