Saturday, January 05, 2013

'Aiming High'

Earlier this evening, while watching the BBC News Channel, it came as something of a shock to see that an author named Mark Frary has published a biography of my old landlady Erna Low

Between May and September 1994, I was the tenant of what Miss Low had cunningly marketed as the 'flatlet' (otherwise known as the room) above her office at 9 Reece Mews (kitchen and toilet shared with the office). The address was 9A Reece Mews, London SW7 3TQ, I think - not sure about the last two characters -  but I do definitely remember that the rent was £60.00 per week.

My landlady was very elderly at that point - how old I did not then know - and we got along quite well enough. When we first met, two days after I had arrived in London and the day after her advert had appeared in 'Loot', she asked me if I was Irish (she herself spoke with what to my ears seemed a very heavy Middle European accent) and told me that I had very small hands - a recollection which has kind of been brought back to my mind in recent months.

We only had two wee blips, one when she'd forgotten I'd already paid the rent and in respect of which she was extremely apologetic upon being shown the receipt, and the other when I had had to call a locksmith after the levers on the lock on the room's door terminally collapsed one Sunday while I was out at Mass at St. Mary's, Cadogan Street (a beautiful church that, if memory serves, had at that point a visiting American priest named Father Mark, who was an expert in church music, and a wonderful singer; Mass there was a far less oppressive, far less floridly recusant, experience than in the Brompton Oratory). However, she seemed satisfied by my explanation that it had been either call a locksmith or kick the door down (I actually think she'd been in Cornwall at the time), and we parted on good terms. The last I heard of her was the publication of the valuation of her probate in the 'Daily Telegraph' in 2004.

Her book-keeper at that time was an old Welshman who wore black-rimmed glasses and who kept his hair slicked back, and who would occasionally startle me by turning up for work on Sunday afternoons. The only neighbour with whom I had any contact was a very civil and very friendly American guy called Tim, who lived with his family on the other side of the street - filled as I then was with the inborn, almost ingrown, avarice of the Scottish solicitor, I remember being enormously covetous of his Mercedes estate car. He was, in fact, the only neighbour I ever saw. There was a Morgan showroom at the corner of Reece Mews and Old Brompton Road which always caught the eye of the few visitors I ever had, who would usually make their way to the mews from South Ken tube station (opposite which, incidentally, is, or was, the 'Glasgow Boy' Sir John Lavery's blue plaque). I was told that the deli in Bute Street was very good, but I never went in (hardly surprising, given that I'm the only person I know who has visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa and refused to ascend it, a story which is most certainly not a tall one in any sense of the word).

I did virtually all my shopping at the Sainsburys on Cromwell Road - as that chain had no presence on Scotland at that time, I had never been in one before, so every visit was an adventure. I used to go to aerobics classes at a gym on the Tite Street side of the King's Road, and was a briefly a member of Chelsea Library, a civic amenity I used for no purpose higher than borrowing as many works on Scotland and Scottish history as I could, and making myself thoroughly homesick in the process  - at 23, I had never lived away from home before. Hardy's 'Farfrae' had nothing on me. That being said, my heart wasn't really in the adventure (for that was what I thought it was, and how I accordingly came to treat it) and when the job didn't work out for me (or was it the other way round?), I came home straight away and haven't budged since, Thank God.

From my time in London, I took away one lifelong friendship, a reasonable knowledge of SW7 and the ability to say I used to live in the building next door to the one in which Francis Bacon had lived and worked, a factoid that nearly bowled over my wife's art student cousin.

And, of course, the sheer shock of finding out that my old landlady was important enough to be considered a worthy subject for a posthumous biography. How does that saying go again - you know, the one about being nice to the people you meet on the way up?



Blogger James Higham said...

You never know - someone might soon do a bio on you, Martin.

06 January, 2013 11:31  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks, James.

06 January, 2013 21:11  

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