Lime Legal

Best of homes, worst of homes Mar 2017

Published 02 March 2024

Ann Widdecombe recalls a childhood of colonial luxury in Singapore. And slumming it in a dingy bedsit as a young Tory candidate

I had so many happy homes in childhood that it is hard to pick out the best. But probably it was a large, colonial bungalow standing on concrete blocks in which we lived in Singapore (right). When I went back in 1998 it was still there, and I had only to look at it to be transported back in memory to those far off days of sun, empire and innocence. I returned again in 2000 and it had gone.

We went out to Singapore in 1953, the year of the Queen’s coronation. My last memories of England were of queuing up to get my coronation mug and small bag of sweets (sweets were still a source of wonder then as rationing had only just ended). There was precious little civilian airflight in those days and we made a three-week journey by sea. You would pay half a year’s salary for such a luxury cruise now but then it was all in the course of duty.

The house was white with black shutters, and a garden in which bamboo trees and bananas grew. There were also large white flowers called Keng Hua which bloomed only at night.

When we came back to England and my parents bought their first house they called it Keng Hua. In the Singapore house I began a lifelong friendship with Moi, the daughter of my Amah (right). We are still in touch and, amazingly, my Amah is still alive in her late 90s (below).

We left in 1956, in one of the last ships to get through the Suez canal before Nasser closed it. I did not go back until 1983, when empire was a distant memory and Singapore a thriving country doing rather better than Britain.

My worst home? A bedsit in Todmorden Road, Burnley. I was selected as Conservative candidate in 1977 and needed a base for the weekends when I was nursing the constituency. I was living and working in London as well as travelling to Lancashire, so it was an immensely expensive business for a middle ranking administrator in her early 30s. So I chose a single room with shared facilities and a dismal view of dilapidated roofs.

The house was clean, the other occupants pleasant and the landlady was a good one. But there is something soulless about homes which are essentially no more than hotels. The room never took on my personality, never had flowers, photos or ornaments, never seemed welcoming or waiting for my return. One of the other occupants was not fussy about the way she left the bathroom and I never once had a bath there! Indeed, during the election, I used the bathrooms of party supporters.

The kitchen was also dreary, though not dirty, and I would rather go out and buy fish and chips than cook in it. I spent as little time as possible in the room and sometimes wondered why I did not merely erect a tent. It was all worth it in the end, when we halved the labour majority in a seat which in those days was a run-down mining and cotton town with only a good football team to its name.

When I eventually did get elected I once more needed a second home, but this time it was a charming country cottage over which I shed a tear when I sold it. I shed no tears for the room in Todmorden Road.

Ann Widdecombe is Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald