Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Marigold Says...

Was outside minding my own business when one of the neighbours shouted to me, ‘would you like to join an alternative spirituality class when all this is over?’

I quickly climbed the ladder to the roof and sat on my perch so that I was safely socially distanced and threw the loud speaker down. She carried on, ‘you do know what alternative spirituality is?’

I said of ‘course, and I will let you know.’ Rushed in and looked it up as I hadn’t the foggiest. Oh dear, I don’t possess any crystals or Birkenstock sandals. I will have to think of a good excuse.

I once went to yoga with a friend. They were all doing the dog, cat, budgie and snake poses or something like that. I couldn’t do any of that lot and invented a bad knee.

I have never known so many flatulent people. At one stage I thought it must be compulsory. Apparently it is all the stretching. Nobody laughed except us and the best part was eating a bag of chips sitting on a bench on the way home.

The teacher was a pony tailed bloke wearing those funny trousers where the crutch comes down to below your knees. He talked very quietly and used the word meditate a lot.

Our first London abode. We rented that attic room on the right, not the whole house.,That sold for £13 million three years ago. We knew our place back then.

G Says...

Just had some students on the news bemoaning their restricted ‘freedoms.’ Just imagine not being able to concentrate on achieving a high score on their video game as their school keeps sending them online course work and insisting it takes precedence.

Kids these days, they don’t know they’re born.

When I were a lad the snow were 10 foot deep from the middle of July. I had to walk 15 miles uphill to school wearing me dad’s old pants, different sized pumps from Woolies, short sleeved shirt and tie and get fifty strokes of the cane off the teacher for being five minutes late. We ate raw potato peelings, sawdust and gravel for us lunch and walked 15 miles, uphill all the way again, back home in 20 feet of snow, then had to work 8 hours down the pit. Went to lie down on the kitchen floor for 20 minutes and then back up again for a thrashing from me dad for forgetting to dubbin his clogs then off to school in 30 feet of snow. Thems were the days.

I’ve had a complaint. Not the sort that can be eased by applying ointment; this was from a reader of our blog who grumbled about the absence of any actual ‘travel’ accounts recently in what started life as a travellers’ blog. Well, travel isn’t easy in a pandemic, but I take the point. I can’t keep banging on about lockdowns and deprivation ad nauseam, but what else is there to talk about just now?

The answer came the next day when an old friend emailed me to bring me up to date with a house sale which has been ongoing now for well over a year. Three previous putative buyers had reached the final stages before the chain collapsed and stress levels have been stratospheric. Their most recent potential buyer had paid for a survey, all the legal work had been done, all going ahead. Result, only for the buyers to decide at the 11th hour that moving to an area where they didn’t know anybody was out of the question.

‘I should have told them to ring you,’ my friend said, ‘You pair move house all the time and you always end up in a place where you don’t know a soul. You should write about that.’

It’s true. We do exactly what she described. We’ve moved house and home twenty plus times, spread over a fair few countries plus a few years of having no fixed abode status while travelling around in a succession of camper vans. It’s part of the attraction.

I decided I’d write about some of our earliest examples of ‘upping sticks and venturing into the unknown.’ They say if you remember the 60s you weren’t there. Well, I was there and I remember it vividly. Obviously when it came to Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll I skipped the drugs and concentrated my efforts elsewhere.

We started our life together as a couple in Newquay, Cornwall, in that glorious, golden decade the 1960s. We didn’t know anybody there, we were jobless, skint and with all our possessions crammed into an ancient, temperamental Austin A35 van with holes in the bodywork necessitating the placement of a couple of newspapers underfoot to prevent my feet slipping off the pedals into a puddle of water if it rained.

Accommodation was easily sorted. We bought a cheap tent from Millets, didn’t bother with a groundsheet or sleeping bags, and just ‘managed.’ I got a job as a bouncer at The Sailors Arms, the ultimate party pub in Newquay at that time, and Marigold worked at the Bilbo Surf Shop over the road. I also delivered custom made surf boards to customers all over Cornwall and Devon, the boards strapped to the roof but overhanging my tiny van both at the front and rear.

I’ll leave Cornwall for now and move on as at the end of the summer season we were intending to go with our fellow beach bum mates to seek out the surfing scene in Morocco. We were all set and then decided at the last minute to go and live in London, ranking alongside San Francisco as the epicentre of all that was ‘cool’ in that era. We’d never been to London, knew nobody there, were jobless again, but we went anyway.

I asked advice from one of the pub bar staff, a Londoner. He told me I’d hate it there and nobody would understand my Northern accent, but if my mind was made up I should head for Notting Hill Gate* as it was ‘full of dossers and cheap housing.’ It’s become a haven for trendy celebs nowadays but back then Notting Hill was rough to the point of being seedy. Lots of scruffy hippies knocking about, run down houses divided up as cheap flats and not a wine bar in sight. Perfect, we thought.

*Nobody said Notting Hill back in 1969, always Notting Hill Gate, even though the original toll booths on the main route in and out of London had long since disappeared.

The Peter Pan Flat Agency, right next to the Tube entrance, gave us a list of available flats. We looked at five of them. Even after spending several months living in a tent they were grim. It’s never a good sign on entering a room when the cockroaches look at you with disdain. The worst was in Rillington Place, but it wasn’t at Number 10 where John Christie buried several of his victims. He worked as a projectionist at the Electric Cinema during World War II, but on the many occasions we went there to watch a film we never once glimpsed any likely serial killers amongst the workforce.

We watched films then, not ‘movies,’ and a night out was called ‘going to the pictures’ not the cinema. As for hot dogs, popcorn and the like, forget it. There was just the ice cream lady with her tray, but at the Electric Cinema you could buy a cup of coffee and a slice of carrot cake from a serving hatch at the back.

We went back to the agency for a new list. ‘We just got this one in,’ they said, handing us a scribbled address on the back of an envelope. ‘It’s top floor though and a bit pricey, £9 a week, and shared facilities but it’s furnished.’

Gulp! The flea pits we’d looked at so far were half that price.

We left the van parked up and decided to walk to view the flat. Walking downhill in the direction of Shepherds Bush took us into a very different area to Notting Hill. We were looking for a house in Holland Park Avenue and this turned out to be packed with gleaming white mansions. The flat we’d come to view was in one of the biggest and smartest houses on a very smart road. Flat 12 was a one room bed sitter on the top floor, in the attic actually. The stone interior staircase went on and on and we were exhausted when we got to the top floor.

There were three ‘flats,’ all one room bedsits. The other two bore the names Miss Foote and Dr Patel. Flat 12 had a Baby Belling cooker, a tiny sink and draining board, two old bentwood chairs, a chipped Formica table and, along one wall a double bed covered by a really revolting bedspread. It was tiny, the only light came from an attic window with a sit on ledge and we’d passed the only bathroom and WC on the floor below.

Marigold looked around and said, ‘perfect.’

This flat was to be the first in a succession of grim and dingy rented bedsits. We didn’t care, this was the Swinging London era after all and after living in a tent for six months before moving to London anywhere with a roof was luxury by comparison and in our youth we weren’t remotely concerned with creature comforts, but with hindsight our standards were lamentably low at that time.

Twiggy, the face of Swinging London

Yes, there's more...

Next door to the Peter Pan Agency was a large branch of Manpower, the agency of choice for casual/temporary workers. Marigold found work opportunities easy as typing and secretarial skills are always in demand, but I was more problematic. Being vastly overqualified is just as restrictive as the alternative option and I reluctantly agreed to take up a temporary job in Chelsea for six weeks while they found me a more suitable long term ‘career.’ A canny manager ensured I was promoted twice in the first month and so ended up staying in my temporary job for a year. I didn’t even have to cut my hair, but flared loon trousers and tie dye tee shirts were frowned upon. I even had to wear socks at work, but at least I remained free of academia.

We didn’t have a television so our entertainment options up in the attic were restricted. Occasionally my attention focused on a naked woman combing her hair while sitting in the window ledge of the bay window on the house across the road, directly opposite our apartment. For reasons I can’t quite recall I used to spend rather a lot time perched on our window ledge.*

*Just for clarification I should point out I was fully clothed and the hair being combed was on her head.

Our house caretaker offered the information that the house opposite was a notorious ‘knocking shop’ where call girls in training, as he put it, worked to gain experience before heading to the private clubs of Mayfair. We also witnessed more nudity, this time dancers in a circle, swaying and undulating in the ground floor of the same house.

Our caretaker, Mr Anderson, a garrulous hippie known as Kiwi John who lived rent free in the basement in return for collecting everyone’s rubbish and ‘unblocking the khazis’ if required, told us they were a ‘bunch of weirdos’ who met up twice a week to strip off and and ‘prance around’ the ground floor ballroom, chanting and burning incense.

He also claimed the house in question had been raided numerous times by the police and had been a notorious address for about fifty years. He referenced ‘camp boys’ which meant nothing to us at the time, but the name stuck in my memory and the arrival of the Internet confirmed Kiwi John was on the right track.

In 1933, in what became known as ‘The Lady Austin’s Camp Boys Scandal,’ 60 men were detained in a private ball room at the house in Holland Park Avenue. A squad of police officers had been watching them dancing, wearing makeup, dressing as women, and having sex. Twenty seven men were arrested, charged with ‘diverse lewd, scandalous, bawdy and obscene performances and practices’ and sentenced to between 3 and 20 months.

The Club President, who organised these dances for his friends amongst hotel staff in the area, using the name Lady Austin, said in mitigation, ‘There is nothing wrong in who we are. You call us Nancies and much worse but before long our cult will be allowed in this country.’

Simon Cowell, Robbie Williams, Elton John, Jimmy Page and David Beckham all now own houses within a stone’s throw of our former apartment They’re all more likely than us to get a blue plaque on the outside wall. Not fair – bunch of nobodies.

In 1969 the only famous person in the road, to our knowledge, was a Chelsea footballer and as he wasn’t Peter Osgood or Alan Hudson, football stars but also well known ‘faces’ in the Kings Road scene, nobody cared very much.

Neighbours – although not remotely famous – who were also friends lived in a rather dingy flat in the vast property known as Woodland House, then owned by the parents of Michael Winner, but later by Michel Winner himself. We visited the house on a few occasions when a frequent talking point was the Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, living in the house next door. Michael Winner ran up huge debts restoring the 46 roomed Woodland House and after he died it was bought by Robbie Williams for £17.5 million.

All sounds very innocent to me

This sign dates back to 1969, we bought it for ten shillings, pre decimal so 50p, from a stall on Portobello Road. It's been everywhere with us, above our back door now

Even more... Final instalment

We loved our time in Holland Park. As long haired hippies we’d thrived in Newquay and Swinging London afforded so many more opportunities. Holland Park tube station was just across the road, just past the gloriously named Fags and Mags papershop and it didn’t take long to realise fare payments on the tube were purely voluntary as ticket inspectors back then were unknown as long as we were happy to take the back stairs avoiding the barriers.

We travelled all over London, but in fairness it may have been wiser to just buy a ticket as some of the staircases were very demanding. 320 steps at Hampstead tube station, we didn’t go there very often. We liked Covent Garden, but with 195 steps to climb it was easier to get there by jumping off at Charing Cross and getting there by strolling along The Strand.

A few days after we arrived in London we went to view an event everyone was talking about: 200 or so squatters, described as ‘hippies,’ in the press, but people in the crowd who knew many of them personally called them the Dilly Dossers, had recently occupied 144 Piccadilly on Hyde Park Corner.

The building was an 18th century five-storey mansion, once the home of former Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. Next door (number 145, and built at the same time) was the childhood home of the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret before the Second World War. The house was surrounded by a dry moat over which the intruders built a makeshift drawbridge.

Squatting was a comparatively recent phenomenon, but finding free accommodation, usually in derelict houses was common enough and we knew a fair number of people who did that. Moving on to occupy empty houses was a comparatively short step and when I eventually returned to an established career pattern my new job brought me into contact with a great many of them.

Arriving at Hyde Park Corner we joined the hundreds looking on from the opposite pavement and were enjoying the (mostly friendly) banter between squatters and spectators when suddenly matters escalated. As the drawbridge was briefly lowered to allow assistance for a, as it turned out later, fictional medical emergency a couple of hundred police charged in. A hail of missiles rained down on the police, but the resistance was very short lived.

As they were taken away we commented on how they were mostly our age or even younger. Just kids mucking about as one person in the crowd said. Most of the squatters were arrested, but released later as the police action did not have the correct paperwork in order.

The building stood empty for three years and then was demolished despite its listed status. It is now the site of the Intercontinental London, Park Lane which is very smart indeed. Not that we have ever stayed there, not even as squatters!

When arranging to see friends for a night out, we usually met at the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus. Buskers, dancers, rent boys, prostitutes and pickpockets all congregated there every evening. It was never dull. I remember being told, in haughty tones, by a very drunken man wearing a Brigade of Guards tie as a bandana that although the statue is generally known as Eros, it was created as an image of his brother, Anteros. It turned out he was right.

We loved the vibrancy of Speakers Corner where the racist, sexist and homophobic outpourings of those brave enough to stand on a soap box would have horrified the present ‘woke’ generation. We made friends with a man tattooed from head to foot, including his face, who told us he had taken these drastic changes in his appearance after once being wrongly identified as a murder suspect and decided to become uniquely distinctive.

Portobello Road was within easy walking distance, and there we discovered Seed, the UK's first macrobiotic restaurant and shop, and later Ceres where the bread was baked on the premises and ‘something from Ceres’ became our Saturday morning treat.

The owners were Craig Sams and his brother Gregory. Nebraska-born, Craig Sams imported Afghan coats that he had spotted on his travels in Asia to sell on Chelsea's King's Road. Among his first customers were the Beatles and a fashion trend was born. Craig Sams was a pioneer of the ‘organic’ movement and without his influence the supermarkets and high street shops of today would be very different. There were sacks of flour, lentils and rice inside the doorway and freshly baked bread on offer.

On September 18, 1970, his girlfriend found the great guitarist Jimi Hendrix unresponsive in her apartment at the Samarkand Hotel in Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill. One of the first instances of what would become the classic rock star death from drug overdose.

We walked past the hotel that evening; it was thronged with people standing several rows deep in silent mourning. Three weeks later, October 4, 1970, our wedding anniversary, the legendary rock star Janis Joplin was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose in her Hollywood hotel room.

We had just done a celebratory ‘big shop’ at MacFisheries on the corner of Kensington Church Street and the Evening Standard seller outside was bellowing, ‘First Jimi, now Janis, is it the end?’ Enigmatic, but perhaps because of this I remember it vividly. Barefooted, long haired, kaftan clad locals milled about, clutching at each other for support on hearing the news and when I went to my usual kiosk to buy the current Rolling Stone magazine the girl behind the counter was in tears. Seven years later Elvis Presley would die in similar circumstances at age 42, promoting a worldwide surge of grief, but for our age group, in this era, these two untimely deaths were pretty devastating.

After surviving a few temporary jobs Marigold worked in the West End as secretary to an eccentric, but high powered, solicitor with many VIP clients. In those early days of ‘temping’ we used to set out on a ‘recce’ every Sunday evening, plotting her route for the following day.

Three stops on the Central Line, change at Earls Court for the Eastbound Circle Line, then again at Trafalgar Square for the Northern Line, then it’s the third stop.’ That sort of thing, all carefully written down in readiness for the Monday rush hour dash to a new job.

On one of these trips I said something like, ‘not long to wait now, our train is next, due in three minutes.’

Marigold: ‘how do you know that?’

Me: ‘it says so on the notice board.’

Okay, Marigold didn’t actually say ‘what notice board,’ but she couldn’t read a word on it. An urgent trip to the opticians for some distance glasses was called for!

As for Swinging London fashions we eschewed the tackiness of Carnaby Street but adored the Kings Road where we spent many weekends browsing and exclaiming at the shop fronts, the cars and, best of all the peacock styles of our fellow pedestrians strutting their stuff. Garishly painted psychedelic Minis, pink Cadillacs, Rolls Royces painted decidedly non standard colours ruled the roads while the pavements were even more colourful.

Celebrities received far less attention than they do now. Pop stars, footballers, actors, we saw so many it scarcely warranted a mention. The Granny Takes a Trip shop was never dull and Bazaar, the store owned by Mary Quant, was always busy. She claimed to have invented the miniskirt, whether she did or not she certainly did more than anyone else to make it a ubiquitous item of clothing. We loved the Mary Quant philosophy when applied to clothing, ‘rules were invented for lazy people who don’t want to think for themselves.’

It’s not a bad slogan, is it?

Perhaps our favourite store front belonged to a shop at the far end of the Kings Road. Let it Rock appeared in 1971, selling uniquely wacky clothes, bits of fetish wear and with a (very loud) jukebox playing non stop, attracted an ‘off the wall’ clientele. It was not so much a shop as a meeting point and an opportunity to explore the outer regions of fashion and music.

Set up by two acknowledged geniuses of the day, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, this was where the Sex Pistols and the punk era began. We weren’t great fans of punk, but we thrived on the excitement surrounding it. Let it Rock has long gone, but was succeeded, in the same place, by Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, then SEX which was almost entirely devoted to fetish clothing and objects – we never went in there – and is still there, now called Worlds End.

Away from the Kings Road, that infamous fashionista Marigold loved Biba for its fashions and unique style and we were frequent visitors, firstly to the chaotic shop in Kensington Church Street where Marigold bought a favourite classic minidress* and later after Biba moved to what used to be Derry and Toms department store with its brilliant roof garden in Kensington High Street.

Polish born Barbara Hulanicki began her career in fashion in the early 1960s. Her husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, (whom we knew slightly as the friend of a friend,) was an advertising executive. They opened a mail order clothes shop and her designs were so successful the Biba shop phenomenon took off. Biba dresses, often accompanied by the signature black lipstick, swept London and then all of Europe in the late sixties and early seventies.

*We saw the exact same zig zag patterned mini dress a few years ago at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We often walked through Holland Park, where there were ‘real’ peacocks, past the copper roofed Commonwealth Institute building to Kensington High Street. There was quite a small marble slabbed fish counter shopfront on the right hand side, one of the early branches of Sainsburys.

Our supermarket shopping choices were few and far between in 1969 and MacFisheries accepted luncheon vouchers as cash so we went there in the main. I’m aware the concept of luncheon vouchers, a perk of Marigold’s job at the time, may be alien to many readers, but like Green Shield Stamps and ubiquitous electricity meters they were part and parcel of life in that era.

Barely scratched the surface of our time in London. Our next move would be to Bayswater and a flat once owned by Peter Rachman, the infamous slum landlord who included both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davis amongst his ‘mistresses’ as the newspapers of the day always termed these arrangements. That will have to wait for another time.

The Electric Cinema. Yes, it really was that scruffy. Much more so inside. Part of its appeal

Holland Park tube station

Mr and Mrs 'Biba' - Barbara and Stephen, a pretty stylish couple

Marigold had a dress just like this, bought in 1970. Shamefully, she doesn't still wear it. Seems odd to me, I still have clothes I bought in 1970 knocking about. I rarely wear the psychedelic shirts.

We rarely galloped up, three steps at a time.

This was a stall on Portobello Road, opposite Ceres, that sold unusual 'stuff.' I remember him telling us how stressful he had found the arrival of decimalisation, all those cards to label and work out an equivalent price