I’m looking at the wreckage of my kitchen; dangling light fittings, bare brick and a very holy ceiling, memories of my first crack at independent living creep back uninvited.
At the tender age of seventeen I persuaded my long-suffering mother that I needed to stand on my own two feet if I was ever going to go off to drama school 140 miles away.
Leaving a perfectly good bedroom (don’t worry, I went back – several times and for different reasons) I moved into a shared house with some friends of friends.
By no stretch of the imagination could the house be described as nice. Ann and Andy had the downstairs front, nice Sam the bicycle enthusiast had the downstairs back, creepy Perks the upstairs front, I had the middle upstairs and the little room that led off mine was unlet.
We agreed to advertise democratically for another housemate once we had all settled in.
The only bathroom and toilet were downstairs at the back of the house and led directly off the kitchen. There was a small corridor room where we planned to congregate, eat meals together and play endless intellectual board games into the early hours. Our shared vision.
The gilt wore off the gingerbread very quickly.
Ann and Andy were insufferably in love and the proof of this woke the rest of us up too early on Sunday mornings, or kept us awake half the night on college days. Nice Sam was hardly ever there; he was either cycling to and from college or out on his bike training. He spent the rest of his time eating high protein meals in his room or hogging the bathroom.
Perks had the reputation of being a ladies man. It was a reputation that he had worked very hard to cultivate. He made a few passes at me – well I was on site, young and naive – but got nasty when I turned him down. He was a bit older than the rest of us and was writing up his thesis. He hired a very nice girl from the college secretarial course to type it up for him but only paid her once. Captive in his manpad, she fell prey to his moustachioed charms and did the rest of the work for nothing.
Not surprisingly he dumped her once the thesis was handed in.
Ann, Andy and Perks let the fifth bedroom to a ginger-bearded and hairy goblin one afternoon whilst I was busy drawing still life green peppers for ‘A’ level art.
The Goblin kept late hours and would creep through my room to his – well there was no other method of access. It didn’t worry me at first but then, as I lay tucked up in my little bed, he seemed to take longer and longer to walk through the room.
I could hear him breathing.
It was not nice.
I told my Dad – I couldn’t have told Mum because she was forking out the rent on the house and would have insisted that I came home.
Dad’s solution was more practical. He bought me a small black kitten from the pet shop in order to teach me to be more responsible and make sure that I came home at night instead of trying to stay out later than the Goblin.
Sprog was my first ever cat.
She loved me but wasn’t struck on anyone else in the house but Sam; which made her a pretty good judge of character.
The Goblin learned quite quickly that any hesitation on his part as he passed through my room would invoke an attack by a small, black, hissing ball of fluff and claws.
He packed his rucksack one afternoon and was never seen again.
I suggested that I try to find a friend who would be less pervy and more acceptable to Sprog. Reluctantly, Ann, Andy and Perks agreed. Sam was out that day too.
The first occupant was Neville; a quite dashing young man whose main claim to fame was that he got locked in the college gym one night and tried to get out using the climbing ropes. He was caught up in them so badly that the blood supply in one of his legs got cut off and if it hadn’t been for the janitor hearing his anguished cries, he might have lost the leg or landed on his head when he lost his grip and consciousness.
Neville was only a temporary resident because he was between rich, older, girlfriends who wanted to mother him and ruffle his golden curls. He also spent far too long in the bathroom.
Several different friends used the room to crash after parties but learned to inspect the inside of their sleeping bags before retiring for the night.
Sprog liked sleeping bags.
They were warm and cosy; ideal for a small black cat to creep into and curl up at the bottom.
The major hazard was that human beings had a tendency to climb into them too and disturb Sprog’s sleep with their giant feet. She retaliated in the only way she knew.
Hiss! Spit! Jet propelled kitten flying out of the sleeping bag.
I applied antiseptic cream and plasters to afflicted feet and cracked open another bottle of cheap wine.
Sprog sat on the ancient chaise longe that came with the room, smug and washing her whiskers.
We moved into the house in September and by February the landlord was getting fed up with our constant complaints about things going wrong an falling apart.
The bathroom and kitchen were an extension built by the landlord and his equally extensive family. The first extension fell down because no one had any experience in bricklaying and they didn’t stagger the bricks. The neighbours giggled behind their nets but eventually a kind soul came out and explained the basics of bricklaying to them.
There was an open sewer under the kitchen and when the toilet backed up or the bath refused to drain, the sewer covere would lift ominously and make eerie sighing noises.
Neville was convinced that the kitchen was haunted – another reason why he didn’t stay.
Sam cycled off into the sunset at the beginning of the summer break. Perks spent the summer working on his thesis and his secretary. Ann and Andy had passed through the halcyon days and made even more noise arguing with each other.
I was involved in a love affair that nearly stopped me going to drama school. I spent less and less time in the shared hovel and eventually did a flit to my boyfriend’s shared house. Sprog went to live with my Mum due to me not being a responsible parent.
I had to be careful about staying my boyfriend’s as it was supposed to be chaps only and the landlord ran a cycle shop in the front of the building.
Several times he caught me there and accused me of having moved in. I blithely waved a feather duster acquired solely for this purpose and told him that my mother had dropped me off early so that I could come in and do some cleaning for the chaps.
I have never been a convincing feather duster wielder.
It was a wonderful summer though; full of long sunny days spent sailing in big boats and small dinghies, going to all-night parties in large expensive houses and farms in Dorset and Wiltshire, and getting aching hips from sleeping by the Aga on the stone flags in the kitchen.
As the summer wore on however, my paramour was pressing me to make the decision about whether I would settle down and marry him or leave him for the delights of drama school.
We argued constantly and on one particular afternoon instead of arguing I threw things; boots, books, shoes, various bits of sailing paraphernalia and wet weather gear. Anything basically, that was within reach of the bed where I was having my strop.
The final straw was when my then beloved said “Well, are you coming to the launderette or not?”
This smacked so much of the domesticity that scared the hell out of me that I screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” rather loudly.
With a great deal of dignity, he picked up two bags of his laundry and stepped over the my missiles to go to the launderette.
I gave him five minutes then ran off to the phone box and called my Mum to come and get me.
I cried a bit – mostly for effect but some of it was genuine sorrow.
I was packed and on my way home long before the laundry was done.
Two weeks later I was on the train to Birmingham and another awfully big adventure.
On the way I looked out of the window and saw a young couple sitting on a wall. They had a small baby in a buggy and they were obviously having a domestic. He looked angry and trapped. She looked bitter and worn out.
The thought that ran through my head – that could have been me in a year’s time.
The man I left behind and I met up to exchange a few cassettes and items of clothing a month or so later. We both knew that it was the right decision. He’d passed his course and had a job selling big yachts. I’d begun to find my feet at drama school. Still have trouble telling my left form my right but I don’t have to wear a bell and a red ribbon nowadays.
Ann and Andy split up and did two flits.
Perks had to redo his thesis. He didn’t pay enough attention to what his lovestruck secretary was typing up. He also had to pay the landlord all the arrears from us flitters because he signed the contact for the house.
It was the right decision.
Hub and our boys.
The wonderful friends I made at drama school – especially Bezzie Mate.
The wonderful friends we’ve made since.
The only relic of my running wild is that I still can’t wield a feather duster.