Home Sweet (?) Home

(more from David's adventures in London ...)

This week and next, we'll have another couple of episodes continuing the thread of the story of my year in London after dropping out of university.

* * *

At the end of the previous story about my London life, I mentioned that I had given up the room I was renting, but being unable to soon find another one, had slept one evening in Euston Station, one of London's largest train terminals. As that was obviously not something I wanted to do on an extended basis, I had to get busy sorting out what to do. The problem though, was that I was now a bit 'gun shy' about renting a room in somebody's house; I didn't want to end up in another 'unpleasant' place.

So the next evening, rather than make an attempt to find a room, I went to a hostel. Nowadays, the word 'hostel' describes a place where young travellers can obtain very inexpensive accommodation, but although the place I found did incidentally provide that function, its main purpose was different. It was run by a religious charity, and was intended to provide a dry night's sleep for those who were 'down and out', and who would otherwise be sleeping on a park bench. There was a one pound fee per night, although this was waived for those who were truly destitute. No meals or facilities were provided at all, just rows of cots in each room of the building (which must have been some kind of warehouse originally), each one covered with a thin grey blanket.

It was quite an experience; what a collection of characters I met there! The man in the bed next to mine was about my own age, but was a very robust and 'rough' working man. He was from Scotland, and although he was presumably speaking English, I can say without exaggeration that I could understand almost nothing at all of his speech. And I wasn't the only one; he was the target of many jokes and insults from all corners of the room that evening, and he would roar back at each person with shouted epithets. I expected fisticuffs to break out at any moment, but it seems that this was just 'routine' behaviour.

Scattered among the day labourers and winos were a few travellers from overseas - Canadian or American backpackers. The rooms in the hostel were segregated by gender, but that didn't pose any problem to an American guy across the aisle from me; he simply waited until 'lights out' and was then joined in his cot by his girlfriend, who snuck in from her own room. Being surrounded by other people didn't bother them at all, and they too became the butt of shouted curses and imprecations as they disturbed our sleep during the night.

Back in those days there was no anti-smoking movement, and the room was enveloped in a thick cloud hanging down from the ceiling. As I describe the place now, everything I say seems to add to the impression that it was a most unpleasant place to be, but do you know, I actually found it the reverse. Perhaps it was because I had spent most of the previous few months being 'alone' - living in the small rented room, and walking around the city by myself - but I felt drawn to this place, and the next morning, instead of just 'checking out' and wandering off, I paid another pound note for the next night, thus enabling me to 'claim' the same cot, and leave my suitcase underneath it. Nobody was allowed to stay in the building during the day, but the next evening there we were all back again; the belligerent Scot, the amourous American couple, a few dozen winos ... and me.

And although I can hardly believe it looking back, I ended up spending the next couple of months there.



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