I became a lodger when I turned 18 in July 1966. My mother asked me to leave home, since I had started work full-time and she had her hands full with four more children. I had been the man of the house for several years, and with a full-time job, was prickly with independence and likely a bit of a pain for her. I was welcome to come by for Sunday lunch.
So I became a lodger, which in the UK of my youth was a word that had a lower class tone. I found a room to share with Simon, a chap from work who was about my age, an awkward fellow, hailing from Grimsby in the North of England. I did not know Simon well – we were introduced by a fatherly Director of the firm and so I must have assumed he would be a suitable flat mate. But within a month I asked him to leave. I had come to know Simon better than I wanted, with his his daily dawn prances around our room with his hard-on flailing and bobbing, and his early morning delighted grunts while he wanked into his socks under his bed sheets.
Within a few days, David G~, an amiable Australian teenager moved in. Sugar (David’s appropriate nickname) was sweet, funny, kind, experienced, worldly; although he was only a year or two older than me. Like so many young Australians, Sugar was on a Grand Tour of the world, and would eventually return to Oz to settle down. In the meantime, he got by selling vacuum cleaners door to door. Unlike most Aussies and Kiwis, he had chosen not to live in Kangaroo Valley (the Earls’ Court district of London) because he liked living amongst we natives. I used to much enjoy Sugar’s tales of how he sold the machines and envied his bawdy tales of seductive sales demonstrations with lonely and willing housewives. I went out with him on some weekends to try to help him sell vacuum machines, but I failed miserably at both sales and seductions.
Our room was one of many in a large house owned by an elderly, sour Polish lady. I had great fondness for Poles, since many of my friends were Polish, so I put up with her grumps. But she became very irritated one night in March 1967, some six months after I had moved in, when the Police woke her up at 3:00 am looking for me. Clumping up the stairs and banging loudly on the door of our flat they escorted me to their squad car to drive me to my mother’s home. I had to to look after my three stunned brothers and sister- Angie had found my Mother dead in a chair.
Within a few days the landlady asked me to move since the visit by the Police told her that I was a “troublemaker”. Loyal Sugar decided to move out with me and we went to live in rooms at the apartment of my school friend Keith H~, who had had to leave our Grammar school prematurely to marry Carol. A loudly yelling baby Alan Edmund H~, the reason for Keith and Carol’s abrupt marriage, persuaded me to move out soon afterward. Sugar stayed: he was wonderful with Alan Edmund (my godson) and he an Keith shared talents as salesman.
Through my friend Teresa W~, I rented an attic room and tiny shared kitchen at her parents home. I most recall feeding sixpenny pieces into a ravenous meter which controlled the gas flow to a tiny heater. Not having a fridge, instead of enjoying cool milk with my corn flakes each morning, I poured stale warm beer over them. But I was allowed to play my much loved John Mayall blues a bit too loudly.
Tony and Helena W~ were affectionate people: he a sometimes stiff, always decent ex-Polish Army officer, who was a favorite tour guide for American Express. Mrs. W~ was of Polish nobility, who as a teenager had had a harrowing escape from Poland during the WWII. Tony had strict rules about his lodgers not having girls in their rooms but he seemed not to notice when I and my girlfriend sneaked up the many flights of creaking stairs to my room. I lived in that attic room almost two years, and after me, my brother David and his wife lived there many more. My two younger brothers Howard and Christopher also lived in rooms at another W~ house next door.
I moved to Canada in early 1969 and after many months of prospecting enrolled for a Public Relations program at the Etobicoke campus of Humber College in suburban Toronto. I needed a place to stay and solved that problem quickly by prospecting a quiet, neat area a few blocks from the college and walking door to door asking if the residents would like to take in a “lonely Englishman”. I hit the jackpot at Larstone Avenue when Marjorie B~ opened the door and laughed at my silly pickup line. She and her retired husband Irvin were empty-nesters, with two grown up daughters. They were happy to add some youth to their home. Well, Marjorie was happy – Irvin never quite got used to having another man around the house, particularly one who sounded odd, had no discernible ambitions and did not follow his advice on anything.
I boarded with Irvin and Marjorie for many months until I went off prospecting for another season in 1970. Marjorie worried about me all summer. By the time I got back to Toronto in the fall, the Public Relations program at Humber College had moved to a new campus at Rexdale, in northern Mississauga. That was a long journey by public transport so, much to Marjorie’s dismay, I decided to move too. But I introduced her to my classmate Brock S~, who was polite, quiet and listened to Irvin. He stayed with the B~s a few more years and eventually became a very successful Public Relations executive for Air Canada.
Using the dependable knocking-on-doors routine I found new lodgings near the Rexdale campus, with a middle-aged couple who were also empty-nesters. The woman had way too much time on her hands though. One Friday morning, in her negligee, she invited me to spend some time with her in her room, a la Mrs Robinson. I, already happily in love and eager for a weekend with my lover, clumsily spurned her, which at the time likely took some restraint on my part.
When I got home the following Monday, I learned from “Mr. Robinson” that his wife had committed suicide the previous Friday.
Deeply saddened, angry at “Mrs Robinson” and feeling guilty for rejecting her, I went knocking on doors again. And this time, I found an otherworldly home at Moon Valley Drive with yet another empty-nester couple, the “Moonies”. They were keen to fill their life and home with a young man since their son was at college. Mr. Moonie was also out of work and depressed and frequently sought my ear to share his frustrations. But even worse: the Moonies were fundamental Christians who insisted that I constantly pray with them to save the soul of their homosexual son. They desperately wanted me to be “normal”, Christian and son-like, which given my need for “parents” would have been comfortable for me if I had not been a profligate heathen who actually liked their son and had no problem with his being homosexual (the word “gay” was not in vogue then).
It soon became clear that I was not a suitable lodger for the Moonies. I lasted about a month as their lodger and decided that the best place for me after all was back with Marjorie and Irvin. The commute problem was solved by buying a 1953 Morris Minor, which horrified Irvin, who had worked at the Buick factory in nearby Windsor his entire life, but which showed yet again that I would not listen to his advice. (He was right, of course. The car, a British toy, was totally unsuitable for Toronto winters and highways. I eventually blew up the engine racing along Trans-Canada highway at 50 mph.)
A few months later, I quit the Public Relations program and returned to prospecting. Having found a new girlfriend, much to Marjorie’s dismay, I moved in with her to our own flat. Irvin probably told Marjorie “I told you so”… I rarely lodged again. But I cannot forget the odd/kind/loving landladies and landlords that shared their lives and their homes with me, so this piece is belated homage to them all, particularly the lonely and ill “Mrs Robinson”.