Monday, 22 August 2011

Flat Roulette

My good friend Jamie wrote an entertaining blog post a while back using Google Street View to revisit all the places he has lived in his life to date.  And, if you follow the link, you'll see he has had quite a few.  I can't claim to have had quite so many - just two throughout my entire childhood - but there's a bit more to look at once I headed to uni and bloody loads when I moved to London.  It might not be that interesting, in fact it's probably bloody dull to be honest, but it passes the time on a day off.  And it's worth it for the title of this blog entry alone.

When I was born my parents lived in the sleepy village of Langford in Bedfordshire.  My parents were born and bred notherners who had both moved south for work (sound familiar?) and so the first few years of my life were spent here.  Unfortunately Google have not deemed it sufficiently interesting enough to send their Street View car down our old road, so you're going to have to make do with Google Earth.

We lived just to the right of the "A" at the end of Cambridge Close (just off Cambridge Way, which is a turn-off Cambridge Gardens, which itself is just off Cambridge Road.  Original).  As we moved when I was four I have few memories of this house but we do have a home video which has boosted what I can remember over the years.  I'm somewhat surprised there has been no building work on the farming fields off the back of our garden, although this probably has something to do with the East Coast Main Line going right through the middle of them.  I can remember watching the trains going past, obviously having no idea much I would use that line in the future.  My parents decided to move north in time for me to start my education (well not quite - I started in January 1989 a few months after everyone else, which probably explains a lot) so in October 1988 we moved to Upton in the Wirral.

Unfortunately due to Google trundling around in the summer months with trees in full bloom this is as good a shot as you get.  I spent my formative years here and my parents are still here today nearly 23 years later.  Legend has it there are still boxes of books in the loft that haven't been unpacked from the move....

The next place I lived wasn't until I went to university in York, age 18, in October 2002.  The university located me in Edens Court, house F, room 21:
Ours was the second house along, and my room was around the back, but you get the idea.  Although I got on well with all my housemates and it was a nice enough room (certainly nicer than the famed Goodricke C Block) I can't say I loved living here.  The eight houses that made up Edens Court were a short walk from campus but sat entirely on their own, rather than amongst a college (apparently they were the uni's first experiment in building accomodation off the main campus).  Offically we were Derwent, but all of our administration was handled by Halifax (also off-campus), and to top it off our nearest college was actually Goodricke.  Unlike virtually all other halls we had no facilities of our own - no laundry (that was a walk up to Halifax - so doing your washing took up about a morning as you had to keep going back and forth), no computer rooms and definitely no catering.  There weren't even sinks in the rooms which even C Block were afforded.  We were also the final year to have to put up with 3p-per-min dialup internet. I was also put in a house of 10 boys, which after spending seven years in an all-boys' school was a bit annoying.  Naturally, my next move was to move into an all-male shared house.

Carlton Avenue in York was home for two years from summer 2003, and this is probably one of my favourite places I lived in.  As well as some great friends as housemates it was so nice to have a bit of personal space again (and to be able to do my bloody laundry in my own house).  Our landlord and his wife were lovely and nothing but helpful, but certainly enterprising.  The semi-detatched you see above housed seven people, and if you look carefully not only is the garage an extension, so is my old room on top of it.  The garage itself was only a shallow cupboard for bikes - the rest of the space was yet another bedroom.  With all the rents combined they were bringing in about £1500 per month, which it's fair to say probably covered the mortgage.  Despite the efforts of some powerful force on high trying to turn me gay by surrounding me by men for much of the previous decade, it was while I was living here that Kate and I started seeing each other, so it holds happy memories for both of us.  I was one of the last to leave on 22nd July 2005.  The reason that date sticks in my mind is that it was two weeks and a day after this happened, the day after this happened, and as we were leaving news was coming through on the radio that this was happening.

Kate had got a job in London starting a few weeks after graduation, so although I didn't properly live in these next two places they are worth mentioning for completion's sake.  Kate had managed to find a place to live on short visits to the capital - no mean feat - and the place she'd found wasn't available until September 2005, so for her first few weeks she lived in a shared flat in Islington:

It's one of these anyway.  They all look so samey but I think it's the middle, downstairs flat.  When she moved down I spent a few nights here to ease the transition.  I remember quite naively being amazed at how many flats were crammed into such a small space, and really liking nearby Angel, but not a lot else sticks in my mind about this period.  Kate really enjoyed living here but it was only ever meant to be temporary, moving at the end of the month to her long-term (she thought) shared house in Muswell Hill.
Well not really Muswell Hill - the long road out of Muswell Hill that all the estate agents call Muswell Hill because it's not as nice as Muswell Hill.  Again it's hard to place this one but I think it's above the newsagent, next to the curry house (and what a lovely smell that used to make!).  This place was an absolute bargain - £250pcm!  Which in case you're wondering was still a bargain in 2005.  Sadly Kate didn't enjoy living here as much but I had by now started looking for work in London to join her.  While living here I came down to be interviewed by ITV, and once I'd got the job we spent a week living together in her tiny room before the new home we'd found was available.
We moved into Chalk Farm on 1st October 2005 - having a new home was becoming a monthly event for Kate by this point.  Both of us were being paid absolute peanuts at this point so didn't really consider looking for our own place, instead sharing with another couple in their flat.  The flat itself was nice, and as it was on the top floor it came with stunning views out across London.  Perhaps naively we'd considered that after uni we could share with anyone, but naturally both couples wanted their own space, and as we didn't own it we often found ourselves spending most of our time in our fairly small room.  So by the following April we were looking to move on.
We found a generously proportioned studio flat in Highgate that we liked and could afford (it's the basement flat in the curious looking white entrance) and moved into in May 2006 (whilst this was happening which dates it well). Although it doesn't look much, it was our first place together, and we loved living here for the year that we did.  It was in a great location - the shitty bit of Highgate, so you could tell people that you lived in Highgate and they looked impressed.  There was obviously the tube, but also two great bus routes into central London - the 134 and the 43 - which meant you didn't have to actually use the tube much which helped as we were still being paid peanuts.  Sadly the landlord was absolutely useless.  He promised to install a TV aerial - with us both working in TV, living in a basement with no reception wasn't an option.  When we moved in, we discovered a tiny caravan-style aerial installed just about our window - i.e. ground level.  Don't think I'll forget the experience of trying to watch that week's Doctor Who through the snow.  There was also a cracked window pane that was supposed to be fixed before we moved in, which after months of excuses they admitted they weren't going to do and told us to stick some tape over it.  Living in a basement also made the flat quite damp - although you did get the reassuring distant sound of the tube making it's way up to Highgate.

We were eventually told to move out by this tosser on "instructions from our superior landlord", which we thought was bollocks, and months later were proved right when we spotted a bailiff's letter stuffed through the door.  It was a blow though - despite the problems we'd been quite happy there and had planned to stay for at least another year.  Our plans to move to a "proper flat" were therefore brought forward.  We were both earning a bit more money by now so were able to up our ambitions to look for a place with a whole one bedroom.  Although we'd discovered the delights of Crouch End while living in Highgate Kate had just got a job at the Beeb and so wanted to live near a tube station so her commute wasn't too long.  We couldn't have got much closer to the tube in our next place. 
Archway was to be our next home from June 2007 (the middle flat with the curious blue splash wall, as if they started painting and then realised how crap it looked).  We generally liked the area of north London we'd been living in and so didn't want to move far, but shot ourselves in the foot a bit by choosing Archway, a shit-hole by anyone's standards.  The flat itself was study enough (and had a bath! amazing!) but we failed to judge what our neighbours might be like.  We found out the answer pretty quickly was noisy, from just the generally noisy famillies (who curiously never seemed to go to work) to the dickhead next door to us who used to practice the same riffs from songs by The Police (or as they're now known, Sting) over and over again, only getting louder when you banged on the wall.  We also experienced the water being cut off for nearly a week - although the flat itself was privately owned you had to go through the inept Islington Council to get anything done, who clearly didn't care that as a result of one of their workers drilling in the wrong place we couldn't flush our toilet.  Depressingly by September that year we had already decided to move on as soon as our contract allowed..
This time we weren't going to be swayed and moved to lovely Crouch End in March 2008, and we're still here today.  We're the top flat with the little balcony.  We love it here in our quirky little attic flat which is why we haven't moved, although with five flats between us in a little over two-and-a-half-years we weren't really in any hurry to.  Despite our worries neither of us have missed the tube.  Crouch End's shuttle buses mean we now choose between Finsbury Park and Archway, and alongside the upgraded London Overground from Crouch Hill actually feel a bit better connected than before.  We've now been here for well over three years and could quite easily make four - although we've now started to look at potential flats we might be able to buy, so our time may be coming to an end.  Will we be able to do it before the wedding?  Will we finally leave north London (as is looking fairly likely in order to actually be able to afford anywhere)?  Watch this space...

Friday, 5 August 2011

A misspent youth

I'm currently in the process of copying all my VHS tapes over to DVD, not just as a means to preserve what I have to be playable in the future but also so I can catalogue what's on these many, many tapes as I go along, with the best bits heading onto You Tube (well, until my new laptop took issue with my capture device, but there you go).  It's also a way of making the things take up much less space - and yes I'm aware there are longevity issues with recordable DVDs, so I'm hanging onto the original VHS of anything that is irreplacable.

Speaking of which. From time to time you'll come across something that stops you in your tracks, either a programme you'd completely forgotten about or a particularly embarrassing camcorder recording.  But I think the latest thing I've found takes the biscuit entirely.  The recording, almost exactly ten years ago, from 15th July 2001, when my letter was on Points of View.

Yes, that's the kind of groovy, happening 17 year-old I was.  To be fair it was the first time I had ever written to them and kind of got lucky.  I was mid-way through studying A Level Politics at this point, and already decided I wanted to carry that on at university, so was very into all things political at this point.  This included (don't laugh) Westminster Live, which was the pre-Brillo Pad answer to The Daily Politics.  The programme was set in the BBC's Westminster newsroom and I had noticed that, in the background of shot on one edition, you could see one of the journalist engrossed in what must have been a particularly thrilling game of Solitaire on his PC.  I emailed Points of View thinking I might be able to get on with this observation if I added the line "perhaps they find the Commons as uninspiring as we do".  This was actually a complete lie, as at the time I was rather obsessed with all things Westminster, but I thought it might do the trick.

I was right.  Imagine my surprise when, one lazy Sunday afternoon ten years ago, my email and name flashed up on the screen!  Me, on Points of View!  My email!  My name!  Someone else's voice!

Yep...somewhat naughtily I thought, they had got someone else who sounded vaguely young to read my email out.  Points of View had made a great noise a few years previously of ditching the sarcastic actors reading out people's correspondence in favour of the people who had actually written in, recorded down the phone line.  They also said you had to include your telephone number so they could arrange just that.  This I did, but to my knowledge they didn't attempt to get in touch.  If they did, they didn't leave a message or speak to anyone else who might have picked up the phone, or even send me a quick note to say they hadn't been able to get hold of me and would be using someone else's voice.  They even got the imposter to do it down the phone!  I wasn't the only one as someone on the Digital Spy forums admitted recently that this happened to them too.  I'm exaggerating my annoyance, but you get the feeling had this happened five years later it would have a front page scandal in the Daily Mail. In light of this it's perhaps no surprise that they've now gone back to using actors' voices.

Anyway - at least I got to have Terry Wogan say I was "no man's fool", and that at 17 I was "so astute about politics".  To give Points of View some credit they managed to find a genius clip where, with Solitairegate going on in the background, Zeinab Badawi and Michael Brown suddenly start discussing the public being fed up with politics.   I now feel some sympathy with the employee I outed - we've all had those moments where we want to do anything else but work, and at least these days we have all manner of social media and video-sharing website to distract us.  Back then, if you got bored of Solitaire, you had to make do with Minesweeper.

Due to the aforementioned problems with the capture device we've uploaded the video to You Tube in the style of the Transdiffusion children - pointing the camera at the television - although despite our vastly superior technology I get the feeling they would have made a better job of it.  The audio is somewhat faint so it might be clearer here on Audio Boo.  I'll be hanging onto the VHS of this one - so when I'm older, and my kids get to the age when they want to know what crazy things I got up to when I was 17...I can tell them I wrote into Points of View about Westminster Live.  And then their mother can tell them about the email she got read out on Despatch Box...