Thursday, November 21, 2002

Andrew was wrong - he hadn't just been to a Marc Almond Christmas concert. We met in summer. The summer of 1995. May or June, I think. I was indeed living in Putney, and the story of how I got there is a great tale:

I arrived in London on the third of March 1995. The only person I knew here was my mate Richard from South Africa. Richard had kindly allowed me to kip in their lounge till I found somewhere to stay. "But only for two weeks, OK?"

One week and six days into my stay at his place, I hadn't found anywhere - I hadn't even looked. I went out that night to the local gay bar in Shepherd's Bush - the Queen's Head? The Queen's Shilling? - long since closed down. Got talking to a bloke called Tim. "Do you fancy coming outside for a joint?" I didn't even smoke joints, but, hey, I was in London. So we went outside and passed a joint back and forth. Then he said, "You don't happen to know anyone who's looking for somewhere to live, do you?"

I moved in the next day, into a very nice second-floor, two-bedroom flat in Chiswick. My alarm bells should have been ringing from the moment I opened the front door. The smell of burning filled the air, getting stronger as I climbed the stairs. On the top step I found a bunch of dried grass, slowly burning and sending up clouds of acrid smoke.

"Oh, don't mind that," he said, letting me in, "it's to clear the flat of any bad spirits. I've just moved in. Did we say fifty quid a week? Four weeks up front, right?" I handed over 200 pounds. "The situation is a bit odd here," he said, "landlord problems, you know."

After a few days, Tim disappeared. A couple of days after that, the heating stopped working. As a South African in England, in March, I'd never experienced such cold. Still no sign of Tim.

He reappeared about two weeks into my stay there. "We've got to move out! Tomorrow!" "But why? Where am I going to live?" "I'm sorry, but that's it. We have to move out tomorrow. I'll give you the remainder of your rent in a couple of weeks when I'm sorted, OK?"

Well, no, it wasn't OK. It occurred to me later that we'd probably been squatting. I'd been paying rent to a fellow squatter. What was I going to do? Apart from Richard, I only knew two other people in London - a scary Russian skinhead and a slightly creepy Frenchman.

"Jean-Marie? Hi, it's David. Listen, could you put me up for a couple of nights?"

We slept together the first night, but I made excuses the second night, saying I was going out to see friends. I went to FF at Turnmills. That was the night I met Marc Almond, the night of my first ecstasy experience. Fantastic. I was in the big city, homeless, not knowing where I was going to live the next day. I loved it.

I arrived back at Jean-Marie's just in time to meet him as he was going out to work. He gave me his keys and lent me his laptop so I could practice using PageMaker, which I'd claimed I had experience in, and which had got me a job interview later that day. I aced the interview and got the job.

To celebrate, I went to the Penny Farthing in Hammersmith. (Now, there's a sentence you don't see too often!) At the bar was the big Russian skinhead - let's call him Boris. I told him my predicament, and he said, "let me make a few calls".

Now, a few words about Boris. He was an escort, specialising in domination. His clients would pay him good money to be humiliated, beaten, tied up, punched, kicked. Of course, in reality he was a real softie, but he wouldn't want his clients knowing that. He called one of them.

"Peter, this is Boris. You have been a bad boy! I will tell you what you are going to do. You have a spare room, right? You will rent it to my friend David. You will charge him thirty pounds a week. Yes, thirty pounds. He will move in tomorrow. You will clean his room. And you had better look after him, or there will be trouble."

So the very next day, I moved to a room above a disused pub. The Ranger was a run-down establishment on a council estate in Putney. The council had shut it down because, I think, of drugs violations. The brewery had installed Peter as a caretaker, basically just to live in the three-bedroomed flat above the pub.

I was happy. It was a glorious summer. I had a job in nearby Wimbledon. I was earning pounds, and spending them going out and exploring the city's nightlife. In those first three months, I must have gone to fifty bars - including The Market Tavern, which is where I met Andrew.

Shortly after that, the brewery asked Peter if he wanted to manage a pub in Bethnal Green. He did. We moved. I met someone. But that's another story...

No comments: