It’s two in the morning when the phone starts to ring. I stumble onto the landing; this being the early 80s and cordless phones the stuff of science fiction.
“Hello!” A voice bellows in my ear. Very loud; very Irish. “Is Mary there?”
“It’s two o’clock in the morning,” I answer. “She’ll be in bed.”
“Is Mary there?” comes back the yell. “It’s her brother in New York.”
“It’s still two o’clock in the morning – she’ll still be in bed,” I repeat.
“Can you get Mary for me?” I give up, go downstairs and bang on the bedroom door.
“Your brother’s on the phone again.” Eventually Mary appears, dressing-gowned and curlered. I make my way back to bed while my landlady and Seamus yell across the Atlantic at each other.
When we rented our first flat, ActorLaddie and I, it didn’t have a phone. We needed one, we told Mary and Jim, so that famous directors could phone AL with offers of work. This explanation trumped their default suspicion of the modern world and the handset was duly installed at the top of the first flight of stairs. Mary treated incoming calls as something of a miracle; and miracles take no heed of such earthly matters as time differences across the continents.
The flat we rented from Mary and Jim was, in fact, the middle floor of a tall Victorian terrace in Bounds Green. We had a long living room, which stretched across the width of the house, a bedroom, a loo and a kitchen with a bath in it. So you could sit in the bath and peel potatoes, if your heart so desired.
There was no central heating, of course, so the long living room with its draughty sash windows could get chilly. I am sometimes reminded of the occasion when I awoke in an armchair, having slept off the effects of an exceedingly jolly office Christmas party. There in front of me, still in its box, was a new paraffin heater which, presumably, I had either bought or stolen on my way home. Jolly useful it was too in that chilly winter.
Mary and Jim spent most of their time in a long kitchen – well, I suppose, parlour would be a better word. From their armchairs, they either watched TV or gazed at their picture of Pope John Paul II. “To think,” Mary said to us once, “that he used to be just an ordinary pheasant!”
Jim was not too steady on his pins; he couldn’t see so well or hear so well. Nevertheless, every evening, he’d put on his overcoat and, together with his dog Mark, shuffled off to work as a night security guard.
How lucky we were, getting that flat! We really did have the best of times, our generation, when there were reasonable places to live in London at affordable prices. In contrast, both YoungLochinvar and the InfantPhenomenon already have a string of rental nightmares behind them and uncertainty ahead. IP was evicted from one flat the week before her finals because her landlord defaulted on his mortgage. Apparently, leases count for nothing in these circumstances.
And YL is mid-battle at the moment. The rent he pays to the letting agent for his room in a shared house includes bills. But it seems that the letting agent has not been paying the energy bill. Neither does he answer calls and only rarely responds to texts. There is no office at the agency’s registered address – just a brimming pigeon-hole behind someone else’s receptionist. In the meantime, the energy company are threatening to force entry to the house and put in meters.
It will get sorted eventually, of course, but in the meantime is a right pain. Very difficult to build an independent life on shifting sands. Makes being woken at two in the morning by bellowing Irishmen, the stuff as dreams are made on.
A tremor makes it really easy to jiggle new niece to sleep! And no batteries are required.
The Off-Patent Drugs Bill update.
So many of you contacted your MPs about this – thank you so much.
We watched some of the debate. The Minister for Health declared his intention of talking until 2.30 – which is when MPs clock off on a Friday – in order to prevent this being put to a vote. The vote would have taken the Bill to the next stage, which is discussion in committee. The Minister duly talked until 2.30 at which point the reading was adjourned until 4th December. I’m not sure what happens if he talks out this one again: perhaps someone out there knows.
There’s more to say on this but I’ve delighted you for long enough today. So, next time.