Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

MY SPACE

I cheated. Yesterday. If not saying the whole truth is cheating. Also, these blogs, till the 8th of June are about our election, about telling a few people at least that the Tories are a huge scam that we have succumbed to for seven years. So I didn't think my personal angst was pertinent.

   But, on second thoughts, I know, first-hand, what it is to feel there is nowhere that is yours.

   My second visit to England was in February, 1974. This time I came alone. I was running away from my marriage and looking for a place to be, where no one would ask any questions. Coming down the steps of the plane that brought me from Ndola to London, the metal grabbed my hands, it was freezing. I was wearing summer clothes: no coat, no socks, no gloves. When I hit the tarmac the wind nearly blew me away. Fortunately my friend, Alda, met me and took me to her brother's warm and welcoming home.

   I stayed there for three days. I needed a job and a place to live. A friend said North Thames Gas was taking temps, so I applied. I got a job answering the phone and filling up forms for connections and disconnections as people moved in or out of their territory. My pay was 59p an hour and there was a room to rent near by on Lower Mortlake Road. Bliss! Or so I thought.
   
   Alda had also arranged for me to meet a Head Teacher in Essex who needed Maths staff. But that was weeks later. I had to make a one-room home. I remember it was eight guineas a week rent. Two Irish nurses who worked freelance in care homes, a lovely Goan girl, Anne, and I made up the household. The owner lived in the attic upstairs - he was a bachelor and I soon came to understand he extracted rent in kind from one of the Irish girls when she could not pay in cash.

   For heating you needed 50p coins for the tiny radiator in the room. You had to sit very close to it.

   We shared kitchen and the one bathroom. We had to play Box and Cox as the bath-water got colder by the minute and the grease-line broadened in the bath tub. I would sit in the tub and use a large mug to wash, no self-respecting Malayalee could possibly bathe in a tub!

   I believe the only reason I took the teaching post in Wickford was because there was a council house attached. That rare thing that is so hard to find these days. But, till the Essex Council located a flat in Laindon I was a lodger on Southend Road. House rules were that I must not close my bedroom door when sleeping - the landlady was recently widowed and lonely. She would walk in at odd hours of the night wanting to talk and cry. I never had the heart to ask her to leave me alone.

   I was allowed nine inches of bath water, but then I never told her I didn't do her kind of baths.

   I took piles of exercise books home and marked them sitting propped up on my over-dressed bed. It was all pink nylon and needed to be burnt as an act of kindness to the environment. On Sundays I would walk around looking for an empty house, room, storage box to live in - anything.

   Meanwhile, after six months the Council found me a flat in Laindon. It was in a 14-storey high-rise monstrosity, which locals had nick-named Suicide Flats because so many tenants jumped out of the windows and topped themselves in sheer desperation. There was a lift, which usually stank of urine and stale beer, so I walked up and down to my third floor rooms.

   Second-hand furniture for the bedroom cost 15 pounds and my caretaker slavaged dining chairs and two old wing chairs which someone had thrown away near the bins. But I was happy. I had Terry Wogan for company till I went off to the bus stand in the mornings, and the local scalawags in the evening, neighbourhood primary school children who I taught to read, while their parents were at the pub. They called me their 'teach' and rewarded me by generally 'looking after' me. They accompanied me on trips to Basildon market and crowded in on the living room, uncarpeted floor with their gossip and careless affection. I was blessed.

   No home since has meant more to me.











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