So I lobbed on the doorstep of Lisa Panther’s house at 32 Gorseway Road in Earlsdon. The reason I have committed this address to memory is because it’s kinda fun to say in an Irish accent. Lisa and I had taken to saying it in our Dublin twang whenever we referred to it; particularly if we were telling a cab driver the address when coming home from a late night out. It confused the hell out of them, but we thought it was terribly funny! ‘Turdy Two Goseway…to be sure!’ I can’t say it now without hearing the Irish accent in my head!
Lisa Panther was 16 years old and I’d turned 19 by then. It wasn’t technically her house, it was her parents, Sheila and Bob’s house and she had a younger brother, Michael. I’d only met her Mum a couple of times before I turned up looking for refuge and while I’m sure she was apprehensive about taking in this strange older girl from Australia, who her daughter had befriended, she said it was okay to stay for a night or two. I will forever be grateful for her kindness.
A night or two, turned into a week or two, but by then Mum Sheila had taken me under her wing and decided I was quite harmless and didn’t want the responsibility of sending me out on the street. They fed me, gave me a fold-out bed in Lisa’s room and became my surrogate parents.
It was never my intention to outstay my welcome and I knew it was only temporary, so I scoured the papers daily for a room to let.
What I forgot to mention was that during the time I was working at the Brandon Oak pub, I also registered with a couple of recruitment agencies. The first job I got was one I’ll never forget. Nick, Andy (object of my dreams) and I all signed up together and the night after we registered we got a call from the agency. They wanted us to do a night shift at the Britvic Factory, which bottles fruit juices and Pepsi cola cans. A bit like Golden Circle or Spring Valley.
We arrived at about 6pm for the night shift. We’d been out the night before and totally thought we could rock a 12-hour night shift. The fearless ambitions of young teens!
Nick and Andy had been assigned to pack pallets of fruit juice bottles and Pepsi cans on the warehouse floor and I got the more responsible job of keeping watch of the conveyor belt shifting thousands of cans an hour to the filling pumps. I was led up four flights of steps to the top of the conveyer belt, akin to standing at the top of a high scaffold on a building site. When I asked what I was meant to do, I was told by a rather simple-minded supervisor ‘ Just watch the cans. If one falls over, make sure you put it upright otherwise it’ll get caught in the shoot and block up the system.’ That sounded simple enough.
After a hour or four of watching a monotony of empty Pepsi cans speed past my eyes, I took to flicking a couple over just for something to do, then seeing how fast I could put them upright again before they disappeared out of sight! The experience was quite hypnotizing, hence why after six hours I fell asleep against a metal pole I’d found to lean against. I might have had a good couple of hours kip unnoticed, if I wasn’t awoken by a cacophony of alarms going off in the warehouse. Apparently, during my wee slumber ‘one’ of the cans had toppled over in its hurry to get down the shoot and jammed up the entire system. Oops!!! Needless to say, Nick, Andy and I never returned to the Britvic factory for our second shift.
On the drive home in the early hours of the next morning, we all came to the same observation. We were the minority of workers that night that didn’t have some sort of mental disability or down syndrome. In hindsight, it predominantly employed mentally handicapped workers, sort of like the Activ program here in Perth. We still laugh about our night at the Britvic factory to this day. The best part was we got to drink as much Pepsi and juice as we wanted. To be fair, it was the only good part!
Not long after that night I got another call from a different agency, Select Appointments. They had a couple of weeks work available for a filing clerk at the Royal Society of Arts in the Kenilworth Business Estate. ‘The Royal Society of Arts’, I thought, now that sounds like the job for me. So I turned up on my first day at the office in my little brogue shoes, tweed pants and business shirt and filed my little heart out. My two-week assignment got extended to a few more weeks and when the secretary to the department resigned I applied for the job and I got it.
A couple of weeks into that job, the Duke of Edinburgh paid us a visit to officially open the building, which was only a few months old when I started. I got to shake his hand and still have the official invite that all employees got requesting their presence at the Royal visit. He was the patron of the organisation. I don’t recall him making any inappropriate or politically incorrect comments at the time, but to be fair, I only met him for a few seconds and I’m not sure rumor had got around back then about his tendency to do so. I just thought it was exciting to meet a member of royalty.
At some point I must of quit my job at The Oak, due to having the full time, quite well-paid job at the RSA. After weeks of circling rental options in the Coventry Telegraph, which back then was really the only option for finding a place to live, I circled an advert for a bedsit on Allesley Old Road. It fitted my small budget and was relatively central to the town and where I worked a little out of town. Lisa’s mum Sheila insisted she come with me to check the place out.
It was a small one room flat in a large three-story house. One of two attic rooms. The only windows were like skylights, but if you got on a chair you could push them open to let some fresh air in. It had one single bed and a tiny lattice partition lattice that separated the kitchen from the bedroom/living room. The carpet was maroon and it smelt the way I imagine houses smelt in the industrial revolution, which could well of been the period when this house was built. It wasn’t pretty, funky or anyway stylish but needing my independence and not wanting to sponge on Lisa’s parents any longer, I told the landlord ‘I’ll take it.’
I’m not sure Lisa’s Mum was comfortable with my decision to move into this dodgy dusty little place, but I assured her I’d be back for a home cooked meal every Sunday. I was three flights up in the old building and I calculated there must have been about 10 other residents in other rooms on the three floors.
There was no bathroom in my flat. The toilet and washroom were a shared arrangement on the middle floor. All 10 residents used the same facilities. When I think back now, I don’t know how I did it. There was a shower room, but the shower didn’t work, so everyone had to bathe, in the one bath that was on the second floor. In order to get hot water, you had to put coins in the hot water meter, then wait 30 minutes before the water heated up enough to have a luke warm bath. Quite often you’d spend that 30 minutes, scrubbing the ring around the bath the last dirty bugger had left there. I’m not sure I ever felt clean, even after the tub. Plus the lock wasn’t reliable, so I never took long luxurious baths; always paranoid someone would walk in at any moment.
I can’t remember where I did my laundry. Maybe there was a washing machine in an outhouse down the back. It’s so long ago now, who knows.
The only person I ever met in that share place was an Indian lady who lived with her (not supposed to be there) moggy. She invited me in for a cup of tea one day and she had the flat decked out in Indian silks and oriental ornaments and pictures of Hindu gods all over the walls. For me it was all an adventure, a means to an ends. I’d known luxury and a beautiful home that I knew I could go back to at any time but for some of the residents there, this was there forever home. A place they’d live their whole adult life.
Up on the attic floor where I was, was only one other bedsit. I only clocked eyes on the dude one or two times. We never spoke, only nodded an acknowledgement. He always seemed cagey about me seeing anything in his room. All I ever saw was boxes going in and nothing ever came out.
I’d become quite apt at peeing in the sink, as late at night I was too scared to leg it down the flight of stairs to the one toilet. The stairwell had one of those energy saver lights that you pushed in and it only gave you a few seconds to get to the next light switch before it timed out. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived that year of being at Allseley Old Road but the memories I had there with friends, totally outweighed the dark dingy moments. Don’t you find that happens in life? You forget the shit and remember the gold.
I guess back then I was a bit of a wild card, an enigma, a legend. Everyone loved my place, because there were no parents or restrictions. It wasn’t long after I moved in, that the YOG family, (Youth Operatta Group) the theatre company that were now my new urban family, started rallying. All the Mum’s and Dads of my new friends started bringing boxes of stuff to rehearsals full of pots, pans, bowls and cutlery and before I knew it, I had all the bits and bobs I needed to make my little place a home. Someone even gifted me a little black and white telly so I could keep up with Eastenders and Coronation Street. I never watched much telly though, I was always listening to music or going out with my friends. I also acquired another single bed, which meant I could have people sleep over. At 19, I thought it was all fucking awesome.
Like most rental properties, I wasn’t allowed to redecorate or knock a nail in the wall, but being the rebel that I am, I took to hanging up pictures and decided the loover doors of the build-in robe needed a fresh look. So I painted it white and I have to say, it was all the better for it. Surprisingly the landlord never mentioned it. Think I did him a favour really.
There was no phone in the building, so if I needed to call anyone, I had to walk down the street to the pay phone. Most of my calls I made from work. Back then I must of memorized so many numbers because I don’t remember having an address book, but I must of done.
I remember calling Australia from work once and it must of come up on the phone register. I got reprimanded for it, so I never did it again and it got docked from my pay. Naughty Aussie girl!
I can’t actually remember how long I lived in that bedsit but it must have been a year or so. Not long after it was all set up, my best friend from Australia decided to come to England. I smuggled her into the bedsit and she got a job working at the Peeping Tom Pub where my friends Nick and Andy worked. I loved it because Shelley could spy on Andy for me and I used to go there every lunchtime to hang out with them.
Shelley and I had a strange history. She was a beautiful soul. A busty redhead, shy and from a very conservative family in Roleystone. She was the oldest of four siblings. Before coming to stay with me in Coventry, she’d never left Australia. It was great to have a friend from home with me, but it also cramped my style a bit. I’d made a whole new gang of friends and Shelley had kinda of encroached on that. She wasn’t into the theatre scene like me, and although I introduced her to my new friends, they weren’t really her bag.
As she got more shifts at the pub, she started to hang with her own new friends and they weren’t the same sort of friends I wanted to hang around. They were all dropping E’s and going to rave parties and I was scared for her. We were both experiencing our own coming of age and independence in different circles. She started seeing a guy she’d met from the pub and although we’ve never discussed it, I’m fairly sure he ended up forcing himself on her and I was happy he was off the scene again.
Not long after, she started dating a guy called Nick Aitken. He was another boy she’d met from the pub and while he seemed a bit nicer than the first guy I still never thought much of him. He was a bit of a soccer lad and she was his token Aussie girl. I think he liked having an Australian girl friend because it made him look good to his mates.
Look, I wasn’t making the best decisions in men either, but we always think we know better than our friends. So maybe we were both a bit to blame for what happened next.