The journey down the M1 from Kettering to London at the end of half term is eventful. My unreliable Mini Traveller is filled with windfall apples and pears from my parent’s garden, and some sugar beets that the farmer gave me when they were digging them up from his field. I’ll show them to my students and explain how they are used to make English sugar and compare with my dried stick of sugarcane that I got from the carnival in Nottinghill.
It’s dark when my car splutters, limps and expires onto the hard shoulder. I stand helplessly beside it hoping the silver AA badge on my bumper will lure a man in a van to the rescue even though I haven’t paid the membership fee. Sure enough the yellow AA vehicle draws up and the kindly mechanic pops his head under the bonnet, then turns to key in the ignition.
‘Haven’t I seen you before on this road?’ Maybe. My car finds it a challenge to make it past the Watford Gap service station without a whimper.
“Shall I top you up with petrol?’ Kind man. That’s the breakdown reason.
‘Next time let the AA know when you’re travelling and we’ll look out for you.’
Not sure how but that is generous and he’s waving a laughing goodbye.
Onto Hampstead and to surprise Mark. I’m back a day early from my half term holiday and run up the six flights of stairs to our flat, rather puffed when I open our front door. Mark is standing in the hall and seems flustered at my arrival. There’s a smart suitcase in the hall with a pull up plastic handle and large pulley wheels.
‘??! Whose is this?!’ Silence.
‘Is someone staying here? IN OUR FLAT?’
A tall, elegant woman emerges from the bathroom. Her shiny, dark hair just covers her bottom and she’s beautiful.
‘Yes. Just popped by on a trip to France – wanted to say hi to you both.’
Mark scoops up the suitcase and lumbers down the stairs. At the outside door he shouts back.
”Just taking Sandy to the station – back soon.’
Agghh! Sandy! Who found us on our summer holiday in Corfu and was always linen cool when I was crumpled and scruffy in the heat.
The sheets on top of our brass bed are crumpled too. Sandy has been staying and Mark is due a WHO’S BEEN SLEEPING IN OUR BED!!?’ interrogation – Goldilocks style – when he gets back.
But it’s decided – from now on he can sleep on the sofa and not come near our double bed while I’m in it. I take the sheets and bed covers to the laundrette and get rid of any smells or stains that Sandy might have left. I’m not going to stay with a man who brings a woman into my home. It’s time to leave.
The Evening Standard has regular adverts for house shares and vacant bedsits. By the weekend I’ve found a place and move round the corner into a large room in a big Hampstead house which was very grand before it was chopped up into single rooms, each with a numbered door. My bedsit on the first floor overlooks the street trees and I’ll share the bathroom and toilet with Michael and Sam who live in the other two rooms. We have our own Yale key to lock our own room so I should be safe. First the red flock wallpaper has to go – I’ll smother it in dark blue paint so it looks less like a bordello. Each room has its own Baby Belling cooker and although there’s no fridge, the chill of the room should keep my milk from going sour, and the one bar electric fire won’t raise the temperature on autumn nights although it might set fire to my nightie. The small bed in the corner with its maroon eiderdown is a sad reflection of my single life – this is not a place to bring guests.
Mark may be living nearby but he has to do some serious apologising before we can return to our happy partnership. Meantime I can get on with planning my lessons, marking homework and holding down a very demanding teaching job. Oh the fun of being single in swinging London!