11 JANUARY 1992, Page 34

New life

Down to earth

Zenga Longmore

While we toil, Omalara tumbles over chairs, books and piles of Cab Calloway records. Her great delight lies in rapidly climbing a paint-spattered step-ladder until she reaches the ceiling. Then she rocks the ladder to and fro singing, 'This way that way, this way that way, over the Irish Sea,' with a roguish smile which belies her ten- der age of two. Evil stepmothers abound in fairy tales, but none so dangerous as this lethal step-ladder and the leg-breaking temptation it offers to Omalara.

Our move got off to a, bad start. No sooner frad we parked the removal van out- side my front gate when Omalara darted forward into the open hallway of our new Harlesden home. Whizzing past the Cock- ney St Lucian landlord, she whirled into the empty flat and promptly slammed the door. The keys were on the inside. When the landlord broke the door down, we found Omalara sitting pensively on the floor, hugging her knees.

'Don't worry, da-a-arlin'. I'll replace the lock and add the cost to your rent,' the landlord reassured me. When I first read of toddlers locking themselves inside their new homes in a children's book by Shirley Hughes (Alfie Gets in First) I thought it much too farfetched. But lo, Nature imi- tates art, as the brick wall said to the Tate Gallery.

How I miss my tatty old flat in Brixton, With all its memories. Was I wise to leave the security of a council flat to embrace the uncertainty of private accommodation? Besides, Londoners north of the river have got a funny mentality which I don't think I shall ever fathom. The centre of their world is the West End. Strange, is it not?

Everyone with any semblance of sanity knows that London's centre is Streatham High Road. Oh well, what's done is done. I shall now have to wait and see if Harlesden lives up to its glamorous image.

On our last day in the old flat, we toasted the future with tepid tea. Mis Starman, our evangelical friend, called round to add to the farewells.

'I have rehearsed a good-bye song,' she announced. 'It is the one we sing in our church by RaiIton Road. Pray for me, and I'll begin.'

We prayed for her, quickly and mentally, and she began in a rich, swelling contralto:

Here I am bothered with packing each time I move

And I carry a load in each hand. But I'll not need one thing I have used in this world When I move to this Heavenly land. When I move to the sky, up to Heaven on high, What a wonderful move that will be! •

At this point, Mrs Starman broke down, tears coursing down her cheeks. 'Bless you all!' she gulped sorrowfully. 'No need for that, miss,' soothed Olum- ba. 'We're not moving up, we're moving down from the sky — ten floors down!'