…from the north, as it is now, it takes me back to Herne Bay. 3B Mickleburgh Hill, December 1980, to be precise. I shared the flat with The Two Marks and Christian and we each paid seven pounds a month for the privilege. I studied Law in Canterbury with The Two Marks. Christian claimed to be an ’18-year old trainee chef’. He was 16 and did the washing-up in a local cafe. He was someone Big Mark had picked up on a bus ride back from campus. This last had seemed a good idea at the time, as it reduced the rent and filled a spare room; it wasn’t. Christian had a thing for knives, red light bulbs and the dodgy periodical clippings he stuck on his bedroom wall. We ‘shipped The Young Ones. It was never going to work. One day, The Two Marks barricaded in their room and refusing to come out, I went to find the boy’s mum. She came and collected him. It ended well.
Herne Bay is a distance from Canterbury and was then full of funeral directors and second-hand stores (I’ll leave you to join the dots). Traveling back and forth from the flat to campus was a chore, so we started The Herne Bay Society, registered it with the Student Union and hey, presto! Funds became available for social events and travel – two of my favourite things – and then it didn’t seem so bad. We lived on a diet of porridge, toast, cake, beer (The Two Marks) and whisky (me) with the occasional reject fish from local trawlers. Ross, another Law student, flat-shared with a trawler-man’s brother and used to give me fish in return for cake (seriously, if I never have to clean and fillet another oily fish…). Toast was eaten with Grandma’s ‘marmalade’*, her ‘lemon curd’*, Marmite or peanut butter: in times of plenty or stress, all of the above. We always had fresh bread from the bakery counter at Safeway. Herne Bay froze in the winter, the tale of the North Sea freezing over in 1963 haunted us, so we would stand at that counter until threatened by security and told to move on. Taking reading material with us probably didn’t help our case. Anyway, we bought loaves, so we bought time. Back home, fresh loaves need slicing with sharp knives, no? Yes. This invariably meant I was sent into Christian’s room to retrieve them from under his mattress where he kept them ‘safe’, tricky in that dim rosy glow, but OK as long as I didn’t look up at the walls (*shudders at memory*).
Needless to say, the flat had no heating and there was only hot water in the kitchen. We took showers on campus or ‘with friends’. School-friends came to stay and were shocked that I undressed to go to bed; one took himself to a charity shop and stocked up on woolen garments specifically for bedtime. As the place was so cold, we lived in the kitchen where tea/porridge/toast were always on the go. I have almost-fond memories of standing stirring the porridge vat, sporting pyjamas, gloves-on-a-string, a bobble hat and hiking socks while The Two Marks drank tea and Christian lay low in his room doing whatever it was he did in there with the knives and glamour shots colored crimson. That was the scene when we heard on the radio that John Lennon had been fatally shot. We were in disbelief. We drank more tea and ate more toast and listened to more radio until the news sank in.
(*This is what Grandma labelled the jars – the contents tasted grand but were unexpected, is all.)