Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Two Doors Down From The Witch

Two Doors Down

Once upon a time in the 1980s I lived in an ordinary looking house in a terrace, (especially on a bright sunny day as this), in East Twickenham, by the river Thames, two doors down from The Witch.

June was a good Witch. She lived in the biggest house on our street, on the corner of our terrace. A large Edwardian with leaded glass winking in the windows and a little attic dormer. Suitably distressed it had a lovely porch with gingerbread pillers and red clay roof tiles. The entry hall was so large that there was a fireplace on one wall. The room was painted violet.

In those days I did not own a camera so sadly the images used here are borrowed, or from much later after June had died.  Even then, looking sad without it's Witch it was still charming to me for I knew what enchanting times this house had known.

The Witch's house, taken by me much later

I know that many people believe that we do not hold to Halloween and Trick or Treat here in England - but that was not true of that road in Twickenham where The Witch had lived for those many years. I do not know just how many years that June lived in the house by the river, but each Halloween she opened her home to all the trick and treaters of the neighbourhood and she had thrilled (and scared) generations of local children.

She spent many days before All Hallows decorating the house, especially the old porch where there would be a skeleton and frightening music when you rang the bell. A specially prepared Halloween feast awaited those who dared to enter.

June had pointy toed lace up boots and always wore a long black dress with a cape or interesting cloak. And, of course, a pointy hat. She could cackle too, but usually just got a fit of giggles.

pointy toed Witch boots
I was young when I first celebrated Halloween at the Witch's house and I had to buy a black hat to be allowed inside. Many years later I would dress up my Godson and take him to meet June and play with her Grandchildren. It was inspiring to see that children who grew up returned with their children. Looking back I'm not sure that I knew then what June meant to all of us. She had a bit of Bell Book and Candle, Bewitched, The Aunts in Practical Magic, and Minerva McGonegal in her. But most of all she was pure June. She was The Witch, the local storyteller of many tales.

She was The Witch

I met June, and ended up living two doors down due to my then boyfriend having once lived in that very street with his parents. He had been one of June's charmed children and then officially a Godchild of hers. His Mother had died when he was young and returning there, two doors down, was like coming home for him.

June's middle initial was E and the names of her four children all began with 'E'. I never did find out why. She loved children and always said that had her 4th pregnancy not been a difficult one she would have carried on having them for who knows how long. The thing she wanted more than anything was Grandchildren, and she did get them. One of her children had given her a framed photograph of Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch in Oz. I gave June my little felt mouse dressed in a Witch costume which was one of my most treaured possessions brought with me from San Francisco.

Visiting June's house felt like coming home.
The Practical Magic house.
June took me under her broom and she was the first person who made me think that perhaps I too was a Witch. One of my own first memories of Halloween, when I was about 5, was dressing as a Witch to trick or treat our small Californian neighbourhood. June did not have a cat as a familiar. She did have a Tortoise in the walled garden whose name escapes me but I recall them putting it away for winter to hibernate and one year when it broke out before anyone thought it was time to awake.  I had four cats who all used to walk along the top of the terrace and visit June's house. One cat, a ginger tabby named Macavity, climbed to the very top of the house which was the office of June's husband and we spent hours trying to talk it off the roof through the attic window.  

The house endlessly fascinated me. The top floor was known as the nursery and was mostly given over to the children who had a train set which covered a vast area, always set up ready to play. Who would not love a house with both a cellar and an attic? It had French oak floors and the staircase rail was beautifully carved and twisted.  Things were always being revealed to me there. One day we decided to enquire what was in the garage. It turned out to house a very old, very beautiful Alvis.

Along with Halloween and Margaret Hamilton, June also loved The Day of the Dead. On the top of a bookcase in the dining room sat a skeleton scene, arranged around a dining table at a meal. She loved Toucans and we marvelled at how she could drink Guinness even though she was a tiny Witch.

A good cook, as you would expect of a Witch, she liked collecting mushrooms and made the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted.

June was not the only magical being in the house at the end of the terrace. Her husband was a word wizard. He knew all sorts of things most people had forgotten. He could quote from Wilde, Shakespeare, Lewis Carrol and many obscure writings. He was an editor and a man well known for his charm and wit. During his working life he made magic for The Sunday Times, World of Interiors, and The Church Times. It was he who first introduced me to Edward Lear and to an antique/junk shop in St Margaret's called Cheney Galleries. I mostly kept a carved oak chair I bought there to remind me of him. On one visit there we found a small sketch which we believed was an Edward Lear. Alas, I do not know what became of that. He was a perfect host and loved having people over for drinks on New Years. On Halloween he stayed out of the way of all the Witches and Ghoulies. He could usually be found in a corner in an old chair, his glasses perched upon his nose behind a newspaper. When anyone was talking a bit of nonsense he had this way of raising one eyebrow and looking at them from over his glasses.

It was a wonderful community to live in and I miss those days. Sundays were spent at a local pub, a walk across the river over Richmond Bridge.

My boyfriend and I moved away from Twickenham and we parted ways. I did not see much of June but I kept in touch. I am very glad that June was still alive when Practical Magic, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were made into films. I hope that she was able to see them all, she would have loved knowing that the magic of storytelling was alive and had been handed to a new generation of children.  The last Halloween she sent me a note to tell me that she was grounded due to being unwell. I meant to but I am not good at saying goodbye and I never saw her again.

I noticed a few years ago that the house came up for sale once more. It had been 'developed' by someone and all of the charm hidden behind the persistent trend for black and white kitchens, knocked through rooms, endless white and parking spaces.  The photographs sadddened me.

all white and neat now

a reminder of the once leaded glass windows

One of the ornate fireplaces survived the modernisation

I often think of June when I see little enchanting things and know that she would like them. In our village I am The Witch. I dress our cottage with pumpkins, spiders, bats and lanterns for the small ones who make their way to our door. Each year there are more and I find June's pointy toed boots a hard act to follow, but I will try.
I suspect that every now and then I will go past the house where The Witch and The Word Wizard lived two doors down. Just to check on it. Maybe one day it will transform itself back to how it once was, how I remember it. Like this.

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