My Digs in Ilford – an anecdote

My digs in Ilford


I shared a tiny room in a flat with my friend Pete. It was so narrow that we had a single bed each side and there was a narrow gangway between. In that space we had a paraffin heater that was on constantly. It was one of those big round stove-like contraptions. We discovered that if we put a full kettle of water on top of the heater there was enough hot water left in it by morning to make two mugs of cocoa. That was breakfast sorted. We did not have to get up. We just reached, poured and drank.

The room was freezing. There was no such thing as central heating. At one end of our room were draughty French Windows. We blocked up all the cracks with newspaper but it was single glass and the heat disappeared through it like water through sand. The inside of those panes were coated with exceedingly pretty ice crystals. We heaped all our clothes on the bed for warmth. Looking back it is a wonder we did not suffocate.

At the other end of the room was a partition. The other side of which was Hans of the buzzsaw snore – a large Dutch student.

Pete collected harmoniums and had three piled up on top of each other against that wall. He also made musical instruments, light shows, and contraptions. He was an inventor. We had mandoyukes and ukolins, guitars and violins littered around.

We alleviated the gloom by putting posters up on the wall. These were on various social and environmental issues that took our fancy, cut out from magazines and collaged on sugar-paper.

I had my record player and a pile of albums that were communally played and not given the respect they deserved. I spent a lot of my grant on LPs from the second hand shops – there were a lot of Folkways albums in the old substantial cardboard covers appearing for a quid a go. A lot of my Hendrix, Traffic and Floyd, which seemed very popular, received a few too many scratches from that time.

There were piles of books – usually Sci-fi or Kerouac.

Piles of underground mags – IT and OZ – to check out articles and bands.

Lipher, my pet rat, lived in, or rather on, her bird-cage. She would wander round the room and eat the soap if she could get at it.

We had a little sink with cold water. The toilet was outside in a little lean too. It froze in winter.

It was a squalid, dingy, tiny, little room but did we have some rare old times there! It rocked. We had everything we could ever have needed – particularly when my girlfriend came to stay.

Funny how such a dismal place could be so idyllic, isn’t it?

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