A potato, cheddar cheese and half a tin of sweetcorn. That was all that was in the fridge in my new home. 1995. Nineteen years-old. I was about to start university and, even more significantly, to live with my boyfriend of two years. He had moved to London two months before and found us a beautiful, but incredibly small flat to live in.
I grew up in Kirkby, Merseyside, It was (and still is) one of the poorest areas of Britain. A sixties new town that turned into a poverty blackspot in the eighties - inspiration for writers such as Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell. The drab, 'ordinary' lives they portrayed were my real-life existence. In fact, when Boys from the Blackstuff was first aired in 1982, every child in my school spent the next few months shouting 'Gis a job, I can do that.'
I was the second daughter of a teenaged single mum, who still lived with her parents. My grandad did all the cooking. He asked us every night 'what do you want with your chips'. Food was something to sate my appetite - nothing more. We moved from my grand-parents’ home into a small flat when I was eleven. We lived with my mother's sister and her son. My auntie did all the cooking and like her father before her, it was chips with everything. Occasionally we would be adventurous and have chopped up pork shoulder with special fried rice straight from the freezer. Convenience food was as big as the microwaves that cooked them and Bernard Matthews was very popular in my house.
My boyfriend picked me up from Euston Station. He splashed out for a taxi to our new home. I stepped out of the taxi into another world. I would say that I had never seen anything like the building I was about to live in but that would be inaccurate. My family are big fans of Agatha Christie's Poirot, and I was about to live in a studio flat in the building in which it was filmed. Florin Court, Charterhouse Square. Like the television series, my life suddenly felt unreal. How could I move from my council estate into Zone One? My boyfriend was a cinema manager at the time, not a great wage, and we would both have to work hard to pay the £650 per month rent bill and I didn't yet have a job.
My grand tour of the building began with in the basement. A swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and gym - all open to residents. Then the roof garden - a quiet oasis in the bustling city with a panoramic view of Central London. Every major landmark could be seen; from Canary Wharf, to the Oxo Tower, to Centre Point. I had arrived, literally on top of the world. Then I walked into my new home. It was no bigger than an average Victorian lounge but it had everything we needed: a tiny bathroom and kitchen, a sofa bed and the oddest black wardrobe that opened like a bread bin. Then my boyfriend had to go to work and I was alone, for the first time in my life.
And in the fridge was a potato, cheese and a tin of sweetcorn. It was only then that I realised that I wasn't prepared for this. I wasn't prepared to be alone in a massive city. I wasn't prepared to be independent. I had grown up in busy, chaotic households and the silence was deafening and the responsibility overwhelming. I had cooked the odd meal for my family but nothing special. I looked at the tiny microwave in the kitchen to see if I could make sense of it. It was a combination oven/microwave so it completely threw me. I could have gone out and found somewhere to eat - there is always somewhere to find food in London. But I didn't even have the confidence to do that. I battled with the microwave on my own until I managed to bake the potato - I was sick of eating chips. I found a small grater in one of the cupboards, grated the cheese on top and I mushed the sweetcorn into the cheese. I sat on the couch with the first meal I properly cooked myself and I ate it in front of the TV, to drown out the silence.
I wish I could say that from that moment on, my confidence grew and I became comfortable in my new surroundings. But the truth is I never really felt a part of this environment. I learned to adapt to the silence and be independent, as I have learned to cook more interesting and nutritious meals, but I remained a spectator in a world I didn't belong. I was living in my own episode of Poirot, without the whodunit. Like my culinary skills, I felt I lacked the class or sophistication to blend into this world.
Monday, 28 August 2017 14:05
What do you want with your chips?Written by Jenni Davidson
Published in Aug-Oct-2017