Another home…

I have another place where I blog every week. I am writing a novel about surviving the 1980s and every Tuesday I publish a new installment.

So if you are interested in my take on the 1980s which is not about shoulder pads and leg warmers but is about John Lennon, Sony Walkmans, Bobby Sands and the Space Shuttle check: http://chroniclesofchloegreene.blogspot.co.uk/

Hope you enjoy.

Chloe Greene

     

 

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4: The Taste of Bitter Almonds

I had never tasted Slivovitz before – it tastes of bitter almonds. It is a taste I will always associate with feelings of jealousy and shame.

Borek, the Polish artist, was quite a lot older than Kit and me. He had kind brown eyes and a neat beard with just a little grey in it. He lived in Krakow with his wife and teenage son and his wife was a teacher and the main breadwinner. He was a committed artist. As I peered at his dark prints at the group show I found his work experimental, not to say opaque. The show was held in a converted warehouse in East London. There was cheap white wine in plastic cups on offer and a lot of art students were there, with a very few art dealers circling the perimeter of the large cold room and being watched closely by the exhibiting artists.

Borek failed to sell any of his work. After the show we were sitting on the floor in our first floor room and he poured us some Slivovitz in small glasses. We sipped at it. It is 45% proof and not to be drunk in large quantities. He was describing life in Krakow and it seemed to me there were lots of shortages of services and food-stuffs whose plentiful supply we took for granted. He was travelling back to Poland the next day. He thanked us both for a stimulating visit and then said ruefully that it was a good thing he was going home as “Elaine was dangerous”. I could have asked him what he meant by this but I nodded my head in agreement and sipped the bitter Slivovitz. I think he meant that Elaine was dangerous because she had come on to him and he had been tempted. I also took him to mean that she was a threat to me. It was unfortunate that his words fed my fears as thus do we create our own personal hells.

About a week later Kit had gone off to play in a pool tournament at the Wellington. I’d stayed home to write an essay and was sitting in bed in bra and knickers with a blanket over my shoulders and pad and poetry books on the bed. I worked away and it got late. No Kit. It got much later and still no Kit. Anxious thoughts started to gnaw at me. Borek’s half-empty bottle of Slivovitz was sitting on the book shelf. I got up and took a self-pitying slug of it straight from the bottle and returned to my essay. Then another slug and I packed my essay away. I started to brood on Borek’s words. By the third slug my imagination was running riot and I was minded to get dressed and go over to the Wellington there and then. I got out of bed.

Just then I heard Kit’s key turning in the front door. I hurled myself down the stairs, a ball of fury. I felt a large splinter embed itself in my foot on my way down over the bare floorboards. This added to my rage and before he was even fully over the threshold I was yelling at Kit: Why was he so late? What was going on?

Kit’s first reaction was to laugh at me. The Slivovitz had inflamed me to such an extent that I shrieked at him like a demented harpy. He told me to stop being so ridiculous. I shrieked more accusations at him. Then he said stop being so damned jealous! I went to slap him hard on his face and he grabbed my raised arm. We wrestled fiercely in the hallway. I used my elbows to wriggle out of his grasp and then went to bring my knee up to hurt him but he grabbed me tightly, opened the front door and pushed me out saying:

“You need to cool off!”

He shut the front door in my face. It was two a.m. I was standing in my bra and knickers and bare feet on a main arterial road and lorries were thundering by.

To be continued…

3: High Ideals and Low Emotions


I think now that my time living with Kit was a time of learning how to deal with strong, sometimes unmanageable, emotions: passionate love, anger, jealousy.

Kit was exceptionally good-looking: tall, thin-faced, high-cheekboned, snake-hipped. He looked very good in jeans and a shirt. And he had this still quality about him, an ability to focus absolutely on a task. His computer art entailed writing detailed lines of code which then had to be punched into paper before being fed into the computer at his art college. While the computer was digesting his code he would sit on a high stool by the machines reading Sci-fi novels, his mind lost in space. Women were attracted to him.

I was pretty, yes, but also insecure, opinionated and had a lot of anger churning beneath the surface. I channeled much of this anger into political activism, but some of it spilled over into my intimate relationships. I believed the personal was political and hoped that we were building a new world. My intellectual conviction was that men and women were equal, independent spirits. No person could own another. People came together out of choice and were free to be themselves. My emotions, unfortunately, did not always live up to these lofty ideals. I felt ashamed of the jealous feelings that would assert themselves at certain moments.

There was Elaine, the stylish pool player at our local. She was a woman who didn’t really like other women. She liked the company of men and had got to know me so she could join our little group. Once she was established as part of the gang she stopped being friendly towards me. I remember coming into the pub one evening straight from a public meeting we held to keep a local hospital open. I was enthusiastic because the turn out had been good and was explaining to Kit, Joel and Elaine how it had gone.  She looked over at me and said “I almost care” gave me a cold smile and turning to the men said: “Who wants a game of pool?”

She had a look about her that I always aspired to – she looked knowing and world-weary. There were shadows under her eyes that spoke of late nights and lack of sleep and a wry twist to her lips. In contrast I had a wholesome open kind of face that didn’t do urban sophisticate. I was the earnest, she the cynical one.

Had I been more confident I would have worked out that Kit loved the wholesome in me. He told me that he liked me best in a simple cream shirt-dress I had at the time, or in a white shirt with jeans. He would pull a face when I went to put on lipstick saying: “you don’t need it”. But I believed that shaded eyes and defined lips were sexy.

That winter Borek came to stay with us for a few days. Borek was a Polish experimental artist Kit had got to know. He was exhibiting in a group show at an East London gallery and needed a place to sleep. Our place was hardly a haven of comfort but we did have lots of space. So we made up a bed for him in the first floor front room, next to Kit’s bits and pieces of machines. I borrowed a hoover from Bertie and gave the room a good clean. We tacked some old sheets up at the windows as there were no curtains in that room. 

Borek was grateful for the use of the room and presented us with a bottle of Slivovitz, Polish plum brandy, on the night he arrived. Then we all went over to the Wellington and, inevitably, Elaine sauntered over to join our group.

 To be continued...


2: Lock-ins at our Local

Following my bust up with Joel over the rat in the basement, Kit wanted us to make peace. We couldn’t afford to move and the three of us needed to get on, so he suggested we go out for an evening together to clear the air. 

We walked to our local, the Wellington, which was a bit of a legendary pub. It was a great red brick affair built as a coaching inn in 1826 at the junction of two main roads. There was an extraordinary atmosphere in that pub. I’ve never known anything like it before or since. It had become one of the great London boxing pubs. There was a ring out back and many famous boxers of the era could be seen drinking there. 



The pub was run by Dave and Doris. They were a great couple and always put me in mind of the Jack-Sprat nursery rhyme. Dave was very fat and Doris was super slim. She was a pretty blonde who looked like Dusty Springfield – big back-combed hair, lots of black eyeliner and she favoured animal print tops and tight black trousers. Dave had been a bus driver. His dream was to run a pub and now he had it and was eating and drinking himself to death. Doris adored him. I wondered how she could bear to watch him bringing on his physical ruin.

Dave was hail-fellow-well-met personified. He had been handsome once, had lots of hair and a large red beaming face, but he was not the kind of man you would ever try to take advantage of. There was a gangster element around the boxing fraternity and Dave had connections. He also had a large and loyal local clientele, including the plain clothes police from the station up the road who participated in the regular lock-ins that took place at the Wellington. At that time there were licensing laws and pubs had to call time at 11.00pm. Lock-ins happened with the tacit approval of the police who got free drinks, or maybe bungs, for allowing the sale of liquor to carry on, often till sunrise. Occasionally lock-ins lasted all weekend

Kit was allowed to stay for the lock-ins because he had become quite a regular on account of there being pool tables in the pub and he was very good at pool. The thing about Kit was that whenever he got into something he got into it deep. He was invited to join the pool team and sometimes he would earn a bob or two with his pool skills as bets would be laid on the outcome of games.

The night Joel, Kit and I went for our reconciliation drink about thirty of us were locked in, including Lou who ran the used car lot opposite the pub and who really did sport a sheepskin coat. He was in his fifties, always had a large wad of notes in his pocket and would buy Kit and me drinks. I think I endeared myself to him with my naivety on an earlier occasion over an incident involving another of the regulars –  a local council official who was something to do with sewers. He drove a surprisingly opulent Mercedes. It was a big car for a council official.  Anyway, one lunchtime we walked past his car parked outside on our way into the pub, and we couldn’t help but notice that it had been splashed with something like acid. We joined a small group at the bar that included Lou and I asked him what had happened to the car? He replied “oh some fucker threw paint-stripper at it!” I replied: “perhaps it was an accident?” The group fell about laughing.

Then there was Bertie, an OAP and widower who came into the pub all the time because he was lonely. He lived a few doors down from us. Bertie told me that he gave himself a wet shave every day with shaving foam and razor and then applied a hot flannel to his cheeks. He would often explain the process to me and I would often comment on how clean shaven he looked. It was a matter of pride with him, a sign that he was not letting things go now that his wife had died.  

Joel, Kit and I found a table and bought a round. Joel said he had thought it was just going to be him and Kit living in the squat and my arrival there had been a surprise. He did not preface this with the word “unwelcome” but I got the gist. He had a point I guess. He wanted to live that way and there I was trying to domesticate them both. He agreed not to use saucepans to lubricate his motorcycle chains. I agreed to be less strident in my bathroom notes.

The lock-in started and I got into a late night discussion about capital punishment with some of the guys at the bar. One of the men I was haranguing on the horrors of hanging commented that he had got life for doing a copper and would rather have been topped. That shut me up!

Some time later we were joined by Elaine, another regular. I had problems with Elaine. She was a bit older than me, an attractive brunette and, unlike me, damned good at playing pool. She would often take Kit on in a game and to my eyes would stretch provocatively over the pool table with her pool cue to sink a ball, something she did with a lot of style. I watched in silent fury, convinced she was after Kit.

To be continued…

1. The Basement, the Rat and the Motorcycle Oil

1980 and Kit and I were living in a licensed squat in Archway which was large, dirty and scheduled for demolition. 

There was this deal with an Artists’ Housing Association. They let artists live in properties that were scheduled for demolition. The artist would pay a nominal rent and in return get lots of space to make art. Living conditions were challenging. Our house was on the Archway Road. Lorries thundered by, day and night, and grit blew against the windows and got into the cracks of the large draughty and condemned four-storey house. We shared the house with Joel, Kit’s friend, an Australian writer who worked days as a maintenance engineer at Kodak and who wrote murder mysteries at night. His real love was his motorbikes – the one he rode and the one he was re-building in the basement.

Kit and I had not been living together long. We were both hard up, and at that stage when you believe that love can conquer everything. There was one decent room in the house, the back room on the first floor which was our living quarters. We made efforts with that room. We bought a brown corduroy foam sofa, put a rug on the floor, books on the shelves and our double mattress on the floor in the corner. Joel slept upstairs. I never went up to his room but I would hear him heavy-footed in his motorcycle boots clumping up the uncarpeted stairs on his way to bed.

The rest of the house was given over to studio space, motorcycle parts and computers. Kit was a computer artist. The further you went down in the house the colder and damper it became. There were two rooms in the basement. The first one you came to was Joel’s workshop and a dismantled motorbike lay on the floor. Next to it was the kitchen. In spite of my efforts I could do nothing to clean or civilise the kitchen. It had an overpowering smell of damp, mildewed walls, an old gas stove in the corner and a chipped sink. We would make our food there and carry it up to our first floor haven to eat.

Joel and I clashed frequently. There were things he did that enraged me. He ate a lot of canned soup and he cooked these soups by taking the lid off the can with a can-opener and then putting the opened can directly on the lit gas ring to heat it up. Invariably the soup would boil over the edge of the can and drip onto the hob. I challenged him on this habit and he replied with a shrug “Why dirty a saucepan?”

However he did sometimes use saucepans. One evening I came into the kitchen and there was a saucepan on the hob. In the saucepan was a motorcycle chain swimming in oil. “To lubricate it” he said.

I thought of Joel as a creature of oil. I would go into the bathroom and find a black tidemark around the bath after he had used it. I would leave increasingly strident notes for him along the lines of “why do you expect me to clean your dirt off the bath before I can use it!”  Relations were thus a little strained between us.

Then one wintry morning I was going down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and as I reached the basement this very large and very solid rat ran out of Joel’s workshop and seeing me on the bottom stair with nowhere to escape it seemed to panic and flung itself at the kitchen door, which was nearly closed. There was a sickening thump as its body hit the door. It was dazed but conscious and scrabbled through the small gap and fled into the back garden.

That was it as far as I was concerned. Kit and Joel received a severe tongue lashing from me about the conditions in which we were living – the empty crisp packets left on Joel’s workshop floor that had attracted the rat, the dirty kitchen and bathroom. I got the pest people in to kill the rats – there was a nest in our garden apparently. And Joel complained to Kit that I was a real uptight dude.

To be continued…

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