Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A typical student house?

Bowsden Terrace as it is today.

Before I left for home that summer of 1958 I was lucky enough to join my friend Ken Appleby in a rented house he shared with two other students, one of whom was moving away to take up his first job. This was my first experience of living with other people - Ken, a fellow architecture student and Tony French, a Londoner, studying economics.

The property was an end-of-terrace house in Bowsden Terrace, South Gosforth. We paid rent of £3 a week to the landlord, a retired widower who lived not very far away but who had not been seen for a few years as generations of students had continued to pay the rent.

You could loosely describe the house as furnished and, needless to say, re-decoration was almost non-existent, except where various students had experimented with dubious artistic ideas.

The bathroom had been painted with pale yellow gloss, including the bath, basin and WC. It was rather the worse for wear when I arrived. The walls were decorated with erotic photographs which had been allowed to remain gathering dust over the years. It wasn't very hygienic..

Neither was the kitchen. Action Painting was all the rage at the time and as architectural students dominated the occupancy, the urge to decorate the kitchen in the manner of Jackson Pollock was too strong to resist. The general condition of the furniture left a lot to be desired and cleanliness was not high on the list of priorities. We did have a cleaning lady who came in every weekday but she wasn't able to do very much to improve things. We most probably paid her £1 a week to wash the dishes and whip round with a duster. Her name was Mrs Blacklock, although Ken insisted on calling her Mrs Backlog.

My room was on the ground floor wedged between the bathroom and a plumber's shop. I was able to hear all the comings and goings from the shop, often woken early in the morning to the clanking of copper pipes and other plumbing materials being collected for a day's work, plus a lot of choice language thrown in.

The bathroom was quite convenient but I ended up being the message boy when Ken and Tony were using the facilities - they both lived upstairs and had girlfriends who visited regularly.

My room furniture consisted of a double steel-framed bed with open springs and a thinly stuffed mattress. There were a couple of old '40s armchairs, an upright chair and a drawing table which had seen better days and had slats missing so pens and pencils constantly ran off onto the floor. There was no heating in the room apart from an open fireplace if I felt like buying in some coal - which I did on one special occasion.

Our communal living room was a hub of verbal (but not physical) activity. The focal point was a tiled fireplace and an old gas fire. Tony was the smoker but he was preceded by others who had habitually thrown their tab ends into the fireplace and stained the tiles. To the right of the fire was a cupboard crammed full of old newspapers hoarded by previous occupants and left to turn yellow. On a side wall was a rather fine roll-top desk, the only decent piece of furniture in the house. My record player was plugged into an old radio, which provided the only source of entertainment.

A large dirty sofa dominated the room from where the cigarette butts were tossed and, so I'd been told, darts thrown at the occasional mouse which might emerge from the corner cupboard...