TALL STORIES



TRELLICK TOWER
(Photograph courtesy of London Open House)
Whenever I come across photographs of this groundbreaking building - a host of memories come flooding back.
I lived there for about a year in the
1970's - in fact the family I lived with must have been some of the very first occupants - as the building was completed in 1972.

See the balcony right at the top, in the left hand corner - that was their apartment - quite a spacious two bedroomed flat.
I shared one bedroom with the girl I was dating at
the time.

Birds of prey, falcons or hawks, would build their nests up on the roof, immediately above us. Often we would see the beautiful creatures either balancing themselves in the strong turbulant air up there, as they prepared to land with food for their young - or on hotter days floating effortlessly on a warm thermal current, right outside the living room window.

I used to take advantage of the currents of air myself, flying home made kites from the balcony. I devised a system to bring snow to London, whatever the weather.
Well - not real snow of
course.
My kites were simply plastic carrier bags with
their handles tied in a "Y" to a long reel of strong black thread.
I would fill the bags with tiny pieces of torn up
paper and set the whole thing firmly adrift in the strong gusts of wind - up, up ever higher and further away it would be carried - until it was no more than a distant speck in the sky.
At any random moment, completely at
the mercy of the fickle movement of the air, it would spill its cargo of snow - in a rapidly expanding, flickering cloud that slowly dispersed on its way to the ground.


(Photograph courtesy of keller.co.uk)

The view from up there was simply astonishing.
From
London town the southern horizon on a clear day was the North Downs - over sixty miles away.
We could see the snaking M4
motorway stretching all the way back to Heathrow airport, to where the sky was full of arriving planes, entering their stacking and holding patterns before landing.
From the bedroom I shared, the view was to the north. Immediately below us was the Grand Union Canal, with its occasional traffic of narrow boats and barges. A long silvery scar weaving its course eventually all the way to Birmingham, although we could not see quite that far.
In the August of that year we had a wonderful birdseye view of the Notting Hill
carnival, which would boom out its powerful reggae bass from almost every street corner, well into the night. The colourful and highly animated spectacle of the carnival procession was an absolute delight to watch from the lofty comfort of the balcony, sipping a cold drink, basking in the hot sun.
This
was the long, hot summer of 1976.



(Photograph courtesy of londontown.com)

I
t was a fascinating
area to live in, even on ground level - Ladbroke Grove, Portobello Road, with all the mystique of the mid seventies - the wholefood shops, shops filled with the heady aroma of incense sticks, arousing the curiosity with books and pictures, brass trinkets and statues - all the paraphernalia of eastern religions, antique shops, market stalls - an inviting, irresistible cornucopia that could absorb many hours, before retreating back to our own little nest in the sky.

Ears would occasionally pop slightly when ascending in
the lift - we were thirty one floors up - exiting the lift tower itself we would cross the gantries that took us across to the accomodation.
Most days there was enough wind for us to notice the
building swaying perceptibly - especially standing in those gantries.
They were joined to the main building with
some kind of sliding plates which allowed for the movement caused by the wind.
The buildings were designed to have
this considerable flexibility - which was slightly unnerving at first experience - and about which I still have the occasional strange dream.
A sort of Towering
Inferno, without the flames.
I recall that thankfully, the lifts were seldom out of order - forcing us to use the stairs.



(Photograph courtesy of open2.net)
The lift hall itself, up there on the thirty first floor brings back the memory of my very first day. Some youths were larking about up there and had managed to smash one of the narrow windows in the lift tower.
Concerned that falling glass might present an unwelcomed
rain on those below, I set about removing the loose pieces from the window frame.
It was the sort of mottled,
reinforced glass that has embedded in it a mesh of fine wire.
It had to happen - a stubborn piece - narrow window frame -
hand slips off and my knuckle gets gashed by the jagged edges on the opposite side of the frame.
It looked rather
serious - copious bleeding.
As a pianist, I regarded this
with great concern.
I still had my bags, there was no one at home to welcome
me yet - I'd arrived around noon - earlier than expected.

A short walk to the local hospital and I am informed that
I have cut through the tendon of the middle finger in my left hand - it's going to need surgery.
The staff are very appreciative of my concerns and
arrange for physiotherapy after the wound had suitably healed.

So a few weeks later I attended my first session - during
which it was decided that the best therapy for me would be to play the piano - and they offered me the use of one, right there in the hospital.
Fantastic, what could
be better than that, I thought.

I shall never forget the looks on the faces that would
often appear round the door, attracted there by the sound of music, from the neighbouring psychiatric ward.
A wonderful assortment of smiles.


That year I found some temporary work in a take away food
restaurant.
Very soon I was slaving and sweltering away, late into the summer evenings, cooking a variety of simple
meals in the incredibly hot kitchen, or serving the customers by the relative coolness of the restaurant's open doorway.
I remember the radio playing and filling the warm air with the lusciously thick harmony of 10cc's "I'm Not In Love."
The local area was quite a melting pot - all colours and creeds,
some of whom still had the manners and habits of their homelands.
I can remember, foolishly, but politely
informing a young West Indian lad that he would not be served before all the other waiting customers, merely because he had swaggered to the head of the queue demanding something from the large refrigerated glass sandwich display counter, from behind which I was serving.
His response to
this was to walk outside the shop, arm himself with an empty milk bottle from the crate on the pavement, and hurl it with great force into the glass counter.
Needless to say, this caused the place to empty
rather quickly - and I was soon alone clearing up the mess.

I think I left soon after this incident and found work in
a famous music store in the Charing Cross Road. Unfortunately - after returning to the shop the morning after a bank holiday weekend - I had only been there a week - I arrived to find the gutters in the road streaming with water and one or two fire appliances parked outside the building.
The
famous music store had caught fire during the previous night.
The next few months were spent
shifting the salvaged stock to a new premises.

Indeed, what a host of memories that picture brings to my mind.




(Photograph courtesy of galinsky.com)

But something happened to me, one summer evening, sat up there on the balcony, gazing down. Mesmerised by a flock of pigeons - in a synchronised display of aerial mastery - all turning as one - perfectly coordinated - banking up and swooping down - beating their wings together - then gliding - for no reason, it seemed, other than for the sheer delight and exhilaration - the glorious freedom of flying.
It was so wonderfully playful and joyful - and
captivated my attention - watching these birds, with a birdseye view.

Then my focus shifted - looking through
the flight of pigeons - down to the rusty brown railway lines above which they circled - and down to the streets below. I saw what appeared to me now as a contrasting disarray - a milling throng of pedestrians - skuttling, bustling - every which way - self absorbed in their own urgency - a sight that revealed to me symbolically, yet very profoundly - a lack of direction.
A race apart, with no commonly acknowledged
purpose or destination - did we really have any idea where we were going?
I was suddenly moved to tears - an explosion of sorrow
and sadness overwhelmed me - and yet at the same time here was a vision of hope for the future.
Those moments up there held a
secret initiation for me - I received a gently whispered instruction - to guide me for the remainder of my life.



(Photograph courtesy of hawar-islands.com)

5 comments:

Lucy Lopez said...

What a charming moving picture you have composed with your words! I got to 'visit' so many different scenes and 'experience' so many different moods that fed the senses!

And what a different world I was in at the time of your memories...

Thank you for sharing these subtle 'takes' from the movie of your past...

The Scribe of Rotten Hill said...

I used to come here (Notting Hill) to visit my grandparents who lived on Oxford Gardens till the mid 70s and have very clear memories of walking with them through Portobello Market.

For some reason I always remember a zither on one of the stalls, though I often wonder if my mind painted that in later. I wrote an essay about it for school shortly afterwards so maybe it's in there somewhere.

Anyway, thanks for your article. I live in the area now, but you brought back the magic of the Market in the 70s.

P.S. 1976 sure was a hot one!

Ellumbra said...

@ Lucy - well I've come down in the world since then - but you've got me intrigued now - were you still in Malaysia at this time? Still in Diapers?
(What a cheeky fella?)
Thank you for your sweet comment.

@ the scribe of rotten hill - hi, pleased to meet you here, what an interesting name you have chosen - more intrigue.

Although I was aware of the impressive impact of Trellick Tower at the time, I had no idea it would become so iconic - it has quite a reputation in architectural circles.

I'm sure you're quite accurate with the zither memory - just the sort of oddity one could find there - haven't been back for ages - that would be an interesting visit.

Thank you for your comment.

K. Whitton-Williams said...

Thank you for creating such a marvelous picture of London. I first visited there in 1983 and spent months and months there working in short segments over the next dozen years. I loved the city and you have brought me back so wonderfully.

ellumbra said...

@ - K.Whitton-Williams - thank you so much for your kind, appreciative comment. Just one of the many flavours of London - I wonder if it is still as sweet as it seemed to me then.
Thank you again.