This came as a complete surprise and I was so excited. I didn't realise that anyone other than family and a few friends read my blogs. Thank you Jay for making my day and for thinking I deserved such a lovely award.
Here is the next episode of my story:
Council housing-lists were a joke. You had to have lived in your area for ‘X’ amount of years to even get on the list, and then you had to earn points by being infirm, crippled, over crowded etc. My parents, with a family of seven children, lived in an upstairs flat, comprising three rooms and kitchen. They had no garden, no hot water and no bathroom, yet didn’t even make it past the first rung of the housing list. If having seven children and living in these conditions was not classed as a priority, what chance did we have?
We scoured all the newspapers and notice boards, listened-in on people’s conversations in the hope of overhearing news of empty rooms. We knocked on doors of houses that looked as if they had uninhabited rooms. Many evenings were spent just going from house to house, knocking and asking if they had any rooms to rent. It was like asking for the moon, and we thought we’d never get married. One week I sat and worked through my lunch hours, typing notices begging people to help us find a home, offering an invitation to the wedding as an incentive. We then walked up and down likely looking areas, posting them through people’s letterboxes. Needless to say, nothing came of this venture.
Arthur’s mother had a very old friend, Laura, who had been blinded years earlier and now spent all her days in one room, confined mostly to her bed. Although she owned the house she lived in, it was given over rent free to the Botacelli family. They were Italian Jews and I believed they owned a club somewhere in the West End of London. Mrs Botacelli looked after Laura and, in return, she let them take over her house. It war rumoured that she had left them the house in her will, for ‘services rendered’. Mum Chapman sweet-talked Laura into letting us have a room there. I don’t think that the Botacelli’s were very keen on us going there, but it was Laura’s prerogative.
In exchange for this accommodation, we had to be prepared, and indeed promise, to periodically sit with Laura in her room and chat with her. She was over eighty years old and completely blind, and we’d never met her before. Because of her blindness, her room was very dark and dingy, the furniture consisting mainly of a large, ancient bed and an old, upright piano. I would be able to cope with this situation quite well now, but it wasn’t an easy or pleasant task for a coupe of very young newly weds. However we were desperate and said ‘Yes, please’.
It turned out that the room that she offered us was a basement room that had been used as a cellar storeroom for years. It was dirty, damp, dark and full of rubbish. The room was reached by going down a flight of steps that were hidden behind a door under the staircase. At the bottom of the stairs were two cellar rooms and scullery of sorts. One room housed an even more ancient old lady called Miss Jones who was an old friend of Laura’s. Miss Jones owned an equally ancient cat, and was always boiling fish heads on an old gas cooker in the scullery. We were to share the scullery and cooker with Miss Jones. God – what a bleak, bare, basement scullery that was! The floor and walls were composed of stone and cement, and the walls were covered in peeling white distemper. In the corner of the room, next to the cooker, stood an old, iron bath tub, and a very old, butler sink. We didn’t grumble, we were just grateful that we had at last got somewhere to live and could set a wedding date: something we had never thought we’d achieve. From now on, it was all systems go for the whole family.