I Have Lived many Lives – 7

Saturday 30th December

It was almost dawn when we arrived at the homeless hostel, Blue Star House at Archway.  There was a communal dining area, a kitchen, toilets and showers and sinks.  But each family – and there must have been around twenty housed there – each had one room.  And like public toilets the thin dividing walls started a foot off the floor and ended two feet from the ceiling.  You could hear everything, every sound, every cough, every snore, every spoken word.  But we were just thankful not to be walking the streets.  I still had my job and left for work after a brief sleep.  We had an interview that evening.  And were told that the waiting list for a council flat was pretty long – we should expect to be in the hostel for several months.  But one of the questions they asked was did we have any furniture.  Carol said no, but I corrected her, remembering our double bed back at her parent’s home.  I said that actually we did have furniture, enough to start with anyway.  This pushed us way up the ladder.  After just a few weeks on the hostel we were temporarily re-housed.

I could never get used to, or just accept, life in the hostel.  It wasn’t the people, though many were African and spoke different languages, or Irish – though a few were English like us.  It wasn’t the strange cooking smells coming from the kitchen which we never used, preferring to eat take-away fish and chips or in cafes.  It was the lack of privacy, the constant noise, the babies crying at night – and the not knowing how long we would be forced to live like this, this half-life.

Every day I at least escaped and went to work, poor Carol was stuck there day in and day out.  In the end we were only there for a couple of months.  Then another interview and we were shown a property.  It was a large old Victorian house in Hornsey Rise Gardens.  It was destined to be demolished in a few months along with a few other streets to make way for new roads and a council housing estate.  We were offered the ground floor, there was an open staircase to another re-housed family upstairs.  We had two large rooms and a kitchen and scullery and toilet and sink.  No real bathroom at all.  But it was a start – and crucially we were promised that prior to demolition we would get a proper council flat. The walls were bad, plaster crumbling and paper peeling, there was a hole in the floorboards in the hall, there was no heating just a small hot water boiler at the kitchen sink, the windows were draughty, but it was a start…

Now, at last, we were going to make it.  Carol and me the baby boy – we were going to be happy.