On a break, of all things, from an unspecified living in Hong Kong, I took up a roost in a house in Ladbroke Grove, and from there busied back-and-to to two jobs – an occasional third – by way of repaying some cash and returning to Lantau in the autumn with a spring in my hitherto down-at-heel limp.
It was the summer of 1991. In office hours I reclaimed an earlier temping post at the old Abbey National, top of Baker Street, investigating, still, where windfall share allocations had got to (post massive skip fire), or else assisting folk to cash theirs in – possibly, I can’t remember really what we did. But it was nice, there, the previous legions of traveller temps1 now boiled off to a sticky few whose numbers matched those of the permanent staff, and between whom (the long-term temps and the perms) there’d grown something supportive and close and caring, smoking side-by-side their Marlboro Lights on the one side and their Lambert & Butler 100s on the other, and all of them good company to keep.
Larry Meadow2 from Lantau was back in London too, and he it was who fixed me up with the job I used to bus it to from the Abbey every evening.
This Saturday afternoon just gone, and twenty-one years on, me and B., down here a while and being in Camden briefly, took a walk south down Camden Street and saw where Berman’s is no more. B. took my photo outside No.40, but the October light on my jumper somehow, unfathomably embossed me with a tremendous pair of knockers, so I won’t be treasuring that for the purposes of nostalgia… mammary lane etc.
Berman’s the costumiers3 was where I spent my summer nights, magnolia-ing the walls and stairways of a thousand storeys or more of fabulous get-up from movies, stage and TV, among clothes rails labelled Brideshead, Darling Buds and Bond.
Only mannequins otherwise peopled the after-work hours, me and Larry painting floors apart unless met up for a brew at eight in some comfy area kept tidy for visitors. One Saturday night, quite madly in the sense that it was planned, I slept over in that building alone, petrified on a dressing room sofa, regretting the plan but excited to be seeing it through also; the daftness of having the keys and the cheek and, frankly, the balls, to lay within the vast weight of wardrobes that were spirits, ghosts maintained specifically for the invoking of histories, dramas, dead lives – a self-imposed overnight dare that pre-dated and foresaw Most Haunted and which choosing to undertake makes me question to this day what I wanted, then – and then in the morning play-acting to the just-on security guard that I’d only now let myself in, and cracked on with a landing that would bring in eighty quid; a terrific haul on top of the bank job, not to mention some lucrative all-nighters photocopying at Goldman Sachs, where the trade-offs for going without sleep and having to remove an earring were fat hourly rates, exotic food phoned in and taxis back home in the morning: a rhythm of business – busy-ness – that made that summer one breathless bounce-along sentence to be at horrible odds, it emerged, with the months ahead that would forever be characterised by countless blank pages in a diary that had been so richly crammed.
1. I’d previously worked there in 1989, surrounded by round-the-worlders who were all of them somewhere on that route (where else?), some even pulled away in a flash to go see the Wall just come down – and all infectious, in a good way at the time.
2. No, it doesn’t sound much like a real name, does it?
3. Bought a year later by Angels and now someplace even huger out of town.
© Steve Mitchell, Fisher Lane, 2012