In part one, here, of this series we hear how I came to be London bound. Now reality has bitten.
Somehow, in the late summer of 1978 I secured a position as an articled clerk. The firm of solicitors where I was to work was Corbould Rigby & Co, a three and a half partner firm in the West End of London. How I secured it is a mix of mystery, luck and who you know.
The mystery: that for a considerable amount of time I had failed to appreciate the spelling of the profession I aspired to join. Letters of application that began,
I am enquiring about the position of Articled Clerk in your firm with a view to qualifying as a Solictor…,
got me nowhere until a friend pointed out the missing ‘i’.
The luck came in the form of the Firm needing a clerk unexpectedly. It was never explained, this need, and I was not the sort to inquire too deeply in case I was told. My ego back then was of the ormolu sort.
The who you know appeared in the guise of my pleasant, rather distracted tutor at University, Hugh Beale who found my struggles to secure a place (unaware as he was of my spelling problems) disconcerting. He passed on several openings that he heard about, this one occurring shortly after my epiphany.
I met two partners, smiled, managed at least three complete sentences and didn’t fart. The job was mine.
I did what passed for 2 week’s work experience that summer – a terrifying introduction to the tyranny of the telephone and the senior secretaries – and began to contemplate my new life that would begin immediately after my 6 months soujourn at the College of Law in Guildford that ended with my professional exams.
If you’ve not experienced law college then don’t. If you can avoid Guildford then do. At least the late 1970s versions of those twin evils. Suffice it to say they drain hope like a vampire drains blood.
Perforce, I had no time to consider one rather crucial aspect of this next step into adulthood: finding a place to live.
In the past accommodation had been secured by, variously, my parents, the university and my best friend at the time. In future years my girlfriend, now wife, took a primary role. But for the two and a bit years of my articles and initial period on qualification I was solely in charge of procuring shelter.
My new job began in the last week of March 1979. My part 2 law exams finished in the first week of February. I had what seemed like an age to get myself sorted.
What did I know about London and how to source a place to live?
Bugger all, frankly. It was only after living there for 6 months that I discovered the Capital list. This was a service organised by Capital Radio that produced a typed sheet of possible room shares that were available. You collected it from their studio in Leicester Square once a week -Thursday from memory – and began a frantic phoning around. Or maybe you might scour the classifieds in the News and the Standard, London’s two evening papers. Or peer in grubby windows at postcards, trying hard to avoid the adverts for ‘health rubs’ and ‘personal grooming’.
I had one friend, ensconced in Shepherd’s Bush where I could bed down but no spare room. He and his flat mates made some suggestions but since they’d shared this flat for three years by then weren’t ‘au courant’ when it came to flat share hunting.
My problems were compounded by the distinct deficit on the readies front. My salary was a grand £2350 per annum which translated, after tax, to £36 per week. There was very little, at least in Shepherd’s Bush where I began my search, with a one at the front of the weekly rent and that was before bills.
And then as is often the case in my life a fortuitous life line appeared. My former flat mate was living in Ipswich. He was contacted by a mutual friend wondering if he knew of anyone who needed a place to live. He rang me and passed on the details with something along the lines of, ‘if you’re really desperate…’
Yep that captured my situation perfectly. The rent was a toppy £18.50 a week, the situation (at the World’s End) worryingly biblical – it is at the end of the King’s Road where trendy Chelsea segues into what was then grotty Fulham – and my potential new flat mates vaguely known to me from university. Two blokes and one girl. That was going to be fine, wasn’t it?
Chris, a law student also doing his articles, and I hadn’t been close. He had awesome hair and something of a chin compensator of a beard. It was his hair rather than his personality I remembered. It was hair that I thought I could live with as long as it didn’t flounce too much in front of my weedy locks. He was jocular, aspiringly debonair and lacking in any self confidence when it came to the law.
His girlfriend, Sonia, was the non-lawyer; she was a different character entirely. It was her mother’s flat and she was well brought up, clear-eyed and firmly opinionated. In other words scary and lovely in equal parts but never letting anyone of us really know which category she fell into at any particular time. She was in advertising and seemed impossibly glamorous and well paid. What she was doing with Chris was a mystery.
The last inmate, Andrew, was also from our law course but he’d gone into banking. Honkers and Shankers aka what is HSBC today. He came from money, was intensely ambitious, vain to the point of obsession, appeared to live on digestive biscuits and milk and ran miles.
A perfect combo. really.
All I had to do was get my few belongings moved from home in Hampshire and I was away.