Friday, 8 July 2011

Indelible imprints - leaving home

That first London flat, £6 a week, January to July 1974, only six months but the memories make it seem elastic. That first exciting dip into independent waters and there was no looking back.

The room an attic in a dank Victorian terrace in Pimlico. A surprise to see it still standing 30 years later. Securing it one lunch time meant a future with no more trains to London Bridge or interminable bus rides to the tube line or long lurching Northern line journey.
Day one – moving in with the first possessions of an 18 year old. The first of a lifetime’s supply of quilts - thrown off those dated blankets - and Woolworths crockery and cutlery. This is 70’s London! This is a brave step, rashly conceived but sealed before courage evaporates. Wave goodbye to a startled Mum and Dad. Now, where is that toilet? Ah... the basement..

Separate lives behind closed doors. Landlord whisky breathed, gravel voiced smoker old enough to be the father of all the transient sub letting tenants - trying hard not to remember this or that he has a blonde Swedish wife in tow. Only pretty girls need apply.

Joyous squalor, when it is all your own and even if it is four flights down to the most gruesome facilities a girl from a middle class suburban semi had ever seen.

And what memories? A visit from an ex, summoned by me to discover we had moved on and already I was the more experienced in life. The flotsam of life passing through, living in the way that only the 70’s knew how. The memories meld into one Pimlico experience – even with the next rented room down the road and light and airy and only one other elderly toothless, lifetime-in-the-same-room man upstairs, sharing the bathroom – when? Don’t think about it. [ Can’t forget those false teeth..]

There was a much to be envied ground floor tenant, a loud and bossy East Londoner, lustrous hair in long brown tresses, out of keeping with her attitude to life. She knew the ropes – and had two rooms and a live in boyfriend and a sixth floor council flat in Bow lined up it transpired. The next floor contained the wordly 27 year old Pam – in advertising for Nestle. We didn’t have a name then for always making yourself sick but she was envied her two rooms and balcony –something to aspire to here. Mystery in the blackened smoke damaged basement, left until more wealthy developers transformed the block and the area into mock Belgravia – much later.

The second landlord is gentle and grey bearded and living in Sussex - always visiting with his wife. They wanted staid spinsters - of the said parish - not dolly birds and the contract told me this. But he resigned himself to my first brown and orange decorating attempts with a request for future restraint. I had my own chocolate carpet tiles too, for the maggots to settle in around the Baby Belling. And I loved my first chair, a modern corduroy and tubular chrome Habitat piece that would look contemporary – briefly - 30 years later.


  1. You've created a wonderfully clear picture here of a life that I totally missed out on and, although you've shown the squalor, you've made me feel a pang of jealousy. All that freedom and 'doing it your own way' even if you did have to share toilet facilities with all and sundry.

  2. Thankyou - was good to get it written down. And it had some really funny sides. I might explain about the teeth one day even!

  3. Susan dearest you have brilliantly set the scene with accompanying imagery but now we have the box I want to look inside - tell me what you were feeling and experiencing, that's what I really want to hear :)

  4. Wanted to collect comments from FB here

    Heather said: Oh Susan - so many similar memories of my first flat in Edinburgh!

    Silvina said: This reminds me of Chivalry Road.... So much in made no mention of electricity meters that accepted foreign coins and could be emptied before the landlord visited

    I replied: oh the meters were massively over priced - but I don't think i used that tactic myself!

  5. For Bridlestone - thanks for your comments. I would like to describe the emotions and experiences but am constrained by living people ..perhaps one day..!