With plenty of spare room, my childhood home was known as The Hippy Hotel, the Hippy being me (even after a crew-cut) and the Hotel being a 5 bedroom Victorian semi with enough space to absorb a few teenagers. In the well proportioned semi-basement kitchen was a large pine table perfectly suited to whiling away the hours reading The Guardian accompanied by litres of tea, cheese on toast or the occasional omelette . "Would you like a cup of tea, Mrs Wilsdon" was enough to keep my mum sweet. That "Toby's kitchen" comes up in nostalgic conversations two decades later and is known of by wives and girlfriends who never set foot in the place, is testament to the value of a good room, and the domestic atmosphere fostered by my parents.
My parents have gone on holiday.
When I was younger, this could only mean one thing. Within hours of their leaving, a troupe of boy-men would turn up at The Hippy Hotel, armed to the teeth with everything we needed to waste ourselves away for the following two weeks. Some of the ingenious technology we developed was truly impressive.
On one such occasion, in between getting wasted at night, we took it upon ourselves to dig a first world war trench across my mum's vegetable garden. We'd actually started the day before they left and got down to about 5 feet deep before my mum had caught us at it and told us to fill it in. Having spent several hours digging, we decided to cover it with branches, leaves and topsoil, somewhat like a Punji trap, and hope she fell for it, not in it. When she walked straight over the top, my heart was in my throat. She survived to go on holiday and we continued digging down to about 8 feet. We planned to cover the trench with planks and about a foot of topsoil so we could have a secret smoking den accessed by a tunnel from the adjacent graveyard while my mum grew vegetables on top. We were perhaps a little over ambitious, letting our imaginations run ahead of our capabilities and resources. On the day before my parents were due back, we made an executive decision that the planks were about to buckle and the project must be aborted. Having filled it in, we bought in fresh supplies and returned to the kitchen.
I'm 36. Not 18. I wasn't expecting to relive old times. The novelty of having a place to yourself has been worn away for most of my friends (and me) by, having a place to themselves. And then filling it with kids. This leaves me rattling around a large Victorian house wondering what to do with myself.