Norfolk House, London – sounds grand, doesn’t it.
In 1978, for close to three months, it was home to my wife, Marie and I in the second half of our backpacking trip around Britain and Europe.
Our room, in one of the many private hotels in the square, consisted of a double bunk, a tiny gas fireplace and a wardrobe. Not much else. The bathroom and toilet were down the hall.
It cost 28 pounds a week in rent, and I was paid, on average, 35 pounds a week working in factories, at the discretion of a private employment agency. (Thankfully Marie was paid far more in her job as an accounts clerk).
One day it was Black and Decker at Maidenhead, the next, Clairol. There was a stint at Lucozade, Brentford, where THE perk of the job, was drinking as much of the stuff as you wished.
The same rule did not apply at the Gordon’s Gin distillery, where I also worked, although my time there was brief, because the full time workers took strike action whenever casual workers arrived. I was on their side really, and we got paid anyway.
Now back to Black and Decker. During my time there, on the assembly line, there were a record number of faulty power tools. No-one told me it was semi-skilled!
At Clairol, I was employed puncturing half full aerosol cans (which could not be sold, and heaven forbid, they should be given to the staff) then letting the contents burst into the atmosphere. What that did for the ozone layer, is anyone’s guess.
When one of my co-workers told me I was entitled to a carton of milk a day, because of what I ingested, I asked for a transfer.
So, there I was, working in a warehouse next to Heathrow Airport, when a a Concord flew over, with the resulting supersonic boom. I hit the deck, and when I looked up, the other workers, who knew what was coming, were laughing uproariously.
One of my fellow workers was from Iran. He was a Muslim, but joined the rest of us for drinks at the Kings Heads, Earls Court, although he stuck to soft drink.
He told me could not go back to Iran while the Shah was in power.
I didn’t keep in touch with him, and I wonder if he did go back, and, if he is still alive, what he thinks of things in his country now, under the clerics. (The Shah was deposed in 1979).
And I hope my friend is living in better digs than Norfolk House.
.There was great excitement outside Norfolk House one night in 1978, when the BBC filmed part of an episode of the Ronnie Barker/ Richard Beckinsale comedy, ‘Going Straight’. Both actors were there for a scene where Barker, just released from prison, was looking for work as a night porter.
TRIVIA: Before World War II Norfolk Square was quite posh and privately owned. Members of the Wedgewood family lived in number 34 Norfolk Square.
Photo 1: Marie outside Norfolk House.
Photo 2: Ronnie Barker during one of the ‘takes’ of ‘Going Straight’, filmed in Norfolk Square.