An honourable membership

Private members clubs are often the backbone of a civilized inner London social life; when the pubs are rammed on a Saturday night and the bars of Shaftesbury Avenue don’t bear thinking about a private members club is infinitely preferable.  It’s like comparing the private healthcare ward with the NHS ward.  Yes, we know the NHS ward / bar are for everyone and yes, we all understand our national right to use them, but wouldn’t it be more pleasant to have a bar / ward where you are less likely to slip on urine and vomit and where the drugs are dispensed with decorum and respect?   Many people on their first experience in a private members club are shocked by the atmostphere –  by the distinct lack of threat and fear that overwhelms people who are used to London nightlife.  People leave their bags and drinks unattended.  Everyone smiles at everyone.     However, it’s not all roses – if your idea of hell is getting cornered by an aspiring script writer with halitosis who wants to sell you his latest, diabolically un-chuckleworthy scribblings, then a corner table at Century may not be for you.    In the main, though, once you start going to private members clubs, you stop going anywhere else if at all possible.   

The most recent addition to the over-priced and not-at-all-humble cluster of member bars in the West End is The Arts Club in Dover Street.  Now, this is a new club, which is actually a resurrection of an old club that was started in 1863, for artists.  Here is the paradox : annual club fees have always been expensive (generally more than your gym and a bit less than your mortgage).  The only people who can afford to join them, lunch in them, pay their drinks prices and generally engage in the air of raucous tomfoolery in them, are the rich.  These are a small-known, distinct breed known as richus richus found in its natural habitat of east of SW15 and west of Piccadilly, and which is found in the watering holes and oases of Chelsea mid-week and half way up a royal at weekends.  Artists, however, are very rarely rich.  The Arts Club wants all of the bohemian pose of artistry without dealing with the dirt of art.  The club that once boasted Trollope and Dickens amongst the distinguished members propping up the Friday night bar now needs the Euro Rich, The Bond Broker, the Investment Banker and the Solicitor.  They need them economically, but have no use for them philosophically.  This is because they are an Arts Club, darling.  The upper middle class bourgeoisie must therefore altruistically align themselves with the idea of art, be accustomed to pretending to be artists, pretending to collect artists work, or pretending to sleep with artists.  This is the ultimate pose.  If there’s one thing worse than an overly-posing artist, it’s an overly-artistic posing quantity surveyor in shabby chic haute couture.    Artists have to put up with a whole load of shit : penury, lack of understanding, the difficulty of finding like-minded people to relate to, the constant and implausible rejection.  One of the pay offs is you get to have a little coolness, a shrug of hipness, something free in the spirit, something dreamy in the mind and you get to stay up swilling champagne half the night because you probably don’t have to clock in in the morning.  But The Arts Club has priced out the artists.  So they don’t even have their own space to inhabit in London’s city life.  The opportunity of networking, conviviality, and enterprising suppers in The Arts Club is denied them.

The rules scrape against the very bottom of the barrel of ostentatious idiocy: 

Members or their guests who cause nuisance in such manner (mobile phones on) will have their equipment confiscated and may be asked to leave the club.”

Blimey – it’s not school, you know – or a library.  On one page of the rules and bye-laws it states the club exists for social interaction and the encouragement of networking, and on the next page the idea that the Iphone or mobile phone, despite being integral to this, is so banned.  What do they do if you phone sends out the vulgar trill of an arriving call?  Put you in Art detention?

In consideration of our neighbours, members are required to leave the premises quietly at all times and to ensure the quiet departure of their guests. Smoking will be permitted in the garden until 9.30pm and on the veranda between 3pm and 6pm.

Stupid.  Only the very rich, very mad live in W1, an enormous percentage of them are only in their pied a terres on a part-time basis anyway. A W1 resident complaining about the noise of clubs, is like someone who moves into a whorehouse and complains about the knickers on display.   And what the fark is this claptrap about smoking?  I remember when smoking in nightclubs was mandatory, for God’s sake.  In the 1990s you were imprisoned if you didn’t have a packet of Rothsmans permanently stapled to your  hand.  But now smokers are the devil.  Presumably the veranda has a restaurant on it hence the 6pm curfew time despite the fact that you are OUTSIDE.    And does anyone care if anyone smokes in the garden after 9.30pm?  The only people in the garden at 9.30pm at The Arts Club will be Damien Hirst and a few doggers, and they won’t mind.

Members, guests and strangers must be appropriately attired at all times. The Secretary’s decision is final in all matters relating to dress.

Hmmm.  This doesn’t explain what Tracey Emin is doing on Page 4 of the Helvetica font brochure with her tits hanging out.  Presumably if you are a real artist, they fetishize you.  In which case, you can wear whatever the hell you like.  Come on, kids – we all know that if a world famous artist rocked up in his nipple clamps, fur bikini and moonboots, and came in brandishing a gun on one arm and Jay Jopling on the other, they’d let the bastard in quicker than you could say “White Cube”.  Not because he’s an artist, but because he’s a celebrity artist.   Let’s be honest: this suitable attire business applies only to the proles who want to sniff a bit of artist’s paint and get a buzz out of joining in the first place because they’re NUMPTIES who think if they play their cards right they’ll be granted access to some Lewis Carroll-esque imaginary nirvana where artists will share their secrets of fabulousness and the ordinary member can cease feeling so mundane.

No food or drink shall be consumed in the Club or cigar smoked in the garden unless purchased from the Club.

So, first of all, no smoking on the veranda after 6pm.  Secondly, if you choose to smoke a cigar before 6pm you have to prove you’ve bought it on the premises.  Are these people simple?  Are they certifiable?  Is this actually a club for human beings?  What if I’m a pipe smoker?  Has no one thought this through? 

Children will be permitted up until 6pm, when accompanied by a parent.

It’s The Arts Club, not the One o Clock Club.  Most of the deviances and decadences that go on are unsuitable for the under 14s, and if you’re joining a club that isn’t deviant and decadent and a little bit cheeky and unkempt – well, then, why bother?

No drunkenness, bad language or other misconduct is permitted

Cast of TOWIE please note.  However, these rules conflict with the vomit-inducing let-it-all-hang-out spiel in the A4 handbook, which states “There is no code in our bar or anywhere else in the club for that matter. Do what thou wilt”.  This Club can’t make up it’s mind whether to be artistically lawless or – well, just a bit dull.  Thou?  Good Lord.

 Members introducing guests are wholly responsible for the conduct of such guests.

This is a worry and headache for anyone signing in their “friends” into any London members club.  It’s standard policy that you must be responsible for the human flotsam and jetsam you drag in with you after a night’s heavy shot-drinking in Frith Street.  Last year at a gathering, a family member signed 15 of us into the Groucho Club at one in the morning.  From that point forward, he was unable to enjoy his night at all, as he was convinced one of our rogue content, a piano player, would start a fight with Sheridan Smith from Legally Blonde and we’d all get the blame for it.  He didn’t.  He started a fight with someone else and threw up into the coatstand.  Then the birthday boy’s wife came undone after too many espresso martinis.

The Chairman’s called Gary, which is never a good thing. 

At least the Groucho is a rancid old drunks club full of miserable hacks and coke addicts, and pretends to be nothing more than a rancid old drunks club full of miserable hacks and coke addicts.  It is what it is and it knows its horror.  But The Arts Club sounds downright naff and banal.  And, frankly, I’d pay £2,000 a year not to see Tracy Emin’s cleavage.  AND nothing of any fashionable note can ever really take place in Dover Street, because no one can take a street seriously when it has been named after a fish.    I’ll stick to what I know, thank you, and take the vomiting piano players of the Groucho over the supercilious preciousness of The Arts Club any day.    Espresso martini, anyone?

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday. 

1997 called : It wants its actors back

I ended up in a timewarp yesterday – or, as the authorities call it – White City.  It’s a gothic, Gotham-like monolith of a shit-tip, Television Centre.  It has all the flavour and allure of a municipal swimming pool, but one with cardboard cut-outs of Strictly Come Dancing presenters and participants in every corner.  Have you ever had to share a lift with a cardboard, life-size Bruce Forsyth?  I did yesterday and it was deeply sinister.  An avuncular hand tapped me on the aged shoulder yesterday and offered me a day and a half’s salary for turning up to the BBC for an hour and a half and doing some undemanding acting which involved dirty hair.  Well,  I’m not going to say No, am I?  Tapping away on here every week imparting bits of nonsense has precisely netted me £0.00 since February 2010 and the clip joint business isn’t what it used to be.  There’s a recession on and we must exploit whatever remedial-level acting talents we may have once had here at Bluebird Towers.

The first time I came here was in 1997 when, fresh out of drama school, I headed here on a very hot day for a voiceover appointment with Fiona Bruce, ate all the crisps and got my period.  This heralded a great panic of half an hour where I argued with, in order of sequence : 1.  My mother.  2.  The tampax machine, mainly by physical aggression and thumping and 3.  The lady whose job it was to replenish the Tampax machine and who had – clearly in this instance – failed.   By the time I got up 5 flights of stairs to be met by a remarkably groomed, smooth-voiced Fiona B, I was out of my mind, red-faced, insane and more than a little teary.  I wasn’t asked back.  In those days it all seemed to matter.  Now, I’m like, oh fuck ’em – I mean, it’s a day out isn’t it?

I rocked on up there yesterday, prepared to knock out one of my fruitiest non-speaking performances and taking along a packet of ginger biscuits.  The biscuits are an imperative.  Whatever time you’re told to turn up to Television Centre, you won’t be seen for an average of 78 minutes.  It’s a guaranteed smorgasbord of top class people watching in the reception.  Getting there at 3.30 meant we would be used at 4.38, I calculated.  I was right – to the second.   Walking in I was pleased at the effort all the other actors had made with the costume instructions, as we were told to be a bit scruffy and environmentally friendly-looking.  I joined the cluster of non-speaking, non-working actors who were shuffling around looking like all the spirit had been slowly sucked out of them by years of this type of nonsense.  Some of them had great backpacks, hadn’t combed their hair and were clearly going for the method acting.  I admired their pluck and motivation.  Then a man came along, who called everyone “guys” (even the ladies) and they all went off.  It turned out they weren’t actors but just random messy unclean people who had arrived for the BBC Tour.  Fortunately, I didn’t follow them, otherwise I’d have been having a tour of the Holby City coffee room and being made to sit on Jeremy Paxman’s lap or something, whilst I should have been unrolling my dusty acting diploma and doing a bit of work in the salubrious confines of Current Affairs.

In the corner there were a small cluster of people, whose faces were further faded than those who turned up to do the BBC tour, who looked very anxious about the state of their lives and who nervously chewed the chords on their anoraks.  I had, it seemed, found my people.

These were background artistes (the label by which Extras go in these times) and they bear the countenances of people who have worked for years in jobs where they have had no agency of voice or character and where they slip away through the catering truck at 7pm after a thankless day’s work in which no one had bothered to learn their names.  In the main, it seemed, it had broken them.  Most of them were like faded photocopies of the real, voiced, characters they may have once had the capacity to be.   Still, it had been fun for the hour to sit in the reception area – although the mid-afternoon children’s TV that boomed out from three televisions and which it was not possible to escape from seemed starkly sinister in this great grey, glass horror of a waiting area.  I have yet to determine why people who work in the BBC at White City always get dressed in the dark.  The Crimes against Fashion were abhorrent, frequent, and nearly put me off my ginger nuts.  People, I ask, when did it become acceptable to go to work dressed in faded black jeans that last saw high street clothes racks in 1992?  Why is the errant choirboy haircut that Jason Donovan sported in the mid 1990s now worn by intense looking middle-aged chaps with chubby tummies and moobs who strut about petulantly in boat shoes?  Why is everyone white here, except the cleaner?  Why do the women feel compelled to dress like depressed Geography teaching lesbians of a minor public school?   This is the national broadcaster, for God’s sake.  There should be a little bit of pride, or if not pride then certainly a mandatory dress code that should on no account include the hateful button-down collar.  Two miserable Strictly Come Dancing glitterballs do nothing to counteract the dreary awfulness of this mausoleum of a place.

We are collected, although we still know not what for.  One of the background artistes thinks we may be used as activists regarding something to do with the current protests.  Another extra, a bizarre 1980s hybrid sort of chap with a beanie hat and a leather jacket with the legend “Motorhead – England” on the reverse in Tippex-white gothic lettering, says “What protests?  There are no protests going on are there?”   The first chap fills him in.  Motorhead twitches and looks like he is in the wrong building.  The fellow lady actor is risible and depressed and dislikes everyone.  This is not unusual for a background artist; whilst actors hate directors, producers, casting officials and editors, background artistes hate actors – oh, and directors, producers, casting officials and editors.  It isn’t mandatory to be a misanthrope if you are a background artist, but by golly, it helps.  On arrival in the room in which we will be doing our filming, the producer, a warm and enthusiastic woman, leads us through the main story which will give us some context.  Mid-flow, when she gets to the crux of the story and is getting quite animated about the current affairs issue, Motormouth holds his fingerless-gloved hands up:  “Scuse me luv, but where’s the toilet?”  The nature of his enquiries varied little throughout the course of the afternoon.  When our pleasant producer said she was going out that evening, he enquired whether she was going to “get mashed” at which point she just looked a little thrown.  Throughout our job,  we are instructed to “rhubarb”, the nonsense mumbling tomfoolery that actors are required to produce to give impression of talking.  But I soon realise that everything, when amplified through the confines of Motormouth’s beard, sounds like “rhubarb”.  The general conversation consists of travel, who lives where and a bizarre anecdotal trawl through the annals of Extra-ing, during which I learn : Ricky Gervais is difficult to work with, carrying a spear ought to come under “special skills” and therefore imply a pay rise and if you work with dwarves sometimes they fall off tables.   The room we are sitting in is not insulated – either that or someone forgot to turn the heating on.  But it also seems that someone forgot to turn the acting on as well.

Being a background artist has a great democracy and freedom about it; training isn’t needed and the business is open to all.  This in itself is a wonderful thing, as training often doesn’t create good leading actors, and personal experience has not made me a huge fan of training.  But you do need to have something.  If a director asks you to improvise through a scene, it is no good to sit there looking embarrassed.  All actors look like idiots when they’re improvising in someone else’s clothes.  You just have to get on with it, and, if it’s a serious scene, you shouldn’t have to be reminded by the director every 10 minutes that you shouldn’t be laughing.  All in all, then, it was a very odd business.  Motorhead was more interested in locating the loos and my fellow lady actor was incredibly good at bad mouthing every element of the process that has been her job for the last fifteen years.  We sat about looking serious and nodding and being told to turn our coffee cups around so that no one could see the logo.  Extras are a bit like that : you aren’t allowed to see the logo : the agency of true identity and visibility is banished and instead they must be that beige slab of background upon which other, better, actors appear.  I cannot think of a business more likely to drive you out of your mind and render you with a overwhelming feeling of futility than being a background artiste.  And if that isn’t enough, you’re in cardboard-looking White City.  In October.  And it’s raining.  And at home, 6 hours later, we discover the story was not shown anyway.  Now they were extras not only devoid of name, character and voice, but devoid of visibility of any kind, having left no celluloid mark whatsoever.

Three cups of coffee and £100 later we were out of there, slipping out into the West London night and braving the rush hour Central Line home.  The extras shed their paint-by-numbers characters and before I knew it they had disappeared – nameless, wordless, hopeless – into the black night, whilst the constant crowd of self-important men with biros in boat shoes, continued wandering through the great corporation doing extremely important things and being very busy and not even noticing the extras who had just disappeared out through the automatic doors.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Curzon Cruising & West End Wendy

Do not worry readers, this is not a tale of sharking for sexual activity in lugubrious Mayfair.  Curzon Street is not just the home of mad sexual deviants, you know, nor just the grand, snooty home of Vanity Fair’s Rebecca Crawley.  It is also the home of our smartest and most cosmopolitan range of independent cinemas.  On Monday, filling the gap between work and going out to forget about work, I went to the Curzon Mayfair.  It’s an odd place.  The door handles are constructed of  imitation marble like some 1970s nightmare, with “LADIES” and “GENTLEMEN” in italicised, capital script written vertically along the massive handles.  It is the only place in the last five years where, on buying a ticket, you are asked to sign for your card transaction rather than key in the usual pin.  It’s a Euro-friendly time-slip.  In the main lobby of the Curzon Mayfair you could be in Rotterdam. Or Anywhere.  Liverpool or Rome. 

After sitting in the plush seats for two hours, with sleek adverts for high end products bleating out at you (“Our feature film starts in five minutes!  Still time to buy a Berry Bros & Rudd fine wine before the presentation…”) and being repeatedly told there is a iced Madagascan vanilla yoghurt concoction with organic everything called YooMoo in the foyer, it is easy to believe that you aren’t in London at all, but are instead in some European city of bizarre monied decadence, like Geneva.  The sense of geographical discombobulation was worsened by the fact that the film I saw was set in Paris in three time zones.  As I left the Curzon, leaving behind the thick as velvet carpets and the sense of cocooned comfort the cinema promotes, I walked back into Shepherds Market.  I was surrounded, for some reason, by five people all speaking French.  Shepherds Market is – like Soho – one of the very few areas of London that feel terribly Parisian. I wasn’t – for that moment – in London atall.  I had slipped into an imaginative hyper reality of pavement cafes and Romance languages that could place me anywhere in the continent. 

Of course, shortly I was in Ronnie Scotts grappling with a fatty rib eye steak alongside a diner complaining about her cold shallots, so it wasn’t long before I was reminded of the fact that I was in London.  After a night in the next day, Tuesday, I realised I’d had enough of this “night in” bollocks, frankly, and went out again, this time to see Crazy For You, the show I saw in repertory at the Open Air Theatre and which has now transferred to a particularly ornate and beautiful theatre at the wrong end of the Strand, The Novello.  Those of you who know me know that I find fortitude from shows featuring pink gingham, backflips and shuffle hop steps, but I had reservations about this transfer.  The kind of alchemy that must be in place to render a show successful is a delicately balanced combination of timing, casting, atmosphere and economic optimism.  It’s a brave (or foolhardy) investor who backs a show at the wrong end of the Strand at the wrong end of an economic boom but the preview performance of Crazy For You was oddly brilliant. 

In the Open Air Theatre, the set looked too anachronistic – 1930s Broadway theatre names in small white rectangles made by white light bulbs on a stage where the background is trees and where the musical cues are underlined by a wallop and a whoop from a creature in the nearby zoo.    It also seemed to grapple and grasp for space on what is not only a small stage at the Open Air Theatre, but a shallow one as well.  The Novello, I thought, wasn’t big enough.  It was going to be wrong on all kinds of counts.  Well, I was proved wrong  – the theatre, strangely, seems to suit the set much better than the stage it was originally designed for over in the Regents Park.  The actors aren’t forced to do battle with an over-zealous wind or gusts of rain.  The band, however, seemed to forget there was a roof on, had their amplification racked up to the max, and seemed to drown out half of the lyrics.  I could see the neck veins straining in the ingenue who was trying to make herself heard.   But this technical problem was my only criticism and one that I imagine this week’s preview performances will swiftly iron out.   The actors looked shattered when I first saw this production in August.  Now, settled into their roles and pleased as punch with the West End transfer, the cast has discovered the exuberance which is intrinsically vital to the show’s nature, and have injected the evening with a jolt of shimmy and glitter.  The Greek chorus (or cameos, rather than chorus really, although I’m not sure if you can have a Greek cameo) was particularly effective as Bobby Childs’ conscience, dreamscape and interpreter of plot.  There isn’t a dramatic scene I can think of that can’t be improved by ladies arriving in feather headresses and silver shoes.

The bar was – as always in the West End – woefully understaffed and woefully overpriced, I was stuck behind a large Russian woman in scarlet crepe du chine and an immoveable hair-do who manoeuvred her way into the bar area to order about seven Courvoisiers with ice.  There was a propensity of Europeans in the audience of course, a mark of how the consistently international patrons of West End musicals have changed in the last 30 years.    In the 1980s it was the Japanese and American market, bristling down the Haymarket in large shoulder pads rocking up to The Phantom of the Opera.  Today it’s the new European rich, who are like the Old European rich but without the breeding and snobbery.  The audience are less comprised of the Far East today and more compromised of the near European East; and thank god they are.  Not only are they having a fine old time, but as domestic markets struggle to keep theatres full, to keep actors in work and to keep producers in made to measure suits, the West End is surviving on a constant drip feed of cash injections from patrons East of Berlin.   No one else seems to have the money to spend £60 on a theatre ticket.   I certainly couldn’t have afforded to spend £60 on mine, so had to trawl the internet like a ticket whore, sharking for 2-for-1 deals to grab my piece of vaudeville.

The composer and lyricist of Crazy For You, George & Ira Gershwin, were Russians too, whose parents emigrated from St Petersburg to New York in around 1895, thereby unknowingly exposing their two sons to the Eastern Seaboard’s unique combination of European and American musical fusion and a hungry young Tin Pan Alley in a hungry young country.  And the rest as they say, is serendipitous American musical theatre history.  I suppose precious little has changed in 100 years.  This quintessentially American show is, much like living a cultural life in London today, a European experience.   A hundred years ago, as today, the vibrancy of our cultural life was vitally dependent on money and youth and vigour and hunger coming to the UK from overseas.  As soon as I thought of London’s cultural world as not being in England, I realised that, of course, none of it ever has been.   The show may have rhythm, may have music, may have its girl and its daisies in green pastures, but eighty years after it was written it seems that it still needs its Russians. 

Please return to the London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Homecoming

Never mind all that seasons of mists and mellow whatever-it-is, autumnal melancholia is creeping in.  The air smells of back to school.  Those funny little City of Westminster machines are breezing up Oxford Street again, blowing the autumn leaves into confused puddles.  Thoughts return to new beginnings at this time of year, and as if I needed any further proof of my age (which I don’t, frankly, given the state of my knees) I realised that it was seventeen years ago this week that I moved into London.  Seventeen years?!  Seven, surely?  Had their been a miscalculation?  That must make me nearly forty or something.  Oh dear.  Soon I shall be saying “It’s 37 years since I moved to London….” and then soon after that I’ll just be one of those old people dribbling at a bus stop and smelling faintly of damp matter.  You grow up and as a child, discover the famous people who share your birthday.  Now, there is a famous person who shares my birthday but he is ten years younger than me.  The people are getting smaller, younger.  I am getting older, achier, indelibly prone to a clicking of the joints.

When I moved to London it was so long ago that the other recession was still on.  You know, the one that was kick-started by that female cook’s father, Nigel, who decided to cap interest rates at 25% and herald all sorts of nonsense and Black Wednesday.   In October 1994, I moved in with one of my several brothers, and my brother’s solution to my immiment tenancy was novel : we got a kitten.

It arrived the same morning I did, straight from a drug dealer of a well established jazz singer, and threw itself at the walls for seven weeks.    But on the day both Cat and I made the flat our home, we sort of couldn’t find it.  Mum had driven me into town, kindly dropped me off in a pile of cheap knickers and Silk Cut King Sizes, and simultaneously, seven-week old Cat had disappeared.

My brother thought Cat had been catnapped by mother, who may, he reasoned, have been in a state of trauma and grief following the removal of her youngest child from the family homestead.  Therefore, she may have removed Cat in an attempt to surrogate it.  Should we, then, phone Dad and say “When Mum comes home, look about person for Cat?”  I, only one hour from the family homestead, and wishing with all my heart that I had remained there, rather than transcend into this domestic tomfoolery where a recently-purchased Cat had got lost.  Ultimately, the cat was located under that most 1990s of things : a futon, where she had taken cover.

By the time it could be let out of the flat, the local feline population ran for cover.  Then Cat would come shooting back in through its flap du chat, with it’s tail the size of a toilet brush and half an ear hanging off, the result of some risible, yowling cat-off.   Its experience of the flat was as dubious as my own.  Seven months later I left, although not through the flap du chat but through the (broken) front door with Waitrose carrier bags, to seek shelter on another brother’s floor for 6 weeks until the end of the student year.  Cat remained.

For eight months me and my three siblings lived within 3 streets of each other and developed a sort of communal labour saving devices project.  Only one of them had a car.  Only one of them had a tumble dryer.  But not the same one.  So if you wanted a lift you’d go to one brother’s flat and then on to another brother’s flat to dry your smalls.   If you got desperate and Car Brother was not available, you could go to Bicycle Brother for a lift, but you would have to share the basket with the Cat.  Tumble Dryer Brother had a neighbour with a different method of drying her clothes : a mad woman living in the flat beneath him who started to regularly burn her underwear on the balcony and would continue until the Fire Brigade came.  Car Brother was also Dog Brother.  Dog was particularly useful to Tumble Dryer Brother as a tool used to pick up women on Primrose Hill.  Cat Brother had already discovered that Cat had the same effect when being transported on London Underground.  Car Brother threw a few parties which was convenient as the rest of us didn’t have far to walk home. When it came to Cat and Dog, never the twain met. If Tumble Dryer Brother wasn’t at home, there was only two or three cafes in the district he was likely to be patronising.  We were all almost always able to be located.  Then Car Brother went radical, and with some input from a lady produced a baby and became Baby Brother.  After a year of this, even the Cat had had enough.  I realised I hadn’t left home at all, in fact, it was worse ; I’d left a house with only two other family members living in it, and moved into a soap opera where four of us were living, with no home cooking, no money, two telephones between four of us, and none of the parental ballast of the mother/father authoritarian figure to pour calming oil on the choppy waters of ever frequent and demoralizing sibling rows.  It was time, I thought, eight months after leaving home, to leave home.  I decamped to the unknown terrain of North East London.  But I continued to miss the clothes washing facilities.

Of course, I never had any money.  I was surviving on Silly Pounds a week, bunking tube fares (much easier before the machines were introduced) and eating vastly horrible foodstuffs, before hauling my washing home to my astonished parents on Friday nights, and then returning two days later with packets of aluminium foil-folded food.  But the strangest thing happened to me in my first week in London : walking down the road I lived in, I found three £20 notes folded up neatly in half, lying on the pavement.  Of course I pocketed it and thought it was a turn-up for the area.  Usually the only thing you would find on the pavement in the morning would be shards of glass from the windows of cars smashed in the night before.  This would normally happen every night in those days (this was before West Hampstead became achingly smart).  But £60?  It was a prince’s sum to an 18 year old student – I mean, think of the bottles of Hooch I could buy with that!

Then, three days later, the same thing happened again.  Further up the road, near where our road met the bottleneck traffic congestion of the Finchley Road, I found another two folded £20 notes.  In four days, I had found £100.

Obviously, I thought this was setting a type of precedent.  I just believed that people in London dropped their cash about willy nilly, and that it was inevitable I would come across an average of £5,000 per annum.   In short, for reasons that were not apparent, the city wasted no time in demonstrating to me that its streets were in fact paved with gold.

It never happened again.

But, despite the poverty, the crappity crapness of navigating a cold, wet London in student-thin clothes and bemoaning the absence of home comforts, I had – finally – found my space.  After eighteen years of not quite fitting in somehow to the home village, one Monday I moved to London.   London was never cheap, ever.  The boom years didn’t really make a huge difference to the student generation of mid-1990s London.  Wealth was already fabulously out of reach, even then.  It has simply remained so.  Since I moved to London I have had 8 homes; I’ve flat-shared with all sorts, from a farmer’s daughter who used to return on Sunday nights and slap a recently shot pheasant onto the dining room table, and a bovine, callous Middle-Easterner who monopolised the telephone and employed a cleaner who used to rearrange the living room furniture every time she visited.  I’ve lived in a flat underneath a insomniac who walked the flat floorboards all night, whilst the flat below was inhabited by party monsters who’d get home at 5am with jelly-fried drug brains and put the techno on.    I’ve lived in basement flats where sitting at my desk meant staring at pairs of walking shoes all day.  I’ve lived in arctic attic bedrooms where the carpet would blow up like a balloon when a strong wind ran through the house, and I lived in a flat where I filled the gap in the window frames with a pair of old socks.  But, it’s not just the myth that the streets are paved with gold in London that my experience has exposed, but the myth that people don’t get to know their neighbours.  I’ve known all my neighbours.  One strode in and rescued a wasp for me; another brought me back my favourite tea from Israel.  A third flooded my bathroom, however, but you can’t have everything.   The daily wears and tears don’t tend to break you when you’ve fallen for a city, and my love affair with London was pretty much a done deal a long time ago.   On that Monday, seventeen years ago, I moved to London.  By Thursday I had decided to make a life here.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.