Albert Square, SW8 London, is a charming Victorian oasis in a not-so-hip neighbourhood; sandwiched between Lambeth and Stockwell. At least, it wasn’t so hip 25 years ago – a quick search of current property prices informs me that a flat in Albert Square now will set me back over a million pounds. At the center of the square is a private garden with a large grassy area, benches and mature trees, that could only be accessed by residents. A very selfish English practice that is a godsend if you happen to be a resident. The buildings are well-preserved Victorian specimen, save for number 46, a modern eyesore on a corner that was rebuilt after the war from brown bricks and boxy windows. Googlemaps attests to its existence to this day.
When sofagirl and I rented the ground floor flat, we didn’t look at it too carefully: the kitchen was large, the price was right, the commute was decent. Once we moved in, we figured out the bars on the windows were there to prevent break-ins (but not rocks randomly thrown), the Northern line ran right under our beds, rattling the entire place until about midnight, and the place was freezing cold in winter. It also featured the ugliest dark green couch any furniture maker could conceive. But, we had the private garden we would rush to in our bikinis on those couple of hot Summer week-ends, a Victorian pub on the corner with dark leather couches and a fire-place, perfect for Sunday afternoons with a Pimm’s and the Observer, and an Italian bakery nearby, Di Lieto, that made fantastic bread and croissants. Oh, and a good local curry with an Indian waiter who looked like Bugs Bunny and who, to this day, probably still thinks we are sisters – who knows, the offsprings of a red-haired Scot and a middle Eastern dame??
We were piss poor but happy. At least, looking back, it feels as if we were much happier than we actually felt at the time. I was in the middle of having my heart broken and sofagirl was basically living out of a suitcase. I was often alone in that cold flat and, with cordless phones still to be invented, was sometimes awakened in the middle of the night by the calls of sofagirl’s Scottish rockstar boyfriend. “Sorry, she is in Amsterdam tonight” I would mumble. And it was hard to know who was the more annoyed – me for being woken up or him for not reaching the object of his desire.
The pub, a curry, movies on Sundays, free concerts that came with the jobs, few and far between shopping expeditions, Eastenders and Top of the Pops made up most of our entertainment when we were together. Cooking was still at an experimental and occasional stage and there was no internet. Anything that cost real money was out of the question.
I can’t quite remember when the dinosaur impersonations started or why**. But one day sofagirl, probably perched on the ugly couch, wrapped in a blanket, startled me with a stretched neck, rolling eyes: a hair curling sound emanating from her lips. “What is that?” I asked.
“That’s what a dinosaur sounded like”. For reasons I cannot fathom to this day, the image of my friend stretching and rolling her neck around, making ominous sounds was incredibly hilarious. So, when I wanted a break from her obsessive R.E.M. playing or just needed to be cheered up, I would ask for a dinosaur impression – much like a four year old would. And she would always oblige.
This all came rushing back as I wandered, with my mom, through the rooms of the Page Museum which hosts perfectly preserved pre-historic creatures found in the La Brea Tar Pits that still bubble underneath Los Angeles. I am running out of sights for my mother, a Los Angeles veteran at this point, and lord knows why I thought she would like to see mammoths and extinct saber toothed tigers skeletons. While snapping photos of giant bones and mechanical reproductions, giddy as a kid, I thought of sofagirl and those laughs on the ugly couch. Of how little we need to be happy, of how it’s sometimes possible to reframe our mood and our outlook on life just by doing small, pleasurable activities, even silly ones.
The thought occurred to me to post a video of sofagirl doing her best dinosaur impersonation but she is not as obliging these days. My guess is she is just a bit out of practice, although I could quietly slip a word in the ears of her nieces and nephew – them, she could not refuse.
** sofagirl– The impersonations started when I was with you in Bologna – enjoying one of my bouts of end-of-year-pneumonia. You were all out and about doing Chrissmasy stuff, and I was lying on the sofa watching Italian TV. Which was showing a black and white, ‘stone-age’ movie marathon. (Or maybe it was current programming – I couldn’t tell because my Italian was so rudimentary).
Movie after movie featured dinosaurs attacking Italian lasses scantily clad in a fox-fur bikinis, (well I hope that’s what it was, depilation was still in its infancy back then). And that was the noise every single dinosaur made. I think you went back to London before me and I stayed on with your mom – who treated me to the most delicious recuperation I ever had. By the way = the other souvenir I brought back from that holiday was a deep fear of suppositories. Who the hell sticks something up their butt to cure a lurgy in the lungs? Non io, sunshine.