I sat in the Shakespeare’s Head, Carnaby Street with a copy of the Evening Standard and circled a rental agency in Oxford Street for central London accommodation. I finished my pint, and clutching my A-Z and Standard, I soon found the entrance of the agency in between two big stores. I walked through the narrow entrance and folded back the doors of the creaky 2 person lift. The agency was at on the 5th floor. I walked into a tiny cluttered office, a large heavily made up woman with dark bouffant hair sat behind the desk smoking.
I handed her my CV which had included my five years of working consistently in the insurance office. She scanned it and smiled.
“We only find accommodation for students,” her accent could have been Italian, she looked Italian. “I like your Mohican,” she leaned over and touched the top with its half can of hair spray keeping it up. “There is a place in N1, Mr Conway, he prefers students but I’ll ask him.”
This was sounding hopeful. The woman gave me a cigarette to smoke while she rang Mr Conway. They chatted briefly “she’s a nice girl” she said. “If you go now Mr Conway will be waiting for you, the address is no 6 Cardozo Road, it’s off the Caledonian Road, N1. Pass me your A-Z and I’ll mark it.”
Mr Conway owned a large terraced Victorian house. He was Irish, stout, red faced and walked with a limp. He showed me up 2 flights of stairs (flinching with pain along the way) and into a large room facing the street equipped with single bed and chest of drawers. He showed me the room next door which was a kitchenette with purple, black and orange swirly wallpaper, it had a small fridge, gas oven and a dining table with 2 chairs. Mr Conway shook one of the chairs.
“That one needs a screw,” he laughed. “This is the only room with its own separate kitchen. The loft is a bigger bedsit that has its own kitchen area. The others have to share the one below.” He smiled and we went back down the first flight where he showed me the only toilet, flushed its chain and then the bathroom, pointing out the hot water meter that was on zero. The bathroom and toilet were shared by all 6 tenants.
“I’ll take it please” Mr Conway led the way into the basement where he lived in his own large bedsit with separate kitchen.
“Would you like a drink?” and before long Mr Conway returned from his kitchen with the largest and strongest gin and tonic I’d ever tasted. He told me about his local Irish pub up the road and that his nephew stayed with him most weekends and that we might get on.
“Do you need a deposit?” I asked, waving my cheque book from my bag, half pissed.
“You can give me a week rent to start you off.” I wrote out a cheque for £35. “Tenants pay £150 at the end of each month. They put the cheques here,” he showed me back out to the hall where there was a side table with a phone and pad and pen. “You can’t phone out on that, but the number is on the dial and you can give it to your family – but only for emergencies. I’ve got arthritis and I don’t want to keep getting up and down and writing messages for everyone.”
I was at last leaving Essex. I rang Foggie’s shop from the call box outside Caledonian Road tube station. Foggie had recently made the move from Hadleigh to London and taken over a shop in Brick Lane selling videos and magazines. I knew no one else in London. I loved Foggie, he was cool, he had long died black hair and wore a leather trench coat, he knew people in London bands.
“Can I stay the night Fog? I’ve got a place to live in London, need to look for work. I just need a place to kip and a drink”
I met Foggie in a pub and rang my parents from the pay phone.
“I’m staying out tonight and moving out next week”
“Where?” My father asked.
“Where in London?”
“Where in North London?” I was surprised at my father’s sudden interest in my comings and goings.
“It’s a weird name, Cardozo Road”
“That’s off the Caledonian road. Your grandmother lived there and your great-grandmother lived in Freemantle, the next road along” I was trying to escape my home and Essex and now found myself engrained in family history.
Foggie slept above his shop, there was a toilet downstairs with a small sink. He slept on a mattress upstairs and the room was filled with smoke, that’s why he was nick named Foggie, he smoked fags, rollups, joints, cigars, pipes, bongs everything. I loved the smell of the shop and smoked everything that was offered me. Foggie was a generous man, he even insisted on me smoking his cigarettes, and made me put mine away. That night Fog and I began a relationship that was based on friendship, watching videos and sleeping with each over every now and then when it suited.
The next morning I washed myself down in the tiny sink, ate an egg roll from the café next door and set off for the nearest city recruitment agency. There were tons of jobs for insurance clerks and was offered an interview at Jenner Fenton Slade Oil Gas and Energy Ltd in Tower Hill, in their claims department. The money was good as London waiting made a big difference and Mr Conway’s rent was only £15 a week more than what I was paying Mum – I was quid’s in. A zone one/two weekly travel card didn’t cost much, gas, electricity and launderette bills didn’t make too much of a dent either. Moving to London was easy back then.
I got the job at JFS and moved into no 6 Cardozo Road the following week. Mum bought me an iron and ironing board as a moving out present. She knew I never ironed but I made good use of the board to rest my Yamaha keyboards on. I had a black and white portable TV that sat on the chest of drawers. The TV and keyboards became a life saver in my new London loneliness. After my first day of work in the JFS office on 19th February 1985, I switched on the TV to watch the very first episode of Eastenders. I never missed an episode. I still don’t.
London life was hard to begin with, I was glad Foggie stayed over sometimes. There was a woman we named “Dame Clod” who lived in the bedsit below me. She worked on the stocking counter at Harrods and cooked fry ups every morning and night. She didn’t talk with me, I gave up smiling and being friendly after a week of not even a grunt of a reply. Dame Clod just stunk the whole house out with her sizzling fat.
The other tenants were just as uninterested in me, one was studying economics, another was at the Royal College of Music and played the oboe. She practised at least 5 hours a day so I would put on my keyboard headphones and rock the ironing board, playing The Doors and Stranglers keyboard parts. Even Mr Conway’s nephew didn’t come to anything, we were introduced but he was so shy (and probably gay) that he kept himself to himself, accompanying Mr Conway to the pub most weekends.
Then, Foggie got a serious girlfriend and it felt inappropriate to hang about the video shop. I was gutted but didn’t show it. Marni was away at uni. I was lonely. One weekend I went to Kensington market and got a tattoo. I enjoyed the feel of the sharp needle piercing my skin, the same as I’d enjoyed making a Poldark scar at school with a compass point. Escaping London didn’t mean escaping my self.
Before my move to London I’d been getting pins and needles in my arms and hands. Mum had suggested it was because I was lugging keyboards to band rehearsals but now I was getting the same sensation in my right leg, I was limping. I couldn’t feel my right foot when it touched the ground. I was physically uncomfortable, in a job I hated and I started throwing up again, every night, apart from Tuesdays and Thursdays when EastEnders would take up the space. Living away from home would not stop bulimia, it got worse and it was harder to puke as the toilet was often in use by other tenants. I was terrified of someone hearing or smelling me over Clod’s fry ups. One day I blocked the toilet and had to go down to Mr Conway to borrow a sink plunger. I told him I’d had too much to drink the night before, he was sympathetic – I was ashamed of myself. The next day I registered with a doctor in Holloway Road, I didn’t tell him I was bulimic – just about the numbness.
“I’m referring you to neurology at the Whittington hospital. I would like you to have some tests.” I took a day off work to visit the hospital, after a brief chat with a consultant I had blood tests then went into town, back to Carnaby Street. I bought a copy of the Melody Maker to look for bands to audition, nothing there, I wandered down Denmark Street, looking in the music shop windows, taking down phone numbers from suitable ads. Then I saw this:
“Female keyboard player wanted, psychedelic, rock, punk band ‘Arboath and all other Places’ 071 607 3879 Dougie”