This month will forever in my mind be associated with the time I moved to London after a very miserable winter in Norwich. It wasn’t Norwich’s fault!

I had finished my degree in Trinity and gone to the University of East Anglia to do a literature masters. Because it was by research, it meant I had no classes and my friends were all those taking the creative writing masters with Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter.

Part of me knew even then that it was what I should have been doing but I didn’t have the confidence. I was also nursing a broken heart since my Trinity boyfriend of four years had emigrated to Boston. I was also living in a small house with a young woman whose husband was in London during the week doing his own PhD while she worked in bank on campus and looked after their baby. She was miserable too.

Every morning she’d give me a lift to the university and listen to Radio 1 and that slot where the music for Romeo & Juliet, A Time for Us, would come on. In the evenings I would be upstairs studying and she and her sister would watch Coronation Street downstairs and I sort of wished that’s what I was doing too. To add to the misery, Norwich was dead in the evening compared to Dublin, and the winds from Russia would sweep in over East Anglia, making it one of the coldest places I’d ever lived. Everything was just wrong.

High house

Seeing how unhappy I was, one of my creative writing friends asked if I would like to take on her boyfriend’s bedsit in Belsize Park – he had moved into her flat in Hampstead while she was in Norwich. I didn’t have to think.

The room was in a beautiful high house that had been owned by David Bomberg, the painter, and was where he was living when he died in 1957. It was now owned by his step-daughter Dinora and each room was an arts and crafts design of self-contained bedsits with painted wooden cupboards that surrounded the bed and closed off a tiny kitchen. That first room had huge windows and looked out on a beautiful garden that ended in tall poplars filled with jays.

Strange mix of people

Every floor had a telephone in the hallway and that first day, after Dinora had left me, I excitedly rang my mother to tell her how wonderful it was – only to have Dinora back up the stairs telling me off for being so noisy.

That was the start of some very happy years in that beautiful house. We were a strange mix of people living in these little rooms. Nigel was an old socialist. Mary was a paleontologist who had come to work in London from New Zealand. She was a gentle woman confined to her room by illness, but she and I became good friends.

Eventually, the house was sold to another actor, Bob Hoskins, who turned it into a huge family home and we were all made homeless – and that was the beginning of change in the city

And some of my own friends would stay too at times when work took them to London. It was that lovely time when London was entirely mixed socially and you didn’t have to be a millionaire to live there. The great Shakespearean actor, Derek Jacobi was our neighbour and he would mow his lawn in a sky-blue suit around a statue of himself as Hamlet.

I walked down the hill through Belsize Park and past the zoo to the British Library and on the night of the hurricane in 1987, I looked out from my window across the city and wondered if an atomic bomb had gone off – the whole place was in eerie darkness. Eventually, the house was sold to another actor, Bob Hoskins, who turned it into a huge family home and we were all made homeless – and that was the beginning of change in the city.

But that was later, for now it was May and I was in a bright, beautiful room, in a bright beautiful house and all of London was at my feet.

This month’s prompt

Think of a time in your life where things felt out of joint for you. Mind yourself in writing since going back to difficult times in our lives can be hard. But think also of what it was that turned that time around and brought you to a better place or time.

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