You may have noticed this issue of TC is late. The main reason behind this is that it’s difficult to produce a ‘zine when all your stuff is in a garage near Crystal Palace about three miles from where you yourself are. Yes, an impressive series of cock-ups meant that for about three weeks I was yet again, if not exactly homeless, sleeping on a couch and living out of carrier bags.
We’d been given notice to quit Underhill Road and had managed to find a new place (despite the tendency of agents to define a “luxury kitchen” as anything that hadn’t actually been condemned by the local Environmental Health Officer – a lot of these places were immediately followed by a swift withdrawal into the nearest pub for a stiff drink). It hadn’t really been that tough compared to last time, when there’d been a nasty three week gap when I was of no fixed abode while we waited for the references to go through. This time, it was going to be smooth.
We should have realised that the only reason the Fates were rolling out the red carpet, was in order to let them pull it out from under our feet.
Moving Day arrived. The omens weren’t good. My employers have been shedding workers with deceptive ease, very slowly to avoid undue Press interest – every Friday, a few more people are called in to see Alison Fenn, the personnel department’s hit-woman, and are never seen again. This Friday, it was our department’s turn. At 5.25 pm, my phone rang.
I came down off the ceiling and answered it. It was Vic, our new landlord with a slight problem – the old residents, from whom he was buying the property, had left without giving him the keys. He was trying to contact them. Ok, no hassle, I thought – the keys will turn up before long. I went home, ignoring the twitches from my intuition.
We’d arranged for a van, and a friend to drive it since none of us had car licences. At 7 pm Bill, the driver, phoned. He hadn’t got the van, he’d been snared at work and was unable to reach the hire place before it shut. We began to frantically phone other companies, most of whom were shut, but finally found one willing to open their depot and rent us a van for a sum just this side of extortionate. While they were sorting things out, Bill phoned back – he’d got hold of a Renault 5, if we wanted to try moving our stuff in that. We looked at the enormous pile of cases, bags and boxes in the front room. We laughed hysterically. The van hire company phoned back to say they couldn’t get the depot open. We decided to go with the Renault 5. My intuition was doing things to the hairs on my neck.
Waiting for Bill and Renault to arrive, we indulged in a little more packing. There were still bottles lying around with alcoholic liquid in them so we decided to reduce the load a bit by putting the contents into larger containers – to be specific, our stomachs. Gradually, things took on a pleasantly rose-tinted aspect. My intuition washed it’s hands, went to bed and pulled the psychological blankets over it’s head.
The car arrived, and we began shifting the goods. Still no sign of the keys at the other end so we stacked things in the landlord’s garage instead – fortunately, he stayed next door to the place we were supposed to be moving into. Ten Renault runs and about four hours later, it was done, and 247 Underhill Road was totally empty of anything that might have connected it to us. This included bed-linen, so I spent an uncomfortable night sleeping on a bare mattress without any sheets.
It got even worse at about 2 a.m, when the peach schnapps and other drinks consumed earlier that evening, decided to make a return visit – they didn’t taste nearly as nice on the way up as they did when they were going down. It’s not pleasant to have your head stuck down the toilet while Reality taps you on the shoulder and says things like “Are you remembering you’ve got nowhere to sleep tonight?”. In the distance I could hear my intuition laughing.
Saturday dawned (hideously) bright and (far too) early. I peeled my eyelids off the floor and got up, ready to face the dreaded Inventory Check. This, the bane of all tenants, involves someone comparing what is in the house now with what was in it when you moved in – any difference comes off your deposit. Done on a room-by-room basis, it’s the residential equivalent of the three-shell game, as you try to shuffle furniture around at such a rate that it gives the impression of a full house. This doesn’t always work, leading to anguished screams of “Turkish coffee-pot? What Turkish coffee-pot?”
We signed away our deposit, handed over the keys, left and hung around outside. I should mention that the house came complete with a cleaner, who came in on Mondays and Fridays to make sure the place was habitable (Sunday and Thursday evenings, we went round the house putting beer cans in bins, restoring videos to boxes and trying to make sure the place was semi-habitable). She’d been very helpful, so we swung into Plan A: “begging for mercy”. “Please can we stay here for the weekend because we haven’t got anywhere else to go and we’ll be as good as gold and won’t make a mess at all and we’ll be out of the house on Monday morning and we’d be ever so grateful”. In the face of such concentrated pleading, there was only one possible result and we gained two days respite. I switched to the couch in an attempt to have a mildly less uncomfortable weekend, not too successfully because all my clean socks and pants were sitting in a garage some five miles away.
On Monday, we found out why the old owners hadn’t handed back the keys: they were still waiting to get the final installment of their money because of a cock-up between the two solicitors somewhere. In effect, Vic had rented us a place that he didn’t actually own, which would have been bad enough even without the fact that one solicitor was now in the middle of a three-week holiday. However, all was not lost. Vic was suffering from serious pangs of guilt at being responsible for all this (feelings we tried to encourage by whistling ‘Underneath the Arches’ and repeatedly asking each other for spare change) and arranged for us to have the use of a friend’s flat until things got straightened out.
The friend turned out to be Michael Thomas, a name that might be familiar to Arsenal fans – visions of tables piled high with South American nose candy, endless parties and appearances in court on drink-driving charges swam briefly before my eyes, until I was brought down to earth by the fact that Mr. Thomas didn’t actually stay there any more. He had been renting the place out but it was now free. And ‘free’ is the word – not only was it costing us nothing, the rent for the remainder of March was waived by Vic, leaving us each about 200 quid better off.
Which is probably about fair compensation for two weeks in Streatham. Not exactly the centre of the universe, it’s most renowned for having the biggest red-light district in South London. Could have fooled me – though not exactly short of underdressed bimbos, most of them seemed to be aged about 12 and were at the ice-rink or the bowling alley. Whether this constitutes a red-light district depends, I suppose, on whether or not you like the taste of puppy fat between your teeth.
Add to this that we were living in a flat where the most interesting thing was a television set with no aerial, and you’ll not be surprised to find we drank a lot of beer. The lack of plates too, meant a lot of junk food was consumed and overall it was a near thing whether we’d escape before cholesterol poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver took their toll.
Streatham on a Saturday night gives the impression of a place very much on the edge. Precisely what it’s on the edge of, I’m not sure. Tooting, or Balham perhaps. There’s a night-club called the Ritzy, but despite this it seemed to be popular judging by the long queue of blow-dried secretaries, no doubt called Sharon and Tracy, and their boyfriends, named Stig and Urk if their foreheads were anything to go by. As for the doormen, the famous joke :
“Got any concealed weapons?”
“Want to buy some?”
takes on alarming plausibilty in Streatham. I didn’t venture in.
A week passed, and the solicitor came back off holiday. Then the problems really started. The final payment was made. The sellers wanted interest on it, for the three weeks they didn’t have the money. They eventually got it. Then they waited for the cheque to clear. The result as far as we were concerned was that every day in the second week we packed, got ready to leave, and were told that it’d happen tomorrow instead. To quote J. Cleese in ‘Clockwise’, “I can stand the despair, it’s the hope”. And there was nothing we, or our landlord, could do but watch as the solicitors’ wrangled and raked in the fees. I took to making up solicitor jokes:
- Q. How many solicitors does it take to wall-paper a bedroom?
- A. Two – if you slice them thinly enough.
- Q. Why do solicitors only make love with their wives on top?
- A. Because all they can do is fuck up.
My response to the news we had finally prised the keys out of the solicitor’s grip and had a home to go to was unsurprisingly mute cynicism. I’d sunk into a numb single-mindedness, unable to think about anything else, yet going round in mental circles. “That’s nice” was about as far as I could get.
Early Greek philosophers adopted a spartan lifestyle to concentrate their minds – for instance Diogenes lived in a barrel. Having spent 18 days with no possessions, wearing the same tie to work thirteen days on the trot and living out of plastic bags, I can thus disclose the great truth revealed to me in a vision: INXS and Transvision Vamp are actually the same band. No, really – apart from Wendy James, how many members of TV can most people name? And apart from Michael Hutchence, does anyone know who INXS are? I rest my case. But do they just swap singers, or is Wendy really Michael in drag? And where did Eighth Wonder/Patsy Kensit fit in? Or was this all a hallucination brought on by too much Kentucky Fried Chicken?
In any case, I’ve learned at least one thing. My parents have stayed in the same house ever since they got married, thirty years ago. I am now entirely convinced they’ve got the right idea.