Sunday, 7 November 2021

The view from the hill, a 70s childhood. Cats, nude men, and chicken soup.

In previous of these posts I mentioned the one bed flat we (me and Mum) inhabited - Seymour Court, Colney Hatch Lane, North London. I just idly Googled it to look at the block, and there it was . . . our actual flat, completely revamped (of course it would be after a few decades ago) and at a scary price of well over 300,000 quid. I think Mum paid something like forty pounds a month rent back then . . .

My childhood life at around nine or ten revolved around the block of flats and its, for London, generous and fairly wild, shared gardens. Mum's own patch had a holly tree, iris, marigolds and cornflowers. We also had a succession of tortoises, but no cat, something I desperately wished to house but Mum stated that the rental agreement didn't allow such beasts. I think, looking back now, she probably just didn't want any added burden. Someone who did have cats was the woman who lived opposite us. I now only recall her sitting in a deck chair in her patch of front garden wearing nothing much but a flamboyantly coloured bikini, leathery skin exposed. When she went away, which seemed fairly frequently she would employ me for a few pence to feed her cats, something I, being feline starved, enjoyed. 

One cat nourishment episode led to my first viewing of a human male in birthday attire . . . Unusual and unexpected occurrences often implant themselves, this was no exception. I had entered the flat, done the cat fuss and had gone into the bathroom where the feline plates, for some reason, were placed next to the loo. A green spotted shower curtain was drawn swiftly back by a large hand and there, dripping, stood a hairy, nude male person. I know nothing else happened, and the woman had later explained that her boyfriend had returned earlier than she had expected. I can't recall what he had said, and I assume I had turned and run, the spectre of the loofa dangling between his legs somewhat disturbing after living in an entirely female habitation for years. 

The bikini woman lived above the flat of a hoarder. No one then spoke of people hoarding as such, he was just a rather eccentric man who took a lot of stuff into his flat and never put any rubbish out. When he died I remember my mother telling my godmother that the flat clearance people had found over six hundred milk bottles in his front room.

My best friend in the locality was Miriam, second daughter of a Jewish family ruled by a stern and, I think looking back now, violent father. Miriam's mother in my mind always appeared grey skinned, slight, sad and possibly scared. Their house, compared to our flat, which was amply heated by a communal boiler, felt continuously icy other than in high summer. They seemed to have no heating other than the gas stove which seemed perpetually alight, the door open to heat the kitchen as much as possible. A pot of chicken soup was nearly always perched on the stove top, and if Mum was late back from work sometimes I would be invited to share, sitting at their tiny kitchen table while the father ranted from the sitting room. I wonder now what he ranted about. Funny, how kids just accept what ever was going on as normality.



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