From March 1976 to February 1979 I shared a basement flat in Macaulay Road, Clapham. This was before Clapham became fashionable, so it was almost impossible to persuade taxi-drivers to drive you all the way there from the West End – you always had to jump into the cab before you told them where you wanted to go. Not that I had money for cab fares anyway, but every once in a while you had to mortgage your life to get back from a night out in central London.
My flatmate was a jewellery designer called Martha, whom I’d met at Central School of Art & Design. You had to pass through her room to get to the kitchen, but I had a kettle in my room to make tea and coffee, and was never that much of a cook, so it wasn’t a problem. Though at this stage in my life I did go through a curious bread-making phase, and since I wasn’t yet a smoker would sometimes bake my version of hash brownies – hash rock-buns. What usually happened was that I would eat one rock-bun, get the munchies, and then eat all the others. This would leave me so stoned that, in order to stop my brain from exploding, I would then have to listen to Trout Mask Replica while simultaneously reading Finnegan’s Wake.
Strangely enough, I never learnt from these experiences and would continue to fry my brain regularly. Even more strangely, I seemed to function quite adequately while blitzed out of my skull; at least, I continued to work part-time in a Charing Cross Road bookshop without screwing up and getting fired, though I did once imagine my co-workers had played an entire Pink Floyd album over the shop’s audio system – which they hadn’t. And another time, when a customer offered me a sweet, I ran away from him because I thought it was poisoned.
Although the flat was in a basement, my room had a large bay window that let in lots of daylight. This was evidently too much for me, because I painted the walls black. Not that you could see a lot of wall anyway, since I covered most of them with my usual clutter of cheap shelving, books, and collages of posters and photographs.
There were two disasters while I lived here. An outside drain got blocked up with leaves, so a torrential downpour flooded the hallway and my room with water. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – the water was relatively clean, the soggy carpets dried out and the only thing that got wet was an Ivor Cutler album I’d borrowed from my friend Wendy. I think she’s still disgruntled to this day that I returned it with a warped sleeve, and I can’t say I blame her.
The other disaster was that we got burgled. The burglars turned Martha’s room upside-down, but didn’t steal anything from her. My room was already upside-down – the police detective who paid me a visit took one look and said in a shocked voice, “Oh my God!”, so I had to reassure him it was always like that. (In 1987 I saw this idea used as a gag in a rare example of the girl-buddy comedy subgenre, Outrageous Fortune, starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long.)
The burglars did steal a few items – an old Kodak camera (which never worked anyway) and some small items of jewellery that were of more sentimental than actual value. All in all, they didn’t get away with much. People said to me, “Don’t you feel violated?” But I didn’t, not really. I was more curious about what the intruders might have thought about the black walls, skeletons and inflatable rubber sex-doll. I like to think they’d afterwards been plagued by paranoid nightmares of having stumbled into a nest of suburban satanists.
This flat was where I really started to take lots of photographs. I finally saved enough money to buy a second-hand Pentax, and, somewhat fixated on fin de siècle art, took pictures of friends, male and female, draped in exotic fabrics and plastered in make-up. If I could time-travel back to the 1970s, I would visit my younger self and say this: wear your glasses, learn how to focus and use a fucking light meter. It’s not that difficult! Also, forget about photographing your friends poncing around, and take lots of ordinary street scenes, because in 35 years’ time, everyone will ooh and ah over those.
I did, however, take photographs of my bookshelves, and even managed to get some of them vaguely in focus.