Living next door to Sam and Dave

August 5, 2010

It’s not my fault that the Tories took over Notting Hill. I mean, we moved in, all peacock feathers and incense, with my first real bonus forming the deposit, in June ’82, just before Herself took off to Greenham Common  to refuse Cruise. I mean, how New Age can one man get?

When the Peacock Queen and I moved to Notting Hill, courtesy of a big bonus for a sausage campaign (well, strictly speaking, North Kensington but I can’t be more specific about the road because then I would have to kill you… and it was beefburgers, but sausages are marginally more PC), it was a lot more down-at-heel than it is now.

Rachman and his rack-renting friends weren’t long gone. And for us, as for him, the attraction was the big space, the high front doors and the fact that you had to walk up steps to get to them, and the fact there were cellars underneath. there may have been a lingering smell of wood smoke or sometimes burning tyres, or indeed ganja, in the air, but for me, it had indescribable glamour. (Actually the attraction for Rachman was that you could split the big rooms into several bedsits in each, but that’s another story.)

I had grown up in Hovis-land, in one of the last back-to-backs, and I suppose we were lucky not to be herded into high rises. I moved my mum into a semi in a new development on the outskirts of town, and although she moaned, she saw the point, not least of the indoor toilet, and pretty soon she was organising all the other old ladies in whist drives and various knees-ups involving charabancs. Well, not really, but you get the general idea.

North Ken was very different from Oop North. The Peacock Lady delighted in what now would be called its inclusiveness, but in those days was thought of as more its immigrant problem. Don’t get me wrong – I did my best not to be racist, and Her Indoors certainly made a lot of good and lasting friends from among our neighbours, but there is something dyed-in-the-wool racist about our generation. We were the generation on the cusp. It is less pronounced among our children, but we were so self-consciously anti-racist, that maybe we were desperately trying to keep the devil inside at bay.

Anyway, there we were, in our unspecified street that was mostly 1850s four-storey houses. The garden was a disaster. A huge plane tree stood guard over grass that hadn’t been cut for 20 or 30 years – grass seems to grow to a certain height, then stop – and I found four shopping trolleys buried in it.

The house itself was in fair condition, if you understand ‘fair’ to mean yellowing tobacco-stained walls and ceilings, several generations of lino in the hallway, plumbing that would have enjoyed itself on the Titanic, and no central heating. Still, it was a steal at £30,000, costing probably half what it was worth.

Then Dave and Sam moved in next door. Well, actually, that came later, but I don’t want you nodding off at the back. Yes, you, Osborne…

So I did as much fixing up as I could that long damp protesty summer, in between glamorous economy-class trips to New York to wow the big bosses of the UK soap company, scribbling ad ideas down on napkins, going on night-long benders in the Village, having my wallet stolen by a – ahem – lady of the night with a suspiciously deep voice and noticeable Adam’s apple (lucky she only took my wallet, eh?) and finally, as we said in those days, getting to ‘yes’.

By September the house was ready, as was the ad campaign, breaking on TV the minute the kids went back to school, and we expected housewives to get suds-deep washing their footy gear, and the peacock lady and her entourage descended in a noisy rabble, sitting up all night smoking roll-ups and plotting the downfall of men.

‘Alan’s not really one of them, are you darling?’ herself mumbled one night, in front of Jasmine and Suzi. ‘Not really ‘man’ in the sense of ‘manly’, are you, my precious?’

I tried to remember why I stayed. It wasn’t her cooking, all mung beans and boiled celery. It wasn’t the sex – hadn’t had any for years. And it certainly wasn’t her friends. There was something about her, though, that had made me marry her.  And I think it was the same thing that kept me there. It was her spunk. Her upper-middle-class assurance that she was right and the rest of the world…well, didn’t get it, somehow.

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