Eaton Square and Sex in the Stars
The tall windows of the flat that Nell’s father had lent us had glass that was stained purple at the top so that, looking down the stuccoed length of Eaton Square, with its slowly teaming tide of traffic and rough squares of foliage, made the sky always seem romantically stormy, and our apartment with its lush sumptuous carpet into which one’s feet sank so voluptuously called for wild passions and bare feet.
A huge Renaissance picture of romping cherubs hung on one wall, the tall doors were ornate with gilded swirls and curlicues, the two rooms we lived in had been the first floor reception rooms of a Victorian mansion.
One of these had been sub-divided with a partition and I soon began work with hammer and crowbar destroying the partition. The noble proportions of the second room were thus revealed, light once again shining into places that had been dark for many years, but at the cost of turning our luxurious apartment into something closer to a building site, so that to the left of the front door as one came in there was the opulent luxury of a former ballroom while to the right, where I had spent so many secret nights in Nell’s single bed, there was now a wide expanse of collapsed plasterboard and stacked wooden beams.
It is perhaps a manifestation of a trend in my life, to live in houses that are in a state of becoming rather than being, their sinews exposed behind the plasterwork some sort of austere side to me that is offended by too much opulence.
Phillip lent us this flat for the period when we first got back from our honeymoon and I got to know it better than when I had only been able to stay in it clandestinely.
Living there, we occupied a centrally heated world which could not be turned off. It was a world in which winter could not be cold or summer hot.
The atmosphere was fragrant with the aroma of deeply scented plants that invaded their scented ambience into the room from the firm basic standpoint of the pots and earth that they stood in by the windows. The sheets on the beds were made of silky fabric. The attitude of shopkeepers, policemen, postmen in the area, was tinged with respect.
Later, when we went to live in the slums of Battersea, I was to learn how different is the reaction of police officers to a burglary in different parts of the city. In Chelsea they were full of solicitude. When I asked whether they would be able to catch the thieves, the answer came; ‘Well, sir, a very high percentage of criminals are in fact apprehended by the law.’
In Battersea the police officer stood there surveying the empty drawers, the stripped beds, the ransacked cupboards and said, ‘Phew! They’ve made a clean sweep, haven’t they? Taken everything in the place!’
‘Any chance of catching them?’
‘Well, not much chance, you know, this could have been done by any one of thousands of people.’
I had been commissioned to write a play for the radio Third Programme which was accompanied by Musique Concrete and we set about creating this with a curious collection of instruments that we assembled in one of the larger rooms at Eaton Square.
There was a bicycle wheel across whose revolving spokes we dragged twigs, a hubble-bubble, a Jew’s harp, a mandolin, an Irish harp, and various pipes and other wind instruments.
The hubble-bubble leaked and water from it seeped over the floor thus staining the parquet. It also dripped into the flat below that, the home of the writer Peter Quennell. He had a small patio out at the back and once when I was executing a tricky sound effect on the trumpet, ‘I’m trying to work!’ he shouted, standing astride on the patio, looking up at the flat.
‘So am I,’ I shouted back unfeelingly.
Much of our time was spent in film-making. One film was of a script that Nell had written called ‘Sex in the Stars’ and we cast a number of friends to appear in it. The story concerned the love affair of a shopgirl and an errand boy, and I built some of the sets for the film in the flat, lit by powerful spotlights blazing out over the expensive carpets that had been given to us as wedding presents.
‘Sex in the Stars’ starred Suna Portman and Nicholas Garland. Our first scene was shot under Southend Pier where turbulent water splashed over the wooden platform where Suna and Nick were sitting, and introduced the two main characters, Taff and Marge, with Taff saying, ‘You’re pretty you know, Marge.’
‘You’re handsome yourself,’ replies Marge and she whispers, ‘Kiss me, kiss me ...’
Taff says, ‘Would you marry me, Marge, if I asked you?’
‘Oh Taff, I like you!’
‘Marry me then, Marge!’
‘Oh yes, Taff. Can we be married soon?’
‘As soon as you want, my sweetheart. And now, let’s dance to celebrate.’
‘But we can’t dance here, Taff!’
‘Why not? I’ll sing to you.’
As they dance, with the spray occasionally breaking over them, Marge whispers, ‘And I shall be a moth white bride in lace. Can there be any girl in the world as happy as I? He wants to sleep in my arms, wake in my arms! He wants to marry me!’
The dance has turned into an embrace and now Taff breaks away and jubilantly swings from one of the girders under the pier.
The next scene, called ‘Telling Sister’ begins with Marge tiptoeing into a darkened room where her sister Annie lies supine.
‘Are you awake, Annie?’ she asks.
‘Is that you, Marge?’ says Annie drowsily. ‘You’re late, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, I am, Annie. It’s nearly one o’clock! Wait till I’m undressed and I’ll tell you something.’
She goes over to look at her reflection in a mirror.
‘Something big happened to me tonight.’
‘Somebody kissed me. And that’s not all! Somebody cuddled me ... and that’s not all ... Annie, I’ve had a proposal.’
‘A marriage proposal. And I’m going to tell Mum and Dad at breakfast.’
On hearing the news, Marge’s mother goes into a daydream. ‘She’s so pretty, she’ll look lovely in white. I always knew she’d marry young. I can’t wait to get down to the shop and tell Mrs Board and Mrs Crumble, Mrs Lark and Mrs Strong (she’s got three daughters and all of them older than Marge and not one of them married). I always knew my girl would make it. Now there’s just Annie. But then, it’s easier when you’ve got the first one off.’
There was film everywhere in those days. People entering through the front door would wade through piles of film. We shot a lot of the film with blind optimism. There was a great deal that was useless, and this lay on the floor in heaps. The dustbins that stood in the hallway, too, became filled with discarded film. Film overflowed from them endlessly.
The film lay especially densely around the projector. Before actually projecting a film I would wade through piles of this crinkling mass. It clung onto my legs so that I was afraid that I might fall onto the projector, upsetting it on its spindly stand.
We ate our meals surrounded by film and when we climbed into bed to make love, we would be brushing this same mass of film away from our limbs.
When we were not making films we wondered whom should we ask in to share this world with us? A world in which sumptuous Italian meals appeared on our table as if by magic?
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