I moved to London in March 1995. Back in South Africa, I had got into a rut: I had worked for the same company for eight years, had lived in the same flat for seven, and had gone out with the same guy for five. I was bored and needed a change, some variety. And, boy, did I get it! In my first month here, I lived in four suburbs:
Shepherds Bush: My mate Richard kindly allowed me to sleep on his couch. "You can stay here for two weeks," he said. After one week and six days, I hadn't found anywhere new to live, hadn't even looked to be honest, but things fell into place with remarkable ease. At a local gay pub, I got chatting to a guy called Tim. He asked me "I don't suppose you know anyone who is looking for somewhere to live, do you?" I did, I was, and moved in the next day.
Chiswick: The flat was a little strange. Tim was even stranger. When I arrived, the place smelled of burning grass. As I struggled up the stairs, I discovered the source: a smouldering bunch of dried straw which Tim was burning to ward off evil spirits. I paid Tim for four weeks' rent (at fifty quid a week). After one week, Tim disappeared. The heating broke down. In mid-March. Coming from South Africa, I had never seen central heating before, and had no idea how to fix it. I shivered, wrapped in a duvet and wearing all my clothes. Tim finally burst in one morning and announced: "We have to move out. Tomorrow!" It turned out we had been squatting. I had one night to find somewhere to live.
Hammersmith: I had become vaguely friendly with a French guy named Jean-Marie. When I told him of my plight, he offered me a place. The only drawback was that we had to share a bed. I didn't fancy him in the slightest. In fact, he was decidedly creepy. After one night of fighting him off, I spent two further nights there. Or rather, I spent two further days there, ensuring I stayed out all night, arriving home as he was leaving for work.
Putney: One afternoon in a Hammersmith pub, I met a huge German skinhead. Turned out he was a rentboy, specialising in abusing his masochistic clients. When I told him I was currently homeless, he phoned one of his clients and ordered him to give me somewhere to stay: "He will come and live with you and you will charge him just thirty pounds a week." "Sir, yes sir!" I spent three months there, living above a disused pub on a rough Putney estate.
I was six thousand miles from home, and lightyears from my previous life. I couldn't have been happier.