When I was a child I was forever building cubbies, tree-houses and dens. One was under a very spikey bougainvillea in our front garden, not a great success – another was laboriously created from old timber and tar-paper on the base of an old coal storage area. Dark and damp.
The best, though not really a den, was half of the lean-to attached to the garage. The rear contained a splintered little tool shed and our chickens, the front had a raised wooden platform so guess what? We put on a show in the barn just about every week, me, my younger brother and sister, and sundry neighbourhood friends. We had a big trunk full of finery and amused ourselves for hours with songs, stories and dances.
Once I could ride a bike I could visit my friends Tina and Penny in their wonderful colonial house, completely surrounded by deep, cool verandahs, and with a long flagstone hall. How I loved that house – the high ceilings, French windows in every room, endless outhouses and cellars. They had chickens, but as well they had mice and birds, cats and I vaguely remember a dachshund? There was a little field for a non-existent pony – so many of us longed for a pony – and by the road they had an enormous old fig tree, a Moreton Bay fig, with huge buttresses and aerial roots, just made for climbing and yes, a tree house. Right beside it grew the first jacarandah I ever saw, and their mother had an enviable kitchen garden with bean poles and espaliers. If we were very good sometimes she would let us weed….
View Larger MapThe last time I saw the house the land had been sold away for seven new houses, and it sat on a sadly diminished block – but the fig was still there, and the house looked loved and well cared for. Just seeing the intricate old roof on Google Maps brings a lump to my throat. One of the places I dream about.
I have never got over my love of enclosed, private places, I think adults should have cubbies, as well as children. I want a wall bed like the one in my grandparents’ kitchen, a stuffy child-sized airing cupboard with a big HWC, I want a toolshed that smells of string and putty and engine oil. I long for an attic full of mysterious luggage and old furniture, a box room with a tiny window under the eaves, a dim, cool pantry with stone shelves and uneven tile floor. An old boat shed with the water lapping underneath and piles of old lifejackets and nets to sit on, endless vaulted cellars like the ones we had in Soho, deeply creepy because I knew we were built on an old plague pit. There we also had a strange little landing at the top of the stairs, with three small windows: I always intended to use it for something but never did.
The next house we moved into had a room for every function, nineteen in all, and I happily embraced having a separate scullery, in the spirit of the house. That was really where our children grew up, and I’m so pleased we built a Little House under the brown Turkey fig tree there, calling it 8 bis – huit bis, big joke, get it?! It got a lot of use, even putting up guests one summer when we had a full house.