Different Times

When I was a boy, my two older brothers and Mum & Dad lived in the basement rooms of a large ten roomed Regency terraced house in Gibson Square in Islington. Like hundreds of other families we rented our home, with the difference that Mum & Dad used to rent out the rest of the house to individuals and be responsible for collecting the rents on a weekly basis. Many of those individuals were decidedly odd, to say the least.

My Gran lived next door and she also rented the other room in her house on behalf of the landlord (Mr. Beetle) who used to call each week to collect the rents from both houses. We children had very strict instructions to be extra polite to Mr. Beetle as he could evict us at a moments notice. There was no such thing as security of tenure in those days.

In Grans house lived a Mrs. Lawley, who was very tall and thin, her wispy thin straggly white hair stood out as she always wore black. She never spoke to any of us boys, even though she had a son of her own. They lived in the two rooms on the 3rd floor. When she did speak to Mum or Gran she was very posh, and only now I tend to think she probably was a fine lady in her younger days that fell upon hard times when she became pregnant with her son. Society was very unforgiving in those days.

Mrs. Crick started off living in our house was very strange. Once, when we had been out somewhere as a family, we returned home Mum discovered that our entire cutlery had gone from the draw in the kitchen cabinet. A little while later, Mrs. Crick came down the stairs to the hall where she called out for “Missies Davis. Misses. Misses”. Mum came up from the basement and was told that “there was cuellier (peculiar) noises while you were all out, so I hidded your silver ware in my room”. Mum said thank you very much and Colin and I was sent back upstairs with Mrs. Crick, to retrieve our knives forks and spoons. When we told Mum & Dad that she had hidden them in her bed, they were meticulously washed several times. A couple of years later when the ground floor back room of Grans house became empty, she moved in there along with her three cats. The place used to stink of a mixture of cat wee and droppings, and fish a small white silver fish that she used to boil on her gas ring in an enamel bucket. Once or twice I would be asked to go to the wet fish shop in Upper Street for her. I remember having to practice saying “can I have a tanner of lite’s, and leave the heads on please”. Mrs. Crick was, to put it nicely, completely eccentric, she would often scream at people out on the street for no reason at all, and sometimes she would talk to people that only she could see. Of course neighbors used to give her a wide berth, but she unexpectedly took a shine to me. I found her to be a really gentle and generous old soul. Esmerelda, a small laying down china cow used to live on her mantelpiece until one day she invited me in and asked if I would like to keep her. Of course I said yes, and the cow was handed over. The only stipulation Mrs Crick made was I was always to call her Esmerelda. We still have the cow now, sadly, without its ears or horns. Over a two or three year period Mrs. Crick gave me several china animals, none of them have survived.

Mr Ring was a soft voiced Irishman who lived in the 1st floor back room, of our house. He worked for the post sorting office that was behind our house. To my shame I cannot remember his first name but I think it was Don. In the days I am now recalling, certain shops would buy almost anything. What we boys used to call the junk shop in Berton Street bought jam jars, bottles (so long as they had their stoppers) rags, piping of all sorts and believe it or not old news papers. Now one year (about bombfire night) Mr Ring responded to Colin and I knocking on his door. “Have ya got any old lumber ya don’t want we asked”, and to our surprise he said yes and pointed us to the bottom draw of his Chest- of-draws. Not only the bottom draw but the one above it was crammed with copies of “The Irish Times”newspapers. The bundles, (tied up in string) were just about as much as we could carry. It may be my fancy, but I now think I remember the words “The Irish Times” being on the front cover of the bundles. Needless to say, we did not, save the newspapers for bombfire night, we took them down to the junk shop and got fourpence for our effort.


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