Life in our new flat was a mixed blessing. Once we were behind our door, we were blissfully happy, but things on the other side of the door were a bit wearisome.
For example, having a bath would take up an entire evening. Firstly we had to inform Miss Jones in the room next to ours that we would be using the scullery for that purpose, as she would not have access to running water or the cooker while we were bathing. Next, we had to fill every utensil we could find with water, which we would then boil on the stove and empty into the bath, until it was deep enough to have a reasonable bath. Since there was no heating, we didn’t hang around any longer than we had to, but it was still a very tedious and lengthy business, and one not to be repeated more than once a week!
Another slight fly in the ointment was Laura. We did go up and sit with her every now and then, but it was very hard going. We didn’t know her very well and so had nothing to talk about. We also found out that her age and blindness inhibited small talk. She rarely moved from her bed, and could see nothing, and so had no concept of time. It was not unusual for her to get out of bed in the middle of the night, fumble her way to her piano, which was almost alongside her bed, and give us a tune. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a decent rendition of an old time music hall song played at a reasonable hour, but it was always ‘Abide with Me’ played at about two or three in the morning! Not much fun when you had to get up for work, particularly as we used to get a reedy, vocal version of the hymn at the same time, for good measure.
Arthur and I both disliked Mrs. Bottacelli. Her husband wasn’t bad, but he seemed downtrodden and didn’t have much to say about anything to do with the house or us. She treated us with contempt and made us feel inferior to her and her family.
Each week, we would come up from the bowels of the earth, climb the stairs to her flat, and knock on her lounge door. She would keep us waiting for a while, then open the door, but never invite us over the threshold. It made us feel like tradesmen at the back door of Buckingham Palace. Having taken the rent and the rent book from us, she would make us stand there while she went back into her lounge and entered the rent into the book, before handing it back. There was never any idle chitchat and we would be grateful when it was all over for another week. Sometimes she would have company, which made it even more degrading. We always thought she knew she was on to a good thing as far as Laura was concerned. We assumed that, when Laura died, which couldn’t be far off – the house and any money would be theirs to do with as they liked. We thought that she looked after Laura only half as well as she could have, considering what she was getting out of it.
Miss Jones owned a cat, and we thought it would be nice if we had one too. We bought an adorable, little, black and white kitten, which we fell in love with immediately. Since we lived in the basement and had access to a sunken back yard, we were completely cut off from the rest of the house. This meant that the kitten would not have contact with anyone except Miss Jones and us. However, when Mrs ‘B’ found out about our pet, she said it would have to go, as we weren’t allowed a cat and it would become a nuisance. How I hated that woman, but she was the boss and we needed her room, and so I tearfully gave up my little kitten. In spite of all this, we were so happy just to be together, and married.