Saturday, 24 January 2015

88 Herne Hill

As a student nurse I lived 'in' for a year but soon tired of institutional living.  In August 1985 my friend Carol Winsor, a physio student I had met on a summer camp some years previously, asked whether I would like to move out with her and her friends to a large house in Herne Hill - number 88. Some time after we were joined by my fellow student nurse Clare Franklin and my sister Anne Cooke.  It was a huge house with seven bedrooms, and two bathrooms, each with a gas Ascot heater that filled the bath in approximately 20 minutes.  There was no central heating or double glazing, lethal gas fires in each room and another Ascot over the butler sink in the kitchen.  There was a separate flat downstairs, inhabited by an old man called George who smoked about 40 woodbines a day and had a cough to match. Thankfully he never took advantage of the seven girls upstairs though he had access our quarters via the back door.  I wouldn't be happy for my daughter living in similar arrangements today!

Initially I moved into a large attic bedroom that I painted white with bright pink woodwork.  I made some curtains out of old sheets and tie-died them pink and white.  Whatever possessed me?!  Some months later I swapped rooms with Islay and moved into the ground-floor bedroom with beautiful alcoves that Islay had painted in two shades of blue - much nicer than my pink colour scheme.  The room had once been the drawing room of the large house and had huge windows looking out onto the church of St. Paul opposite.
St. Paul's Church Herne Hill today
The kitchen was 1960s; we divided the cupboard space and each cooked for ourselves though as time went on we began sharing more meals.  I was fascinated how differently people ate; Clare was a meticulous cook, weighing her pasta.  She ate a lot of toast and marmite!  Sunita had Indian heritage and would travel home to Sidcup at the weekend, returning with copious tiffin tins full of her Mum's Asian delicacies!  Sue ate a lot of ready-made pies; this was a revelation as I came from a family that cooked from scratch and had never encountered ready-meals!  I loved cooking for friends and enjoyed trying to re-create the curries we ate at the Joy Bangla restaurant in Camberwell.  There was a great greek deli up the road and Brixton market in the other direction so we weren't short of exotic ingredients.  There was a large garden with a huge pear tree; the pears were like bullets but that didn't stop me making them into crumble! There was no washing machine, though we later inherited a semi-working twin-tub, so we took our washing to the launderette at Herne Hill station or rinsed things out in the bath.  There was one bakelite phone on a cold landing so calls were brief!  I think the phone number was 01 326 0488 - strange what one remembers!

I missed playing the piano so one Saturday, soon after we moved into no. 88, I borrowed Sue's boyfriend Steve, another pianist, and went to Morley's piano shop in Lewisham.  After playing several models, I decided to rent a small upright teak piano.  After a year I had the option to buy it at a reduced price and thanks to some generous gifts for my 21st birthday I became the proud owner of my first piano.  Little did I imagine that 30 years later I would be choosing my dining room floor and kitchen worktops to match said piano!  I have many happy memories of sitting in the lounge at 88 Herne Hill, playing the piano either on my own or with Dave Mudie, Paul Hattam or Matthew Redfearn - my musical friends from the hospital CU.

No. 88 was on the 68 bus route to Kings but there was no direct bus to Dulwich Hopsital (where I did many of my placements and eventually got a job as a staff nurse). So I bought an old bike and cycled everywhere, chaining the bike to the outside railings and taking it up in the hospital lift to store on the balconies between the wards during my shifts.  I started swimming every day, at Brockwell Lido in the summer and at Brixton Rec in the winter.  I remember swimming 20 lengths of the unheated Brockwell Lido (a 50m pool) before my nursing finals - I went on to win a prize so cold water swimming is to be recommended!

We didn't spend loads of time together as students - Clare and I worked many nights and weekend shifts whilst the physios worked 9-5 and had weekends and holidays off.  However, there were some memorable parties: the 'black and pink' party at which Carol did a hamster impression, having just had her wisdom teeth removed; the Pimms garden party... and one party at which our hoover was stolen by some medical students.  We didn't miss it for several weeks!  One drunken night Carol, Sue and Sunita gave everyone nicknames; Carol became Platelet, Sue was Pooey and Sunita was Pernicious.  My friend Stephanie Murrell (who eventually moved into the house) was Pledge.  Islay was Granny, courtesy of being a mature student and a couple of years older than us!  Granny's boyfriend became Grandad (of course). I was Joyful Bangla and my sister Anne was Annie.  Clare became Bernard - for no other reason than the nurse in Blackadder was also called Bernard.  These nicknames stuck and we still use them for each other 30 years later!  Can anyone remember why Rachel was Marbody?

To be continued as my fellow housemates share their memories and photos....

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