After my parents had managed to convince a building society to give them a mortgage and buy their first house we as kids had to endure a steady stream of lodgers that would help to meet household expenses and maintain the mortgage – though both parents worked, it was a struggle, every penny helped and it was a case of “if needs must” – a favourite expression of my father.
Throughout the 60’s and the early part of the 70’s the lodgers ranged from an Irish family at the start, to West Indians and eventually Asians who, like us, were from India or recently arrived immigrants from Mauritius and Kenya, in a community that was to eventually grow into one of the largest Asian communities in West London.
As kids we found their presence intrusive and the scenario often played out that one afternoon the latest lodgers would suddenly turn up along with their various children, mattresses and belongings and install themselves in a second floor bedroom and then we would commence a life of polite acceptance as they shared facilities.
By and large the interactions were pleasant enough but could occasionally boil over into open hostility as, for example, when my parents discovered that one of the tenants was stealing money from the gas meter under the stairs and sneaking out of an upstairs window at night for some dodgy assignation and worse still, urinating on a mattress, in which case we would wake in the morning to find that they had been asked to leave in the night, memorably, after the police had been called.
Throughout the late 60’s the composition of lodgers was almost exclusively young single Asian men and although they were often Gujarati Patels, they got on well with us as a family and we would often go into their rooms, whereas before, this level of interaction was limited and discouraged in the interest of privacy, especially if a whole family had moved in.
In one year in particular the current Patel often invited over a young friend and fellow Patel who was lodging elsewhere, for social purposes – this usually meant going drinking and trying to pick up local English girls since young Kenyan Asian Gujarati women were in short supply – and being of a somewhat inquisitive nature I asked him what he did for a living and he replied by saying that he was a carpenter and was looking for a job that would suit his skills.
This reply rang bells in my head – at the time I had a fascination for model-making and aircraft and I cheekily asked him if he could make me something – what started out as a proposal for a model plane soon spiraled into a “James Bond” jetpack as seen in the film “Thunderball”, something that had so fully occupied my imagination after seeing the film that I imagined piles of full-sized polyethylene plastic jetpack toys in the local Woolworths – however, since I felt that this likelihood was some way off, one made from wood would surely suffice – in fact I could see it in my minds eye – surely it wasn’t rocket-science to build one ?
Anyway, I managed to extract a promise from the Patel that he would build me one when he had the time, which of course in hindsight was simply his way of getting me off his back , besides being a joke between himself and the other Patel.
As the young man came and went I would gently remind him of his promise to build me a jet-pack until eventually a brief exchange at the doorstep finally dashed all my hopes as it dawned on me that he’d been stringing me along the whole time and that there was no jet-pack in the offing, wooden or otherwise.
The Woolworths full-size James Bond toy jet-pack never materialized either and so, perhaps like the real thing, it was to remain the hazy distant dream of the future – a dream kept alive briefly in drawings in the backs of school exercise books – and thereafter a symbol of growing up and accepting hard reality.