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Last weekend my husband and I opted to have a wander around Penarth, a Victorian seaside resort outside Cardiff. On the cliff top walk we encountered a papiermache folkloric Head of Bran being rolled down the hill to the pier alongside the spectral sheet and skull ensemble that is the traditional Marie Llwyd. There was much Welsh, much singing and a certain otherworldly sense was brought to the white painted lobby of the Pier. It was unusual and intriguing and gave a certain piquancy to the day. I mean, how often do you see singing schoolchildren rolling a giant’s head down a cliff top?

We enjoyed the cliff walk which offers the twin pursuits of coastal nature and house-gawping. I love to nosey at other people’s property, especially that built at the  seaside. I’m always very jealous of anyone that has a deck overlooking the sea. There were, it must be said, some truly awful examples of housebuilding, awful that is, to my eyes. You can pretty much keep your ultra-modern glasshouse with its innovative or post modern boxiness, clad in zinz of course and with Kevin McCloud no doubt drooling on the doorstep. Instead come on over to my place.

Old. Victorian. Or Georgian. Or anything vaguely cobwebbed, darkly Gothic or misshapen. I like steps and tall windows.  Castles are good of course, especially the bleaker ones on a coastal hilltop. Ornate porching, several stories, a good view through to your kitchen helps and leaving your curtains/blinds open at night so that I can have a really good nosey in always pleases.

An abandoned house breaks my heart and Penarth delivered. On one turn off,  as we walked towards the Turner House Ffotogallery, I spotted a truly abandoned relic of a place. The building had once been some Victorian coal barons home, a sizeable detached Victorian villa called ‘Normandy’. There would have been red velvet and gaslight, a scullery maid to red raddle the step and possibly a cook. Chaise longue here, piano there. Now, there is no roof, only timbers. Windows are knocked out and blank, a forest of buddleia grows in the eaves so that the house looks as if it has hair, balding and patchy. Oh be still my aching chest pump. I was busy at once snapping pictures, missing the shot where the jackdaws, who are now chief residents, all rose as one out of the triangled remnants of the roofline. We moved further along the pavement and my other half suggested crossing the road would offer a few different angles and  better views of this poor wreck of a place.

20180115_144154[1]What we got a better view of was the house next door, Ashdene Manor, an even bigger and more beautiful wreck. Ornate ironwork overhung the long defunct verandah and porch. It rose out of the wilderness of garden and spoke to me.

Doesn’t happen to you? No? Perhaps you aren’t listening. This house spoke out loud, as clearly as if I had once lived there, in another time and another space. Ghosts looked from the windows, called to each other down the crumbling and darkened halls.

There were cars driving by, no one gave the old girl a second glance as the brickwork flickered with all the lives ever lived there, the cold winters, the hot summers, the spilt milk and scalded porridge of a flickerbook of lives.


‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge


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