5 JULY 1963, Page 33

Now We Live Now

Bed-Sitting-Room Blues


, II is possible, half awake, to enjoy the sweet call of the first bird of the morning. But as he 1 awakens me and my many neighbours in the I rooths around mine, so he rouses his nested friends. In my part of London there are many trees: in them and in the eaves—the birds with apparently the same problems as man. Pushed Closer into a higher-density nesting, their song becomes a grinding cacophony, all individuality bidden in the common scream, an urban cry of complaint at baying to get up and begin yet

another harassing day. '

After the birds the mechanical alarums follow in their ordained sequence: the Spanish brother and :sister across the corridor, the Jamaican Couple upstairs, the Englishmen in the front room, the Chinese girl in the next room; until, by the time I must get out of bed, I have been Pushed from sleep into that half-sentient state full of vague regrets. Before I hide it with lather, the stubble on my cheeks is unbearably poignant, a reminder of the futility of my salaried employ- ment. I must shave to work: I must work in order to pay the rent, in order to have a room to shave in.

A year ago I was a provincial looking towards London for the concentration of culture unob- tainable in my locality. I was able to find work in London, as an assistant lecturer at a Polytechnic, and, with my wife, for the last six months I have tried to live. On a salary that would be comfort- able in the country, I find it difficult to exist. The theatres, the concert halls, the 'galleries, lectures and .exhibitions are there a tube-ride away but my pocket is empty after paying the rent. We tried to 'rent a flat from an agency; their premium and commission proved too much for us: we tried reputable estate agents; they were to dear for us: we considered buying a house or flat; only the squalid were cheap enough. And so I, and, when I was at -work, my wife, toured the newsagents' notice boards and took notes from advertisements written .in the bold, ugly hand and green or purple ink that landladies affect. liecause a liberal education taught us to eschew any house announcing a racial prejudice, we have visited premises Managed by many nationalities. To- see so many foreigners in charge of so much Property in London has even ironically awakened in us a certain xenophobia.

So far we have moved four times; from one unsatisfactory room so fast that the threat of

1 litigation hangs over us, though, having studied the. Rent Act (1957) in the local pUbli,c library, I have concluded that we were lawful in our move. Now we live in a large house that is in the Process of being converted into many separate units by our landlord, an engaging Argentinian. ('Don't look on th.s place as it is now -see it as it will be when I have finished, It will be a house that you will be pi.oud to bring your friends to and, say, "I live here." The hall will be done out beautiful. I have taste and whatever I do---I can't help it--it shows.')

He spends his day banging away in some of the empty rooms, shouting in Spanish into the telephone, going for short trips in his new car and coming into our room to change a chair, fix a lampshade or to perform some other minor time;.consuming task.

, The old woman, next door, who remembers the ' ll i st rict when it was a gracious residential area, linds expression to her dismay by complaining

when her chauffeur-driven Bentley cannot pull up for the kerb full of bed-sitters' cars. Our landlord receives her anger graciously and infuriates her by somehow managing to find her a space to park. Gradually she and her kind arc being usurped by the converters, who labour to turn one old family house into the maximum number of dwellings for profitable letting.

Before I came to live in these places, I took lavatories for granted. I went when I wanted to, pulled the chain, and that was that. But plumb- ing that is designed for one family protests when its use is multiplied. Tanks become tempera- mental; one of ours has a notice which reads: 'Please pull twice gently--Thank you' and no other strokes will work. It is inevitable, when I get in late, to find a queue. Despite a notice saying: IMPORTANT Please don't throw any sanitary towels down this toilet—Thank you' the system clogs and the landlord has to push a pliable stick, which he keeps for the purpose, around the U-bend. When there is a run on it, a roll of paper can be used up in an hour; it is necessary to keep a private supply. These com- plications, .which turn a normal function into a difficult art, are the old building's way of pro- testing at its misuse. However much he knocks it about, the landlord can never completely win.

Where he does gail is in the peculiar circum- stances of the Gas Board allowing him to adjust the meters that he has fixed in each room so that shilling after shilling has to plop in monoton- ously in order to heat a room for a day. In some houses it is actually cheaper to go out to a pub for a slow sipped pint than to stay in and pay for your own heat. Exasperating is that the meter for the bathroom geyser takes•sixpences; a good bath uses fourpennyworth of gas. My wife and I have either to have a thin threepenny bath each or to wait until immediately after someone else has bathed and with the twopence left over and our sixpence bath comfortably.

Obviously, with my wife pregnant, our precarious, exorbitantly rented bed-sitting-room life cannot go on much longer. I have been obliged to apply for posts in the country where, with living cheaper, I reckon it will be more feasible to travel to the West End for a weekend entertainment than it is now. I have to move where we can afford our own flat, self-contained, and where the birds have space enough to sing.