My Tale starts in the summer of 1974. I had come back to live in a squat in Maida Hill, W9. A bit of a West London No-Man's Land, between Kensington and Maida Vale, and in the mid-70's full of short-let housing and empty properties...
This is an extract from the 1st Chapter:
"The squat had been opened up by the Prowlers some months before I arrived. It wasn’t the first time that I’d lived in the neighbourhood. The previous year I had been staying in another squat around the corner in
Walterton Rd. It had been in the last year of a degree course I was
taking, but for the final three months I had to make a temporary move; study
was impossible for me in that house. Far too many distractions. So, with the
exams finished, I had come back to the area,
looking to reinstall myself. Over
a half of bitter one night in the Chippenham Arms I had met Nick of the Prowlers,
and he’d offered me a room in their house. I didn’t know him or the mate he was
with: a very large, hairy, fat, bearded biker with a blotchy red face, and an
incoherent mutter, but Nick seemed ok. Housing problem solved. Back in the
neighbourhood and with my friends up the street in number 23, and round the
corner in 101 Walterton Rd.
I soon discovered that Nick had other strange acquaintances living with him
apart from the Bear. B.S.A.’s and
Bonnevilles, benzedrine and booze were their loves. The entrance flight of ten
steps was no problem for a befuddled biker with repairs to do on his machine. A couple of planks
leading from the pavement to the front door had apparently solved the problem.
I never saw their entrance, but the proof was there. Two semi stripped down
750’s in the ground floor front room.
"…as if throwing cats out of first floor windows was normal practice…"
The only real problem I ever had with them was over a cat. It was before I’d met Esperanza and I was living alone in my fine, first floor, front room. I didn’t know exactly how or from where it came, but occasionally a young cat would trip in through one of the front bay windows from an outside balcony. With a disconcerting assurance it would twine itself around my legs and settle down on a vacant cushion. Flattered by such a display of confidence in me, and happy to share my space with this part-time pet, I looked forward to these sporadic feline visits. One afternoon a friend of Nick came in to my room for something or other. He saw the cat and in one swift move picked it up and threw it out of the open window. I hit the roof as the cat hit the pavement, and all he did was stare at me in amazement, as if throwing cats out of first floor windows was normal practice. I went down to the front of the house expecting to find, if not a mangled corpse, at least traces of the mishap, but there were none. Life in this neighbourhood, for cats and humans, required the full quota of lives.
There were few dull moments in
86 Chippenham Road,
although generally the day was more peaceful than the night. It was usually
after the pubs had shut that my companions would start to enjoy themselves. One
night I spent trying to sleep as they fine - tuned a spluttering carburettor on
the Bonneville, and another night of crashing and banging had given rise to the
sorry state of the stairs. I had come down one morning with the banisters in a
mangled heap in the hallway. But what was amusing was their own subsequent
reaction to this their latest antic. When I came back later the same day it was
all sheepish grins and “sorry ‘bout last night”. There they were, hammer and
nails in hand, attempting to repair their previous night’s excesses.
Most of their escapades were harmless, but occasionally things did get a bit out of hand. I was in my room going about my business. A knock on the door. For some reason I never quite understood, the prowlers maintained a respectful distance from my area in the house. It was Nick:
“Rich. Come up on to the roof. Have a butchers at this.”
We climbed out onto the roof and saw, ducked down behind a parapet, the Bear, as usual the front of his tee-shirt soaked with sweat and booze, a couple of other Prowlers, a carton of wine, and a couple of joints on the go. A right regular little party, with everyone in a strange and overly happy mood. There was an expectancy in the air, the reason for which I was soon to discover.
“Get yer ‘ead down and look out over there!”
Next to our abode at number 86, there was an empty plot and beyond it a derelict house looking as if it had not been touched since the London Blitz. It wasn’t really squatted but I knew that from time to time it was used as a doss-house by tramps. Suddenly, a shadowy figure sneaks out from the front garden, and within seconds a flash of fire erupts from a window. The basement is ablaze in no time at all. My companions on the roof also erupt – in a cackle of mirth, heightened by the arrival of police and fire-brigade…. suppressed giggles like ten year old kids. I confess that for me the arrival of the law is a relief ….what if the winos had been in there sleeping off their sorrows?? I should have been down there to make sure they were safe, instead I’m dumbstruck on the roof like a courtier on Nero’s balcony..."