This is a novel straight out of the sixties. It is a fictionalised story of a big old rambling old house which had been turned into bedsits. It was a real place – 301 Green Lanes – full of real vivid characters – many of whom became my friends. This was the world of drugs, whores, gangsters, travellers, alcoholics, lonely people and eccentrics. I lived there for four years. The landlord was an old man who lived on site and was a highly creative person. The garden was a psychedelic delight.
In order to make it work as a novel I changed the names, altered some of the characters and put the plot into place. I didn’t have to change much; it largely wrote itself.
This is Chapter 1 to give you a taste of the book:
Chapter 1 – How Danny Champion stumbled upon the House
Life was not going well for Danny Champion. Even given the vagaries of recent events you could say he was having a bad day. The final bust-up with Cheryl had left him bruised, deflated and defeated. His exasperated explosive fit of temper at work, culminating in his resignation, had been the final trigger that caused Cheryl to call it a day. She regarded him as a hopeless case who would amount to nothing. Then, following a blazing row, she had thrown him out.
Not that Danny felt aggrieved. He couldn’t blame her. She was right. He was a fool. The rules he wanted to live by did not fit with the world as it was. He’d thrown in his Master’s degree along with that job and now had no career prospects. Worst of all – he had not discussed it with Cheryl. He was truly a waste of space. She thought he had behaved like a spoilt child throwing his dummy out. The worst thing about it was that he had.
In one single moment of pent up frustration Danny had given up his job, his dreams, hopes and even the will to live, and had neither ideas, plans nor even a hint of where to stay tonight. He had been sucked into a void. His life had blown up in his face and he no longer cared. And the strange thing was that he did not regret it – not in the least. It just left him feeling lost and miserable. But even if he could go back he wouldn’t. He was fed up with living a lie. He knew he had to make a break with it. Except it had jettisoned him into nowhere.
Danny sat in the café morosely nursing a mug of tea, with a hold-all sitting at his feet containing all the possessions he could carry – mainly changes of clothes, a clutch of essential albums and a sleeping bag. Everything else was at Cheryl’s. Following their row he’d chucked everything into the bag and walked away. There was no way back; it had been brewing for a long time. In his heart was an emptiness that was darker than the vacuum of space. He did not even know why he was here. He felt like an ephemeral ghost. He was no longer real. But at least he was free of it all.
Danny swirled the tea around in his mug and idly watched the creamy brown liquid as it formed its whirlpool, and the bubbles whirled round the sides, caught and skidded off the porcelain. His mind was utterly vacant.
He’d been here hours. He knew he would have to move soon, get up from this table, leave the warmth and go out into the elements, but had nowhere to go. He was putting it off. He let his mind contemplate the options, and morbidly observed the workings of his mind as if from afar. All the limpid grey matter could manage was a series of temporary floors or couches. None of the choices were at all appealing; none filled him with the slightest enthusiasm. But then going back to beg Cheryl for another chance was simply not an alternative. That was over. That was the one thing he was sure of. He’d sleep rough rather than do that. The only thing worse than going back to Cheryl’s was going home to his parents’ house. That was a nightmare not worth even considering. He could not stomach the prospect of all that gloating, wheedling and nagging. He’d rather face life on the streets. As far as his parents were concerned he was throwing his life away. He’d wasted his opportunities, gone off the rails and was now paying the price. They wanted him to straighten up, dress right, do right, and make his way in the world. They’d been full of warnings about his lifestyle and appearance. They were fond of telling him about the ‘real world’. He’d rather die than prove them right.
‘Are you alright Danny?’ Suzie asked with an uncertain smile. She slid into the seat opposite him. ‘You’re looking glum.’
Danny looked up at her dolefully. Suzie was petite, very slim, fair-haired and attractive and had always had the hots for Danny. Her mini-skirt always showed off her perfect legs and her blouse was open sufficiently to tantalise. Her hair was close cropped which suited her impish features and snub nose. She was immaculate in every way. It was a shame that she did not appeal to him. Danny thought she was too much of the little office girl. Everything about her was too trim, prim and proper. Not a hair out of place. Definitely not Danny’s type. They belonged to different worlds. But, none-the-less, they were friends.
‘That’s because I’m feeling glum,’ Danny replied grumpily.
Over the next two hours, and two cups of tea plus a full-blown English breakfast, courtesy of Suzie, the whole story came out.
Danny was destitute, without a home, no relationship and no future. The more it poured out of Danny the gloomier he became. There was no way forward. It looked hopeless.
The more depressed Danny became the more bubbly Suzie grew. By the time he had finished his tale of woe she was so effervescent that she could hardly contain herself. She had the answer to his problem. That put her in the driving seat.
‘You’re in luck, Danny,’ she exclaimed. ‘Charlotte and I have had enough of London. We’re moving out. I was just coming along to pack my last things up and settle up with the landlord. Just thought I’d pop in the café for a quick bite to eat first.’
Danny stared at her uncomprehendingly.
‘You can have our place,’ Suzie said cheerfully with a big grin and a shrug of the shoulders. ‘It’s perfect.’
‘But I’m on the dole,’ Danny pointed out. ‘And that will take a while coming through,’ he added ruefully. ‘I don’t have the money for a deposit or rent.’
‘It’s only a little two room bedsit,’ Suzie said with a chuckle. ‘Only six pounds a week and ten bob for the electricity meter.’
Danny stared blankly at her. That was cheap by any standards. He could afford that. And the electricity?
‘The meter’s broken,’ Suzie chuckled. ‘Mr Rose is a sweet old thing. Rather than spend out on replacing the meter he charges ten bob. You can have the fire on all day. It’s a godsend.’ She grinned at him. ‘See Danny,’ she added gleefully, ‘you can afford that, even if you are on the dole.’
‘What about the deposit?’ Danny asked, his head spinning.
‘It’s only four weeks rent in advance,’ Suzie explained,’ and you can owe us that. Charlotte won’t mind. Her daddy’s paying for it anyway. He’s glad to have her home. They’re rich. He won’t even miss the money. See! It’s perfect! You can move in today. Right now. It could not be better.’
Danny was bewildered. It sounded too good to be true. Manna did not really drop from heaven, or at least not in Danny’s world. Perhaps there was such a thing as destiny after all. He felt his spirits rise as a world of possibility opened before him.
‘You might have to play it a bit carefully,’ Suzie said cautiously, an element of doubt creeping in to her voice. Danny’s ears pricked up. There was always a catch. He felt his heart sink. ‘Mr Rose is a stickler for rules,’ she explained, eyeing Danny’s long waist-length hair. ‘He’s really nice but a bit old-fashioned and set in his ways.’
Danny felt as crestfallen as a young child whose birthday party had just been cancelled. What was offered was now being taken back. It was what he had become used to. That was the way of the world.
‘He won’t have any pets, babies or,’ and Suzie paused here and looked pained, glancing at Danny’s long hair and brightly coloured clothes, ‘hippies.’
That was it then. While Danny did not consider himself a hippie, as such, there was no doubt that to the untutored eye his waist length hair, patched, flared jeans and colourful tunic might superficially suggest otherwise. Danny had no doubt that Mr Rose would see him as a hippie and that was all there was to it. The door slammed shut with a bang. A look of resignation came over him. He was used to it.
‘So we’ll have to get in through the backdoor.’ Suzy muttered thoughtfully.
Danny frowned. Did Suzy have a scheme? The spark of a glimmer was igniting once more.
‘You move in,’ Suzie suggested, beaming at him. ‘I’ll tell him you’re a friend who’s visiting for a week or two. You go and pay the rent and get to know him. He’s a real sweetie. Then, when he’s got to know you, you change the tenancy over.’
Suzie could see that Danny was looking dubious. It did not sound a very convincing plan. But on the plus side it might just provide him with a week or two of grace. That would be sufficient to get his head together.
‘It’s alright,’ she chuckled, ‘he’s a lovely old thing but he’s got a terrible memory. When he’s got used to you – just point out that he’s still got the book in our names and get him to change it over. If you play it right and choose your moment he’ll think he just forgot to change the name.’
Danny did not look persuaded.
‘Don’t worry,’ Suzie chuckled, with a reassuring pat on Danny’s hand ‘It’ll be fine.’
By the time they were through in the café it was a done deal. Danny had a place to stay. At least temporarily; until Mr Rose threw him out. But at least tonight was sorted.
The gloom had lifted a little.
This book took fifty years in the making.
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