Tag Archives: shark

North of the river

It was a Wednesday afternoon the day I moved to Chiswick. It should have been the day before but I hadn’t finished packing. Henry was the only person in the house when Crazy Yank’s Jeep arrived. In between helping me take my combination of suitcase and Duty Free bags (full of my life, not airport frivolities), Henry said: ‘Good luck with Sharky,’ half-grimacing, half-laughing. He gave me a hug. Said something like ‘See you soon’ and I was out of the door. He stood on the doorstep with the same awkward expression that had accompanied our first meeting in the hallway. I put my hand up to gesture a wave but didn’t quite manage it as we drove off.

‘Living with us is going to be easy,’ Crazy Yank began. ‘It’s going to be fun. I mean, it’s a really fun house. I want you to feel at home. Act like it’s your home. We’re easy-going, y’know.’ He repeated these sentiments a few times for the next 10 minutes of the journey (and especially while we were stuck in traffic on the Chiswick Bridge) and yet again before we pulled up at the house.

We dumped my suitcase and Duty Free bags in my room. He went back to his office on the second floor. I stared at the suitcase, the Duty Free bags and this room that had been both a garage and home cinema. The carpeted two-step runway in the middle of the room was a reminder of its former celluloid life. It was a massive space, with an adjoining shower and laundry room. It had plenty of ceiling lights but no windows, which made it feel a bit like a garage. I didn’t bother unpacking that day (or properly until about a year later if that) because I planned to move out two months later to live with a friend from university. In just eight weeks, I’d be living with someone my own age again and my bedroom would have windows. Or so I thought.

This is where the real story begins. And welcome to the start of your education on surviving life as a lowly lodger (plus how to guess the weather to match your wardrobe and prevent the premature onset of rickets through lack of vitamin D caused by no windows for nearly 14 months, of course…)

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The short goodbye

It started with a knock on my door. I lay in bed, staring at the sunlight dancing on the ceiling. I hadn’t got back from work until after 11pm the night before. Laden with Tesco bags, I was faced with Henry snogging some girl called Flora from Wimbledon High in the kitchen. The party hadn’t died down until five. It was 10 O’Clock.

‘Sas? Sorry. Are you awake?’

I threw my body off the bed and came to the door. ‘Hi Lil, sorry, I’m awake. I’m just lying in bed looking at the ceiling. How are you doing?’

She gave me a slight smile. ‘Fine. I’m… fine. Can I… ah, have a chat when you’re up and dressed downstairs?’

‘Yes, sure,’ I said noticing the shy cigarette resting by her side.

When I went downstairs, there was a new cigarette resting between two of Lilac’s slim fingers.

‘Everything OK?’ I asked. She gave me a faint smile.

‘Things are going to get nasty around here and I don’t think it’s fair on you. I’ve loved having you around. In fact, you’re my favourite ever lodger. Lily will tell you that,’ she said, stopping to take a drag. ‘But I can already feel how stressed I’m getting and Henry’s exams aren’t for another two months.’

‘No, I understand,’ I said, winded despite empathising. What now?

‘I know Shark Attack has said he’d be happy to have you stay for a while. He has a house by the water. It’s a really beautiful house. And Big James has also said you could go and stay with him and his boys. So you’ve got plenty of offers. They’re good guys.’

‘Yeah… I’m not sure.’

‘Why? Because they’re men? Does that make it different?’

‘A bit. I know they’re nice and everything but I’d prefer to live with a woman. I think I’ll talk to friends and have a look around first.’

Friends weren’t moving or looking to move. I looked around. A box room in St John’s Wood. And then Crazy Yank’s three-storey house by the Thames. Two weeks later, he came to pick me up.

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Life with Lilac

I moved to Barnes the following weekend. I don’t remember much about it except my stuff fitting in the one car. Whether it was Jack or Lily’s car, I’m unsure.  They both came with me. I can’t even remember if Henry was there. Henry is Lily’s younger half-brother, then sixteen. I’d also met him in the hallway the previous weekend. He’d seemed a bit embarrassed by the whole affair. Although I think that’s because Lily asked for some sort of reaction in response to the idea that I might move in. It’s hard for anyone to muster up excitement for a stranger to move in let alone possibly sharing a house with a stranger. I think Lilac might’ve been pottering upstairs in her room. She’d potter a lot. I remember one day, she locked herself in her bedroom to paint her furniture. The fumes stunk out the entire house. I went upstairs to check she was OK.

‘Can you really smell it?’ she asked, popping her head around the door. Lilac was wearing her nightie and slippers and had her glasses on, worn only when real concentration was necessary.

‘I’m glad your windows are open. I really think you should keep the door open, too,’ I said.

‘I’m hoping I’ll get high on the fumes,’ she said, laughing to herself.

I only stayed in Barnes for about two months, which is strange because it felt like home for much longer. Although Crazy Yank was a prominent figure before we even met.

‘People call him Shark Attack. He’s a lot of fun to go out with. But we’re just friends now. He’s going to love you. He’ll be after you,’ were the first impressions Lilac gave me.

‘Why is he called Shark Attack?’ It seemed a disturbing nickname for a middle-aged man let alone one raising two kids on his own.

‘Because when he’s in bar, he fishes out the talent,’ she said, laughing.

Lily and Henry didn’t find their mother’s friend quite so amusing. One day, I picked up the landline to this broad New York accent:

‘Hey, is that Lilac or Lily?’

‘It’s Saskia actually. I can go and get Lilac for you?’

‘Cool. I’m coming over to pick her up. We’re going drinking.’

‘Great. I’ll just get her for you.’ I passed the phone to Lilac who didn’t say very much. She giggled a lot.

‘He told me he digs your British accent,’ Lilac said after she got off the phone.

Ten minutes later, Crazy Yank was circling the front door. I opened it and introduced myself. He was tall and broad, wearing a dark polo shirt and long chino shorts with a handsfree phone piece stuck to his right ear. His black shades matched his head of receding hair, which was swept back. I can’t remember what we talked about but I remember Lilac coming home and telling me that he had told her: ‘I dig that hippy chick.’ Granted I had short hair at the time and nothing on my feet but I didn’t realise this made me Sandy Shaw.

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