Our next door neighbours in the 1970s were called the Carlins, and we were endlessly fascinated by how different they were from us. There were three children of around our age, all with solidly Scottish names. They were a traditional, Catholic family, and they had a proper dad, and a proper mum, unlike our own parents who seemed to be unalterably other. One of the differences was the fact that they had a TV, and the three of us learned that if you turned up at their door and at a certain time of day and asked “are you coming out?” the answer would be no, because they were watching Children’s TV. “Can I come in?” was the next question, and Morag, Douglas or Eric would disappear inside to ask the great arbiter while the supplicant waited on the doorstep hoping for the right answer.
It must have been a source of, at best, amusement and at worst annoyance to the Carlins that they would often end up with all three Hall children in their living room, having to be left there when their tea was ready; and when the children’s programmes were over and the six o’clock news came on, this was the cue to leave and we would politely lean around their kitchen door, where they all sat at the kitchen table, to say “Thank you”.
Returning to our own house after being at the Carlins’ was always a slightly dispiriting experience . What I remember most was the smell of our house compared to theirs. Their house smelt of chips, and washing powder; ours of wholemeal bread and clay; and it always seemed a bit cold, and dingy, and dinner was never ready.