WE FOUND A ROOM IN a cheap hotel in Earls Court. All I can remember about it is a pink candlewick bedspread. I remember walking down a wide street, big white houses, with Arabs in full Lawrence of Arabia gear sitting on the steps. I’d never seen Arabs before and I was fascinated. I was slightly disgusted by a kebab shop - I couldn’t imagine what shaped animal they’d got it from, or even if you could actually eat it. It could’ve been furniture polish for all I knew.
We were going to go to all the places we’d heard of – the Marquee, the Nashville, the 100 Club, Dingwalls Dance Hall, the Roundhouse, and even Ronnie Scott’s. It was surely going to be an almost nightly thing – but first we had to find somewhere to live. We’d heard Chelsea was nice, so the next morning we got up early and headed over there.
Two or three accommodation agencies later, we could see that Chelsea had been a bit ambitious. We decided to settle on Fulham. In fact, we were already in Fulham because there weren’t any accommodation agencies in Chelsea. Eventually we found a place that was shabby enough to take us on – Busy Bees Accommodation Bureau – or something very like it. But there was no way that we were going to get a flat for fifteen to twenty pounds a week. The best they could offer was a double room, own cooking facilities, share bathroom and toilet, sixteen pounds a week; and they sent us off to meet an Indian gentleman in Parsons Green who would show us the room in question.
It was fucking horrible. The walls were purple, and it was very dark. There was a moth-eaten curtain, a double bed with the usual non-colour candlewick bedspread, an armchair that looked like a stoat’s nest, a large wardrobe, and a table with an encrusted gas ring on it. The only light was a 40-watt bulb in a gilded plaster wall-light with a gold-fringed purple shade halfway up the purple wall next to the bed. We couldn’t live like this.
We saw an advert in the Evening Standard for an agency in Oxford Street who assured us on the phone that they could fix us up that very same day – just come along, they said. So we did.
They had exactly what we were looking for: a one-bedroomed flat in the middle of Fulham for fifteen pounds a week. All we had to do was pay a returnable fee of the equivalent of one week’s rent to enrol with the agency (nothing they could do about that, a legal requirement – but we’d get it back as soon as we took the flat). We were a bit worried about this, but as they said, there was the flat, waiting for us, and all we had to do was come up with fifteen quid (cash if you’ve got it – save waiting for the cheque to clear), and they could make an appointment to view. What could we do? We handed over the cash.
Forms were filled in and signed, and then we had to wait with some Australians who seemed to be regulars there. Then it was our turn, and they got on the phone, all smiles, to the landlord. The smile turned to a frown: ‘...all right... yes...’ (grimace) ‘oh, what a shame, they would have been ideal. Unfortunately that one’s just gone, but let’s see what else we’ve got...’ Nothing suitable. ‘Drop back in about the same time tomorrow.’
‘Er, can we have our fifteen quid back?’
‘Oh, no, that’s actually non-refundable – but that is actually all you pay when we find you something. Best is to drop back in – or better still, why not phone later in the week...’
We were beginning to understand that the dream flat had probably never existed. The phone was permanently engaged, and that was the last we saw of the fifteen quid.
We had better luck the following morning. We went to Fulham and walked into the first accommodation agency we saw where a very sympathetic woman offered us a flat in Wandsworth. Our only concern was that Wandsworth was an awfully long way out and twenty pounds a week was a lot of money.
The landlady was a Polish woman called Mrs Sprogis. She lived in a huge house on the edge of Wandsworth Common. Her living room was the size of a car park, grandiose, with exotic plants everywhere. It was overheated, stuffy, and it stunk of dogs. Her husband sat in a chair, one eye blinking on and off, oblivious to everything. Stroke victim. A couple of overweight, out-of-condition dogs roamed around – a fat Alsatian and a lapdog like a mobile slipper. There was a huge mirror over the mantelpiece reflecting the scene back at a giddy angle. Mrs Sprogis was about sixty-five or seventy. She had bulging eyes and glasses with thick lenses. She didn’t so much speak as emit a querulous moaning noise, heavy with the weight of Poland’s suffering.
She was soon convinced that we were a nice young couple, which I suppose we were to an extent. And we lied about our work prospects to her complete satisfaction. Then she took us down the road to see the flat, explaining on the way that the previous tenants had been a problem. By now she was as sure as I was that this wouldn’t be the case with us – I might have been a fairly naive young man, but I’d figured out a long time ago that the only way to get a flat was to pretend you were someone else, and act accordingly.
The flat was huge compared with the kind of thing we were getting used to – the entire ground floor of a four-bedroomed Edwardian house. The front room, which must have been twice the size of the shithole we’d seen in Parsons Green, was divided from a smaller room by three panelled doors that folded back. The smaller room had French windows opening onto a sort of yard that ran alongside the back part of the house, which was littered with empty beer bottles and rusting Party Four cans. The rest of the flat was down a corridor. There was a dining room and beyond that a little kitchen, which was divided up to accommodate a small bathroom. The kitchen led into a tiny conservatory with the old outside toilet leading off that. And then there was a garden with a bay tree and a vine growing along the wall.
‘Which bit’s ours?’ Sue asked. I kicked her into silence in case Mrs Sprogis got the idea of splitting it into two flats and doubling her revenue. But Mrs Sprogis had other things on her mind, wringing her hands and bleating about the state in which the place had been left. It was full of empty beer bottles. We assured her that we could soon clean it up. (We were turning into members of the Famous Five by now.) We went back to her place and sorted out the paperwork.
And that was it – we collected our bags from the hotel, bought a dustpan and brush, and moved into Number One Melody Road. Yes, really – a perfect address for a young man trying to break into the pop business.