When I met Donna in June 1980 I was immediately attracted to her. Unfortunately for me, Donna was still in an on/off relationship with Tony, a long standing boyfriend from Nairobi. For myself, I was wary of getting involved with another girl, so soon after my relationship with Juliette had come to an end. We spent the last six months of 1980 seeing each other from time to time, Donna was encouraging me in my new faith, and together we were consoling and advising about each other’s relationships. Donna flew out to Kenya for Christmas and it was during that time that we both realised that we felt quite deeply for each other. Coming from Nairobi, we both immediately understood each other and what made each other ‘tick’, becoming ‘soul mates’ in no time. We both felt quite alienated in London, longing for the warmth and space of Kenya, often feeling adrift in the English culture.
Saturday 10th January 1981
When she returned from Kenya we immediately got in touch and we started going out together on Saturday 10th January 1981. That weekend I went up to London to see Donna and in the late afternoon I was going to catch a train to Reigate for a band practice with Andy and Mark. Donna clearly didn’t want me to go and asked me if we could have a drink on the way to the station. She told me in the pub that she was in love with me, but knowing that I had missed at least one train and was about to miss another, I didn’t tell her that over the Christmas period I realised that I was also in love with her! That would have to wait until the following week.
Since I was still at Art College, we spent alternate weekends in London and at my accommodation, 9 De Roos Road in Eastbourne. Donna tells a story that I would meet her at the train station wearing my bedroom slippers. I tell the story that one evening we went out for a curry in Eastbourne and I suggested we went for a walk on the seafront. “Oh!” she said. “Are we by the sea?”
I couldn’t wait to graduate and leave Eastbourne. I finally achieved my diploma membership to the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (Dip SIAD)., a qualification which I always reckoned was second rate to a degree and not worth a lot. It is with some irony that the society was dissolved sometime in the ’90s and so my qualification has no recognition in the industry.
Meeting my parents
I took Donna down to meet my parents for the first time at some point in the year. My mother (who is quite tall) answered the door and her gaze dropped down to where Donna was standing and she said… “Oh! You’re not supposed to be short!”. It had surprised her that both my brother and I had chosen women who were only five feet high, and I think she was momentarily lost for the right words to say. I later said that I could have rung her up and said “I’m bringing my new girlfriend home to meet you… by the way, she’s short!” but I think it wouldn’t have been helpful. Mum would probably be expecting a midget or a dwarf in that case!
I think it’s fair to say that our relationship was pretty intense and reading the cards and letters we wrote to each other, it is clear to see that we were completely besotted with each other. In June 1981 Donna went to Canada for a few weeks to see her grandparents. I wrote to her every single day! Whilst she was in Canada she made up her mind to run the London Marathon the following April. This was the first time that women had been allowed to run, as the general opinion at the time was that women might not be strong enough to run 26 miles! Her father Lawrence who was in Kenya decided to run it with her.
Donna was living at 21 Great James Street, in Holborn in a listed building which was let out to the Royal Free Hospital until funds were made available to renovate it. The best thing that could be said about it, was that it was cheap. Very cheap! The downside was that it was extremely cold, had no bath, carpets, or useable kitchen. Bathing was done in an old fashioned tin tub in a drafty bathroom, behind a screen incase anyone else should wander in, as I don’t think there was a lock on the door. The sink in the kitchen drained into a bucket under the table as someone had ‘accidentally’ broken the china outlet pipe, and since it was so old fashioned it was impossible to replumb without replacing the entire sink. I don’t recall us every cooking a meal there, Donna and I lived on pitta bread and hummus most of the time.
However it was in the very middle of London, next to a pub and the rest of the nurses in the building were good fun to be with. When Donna moved in, we attempted to decorate although the house badly needed renovating, rewiring and re plumbing not decorating. It was a legalised squat in effect.
Since I was looking for a job in London, it seemed the obvious solution to ‘doss’ at Great James Street, and so I moved in. However, over the course of the next few months, I wasn’t the only person with this thought, and the nurses seemed to welcome all sorts of people, some temporary, some more permanent.
Donna’s sister, Christine decided to leave her job in Newmarket and move to London to find work, so she also moved in. At the time there wasn’t actually a room for her, so she moved into Donna’s room. Donna and I had found a double mattress on a skip that seemed useable and had ‘liberated’ it, so to accommodate Chris we put a single mattress on the floor. In good democratic manner, we all shared the double and single mattresses and every night rotated one position.
The house was freezing cold. During the winter there would be ice on the inside of the windows, and one of us would take it in turns to get up and light the rather ineffectual gas heater, in an effort to thaw the room. On one winters weekend the pipes froze and later burst. The entire house evacuated the premises as it wasn’t possible to continue living there. Donna and I went down to Hove to my parents house until it was fixed. The positive side as that the house was right next to the Rugby Pub, and in the summer we would enjoy long evenings sitting outside the pub in the cul-de-sac.
Eventually a place came up for me in the house next door, which was let out to the trainee doctors at the Royal Free. The house boasted a bathroom that worked and had hot water, and a clean kitchen, so life started to look up. Meanwhile Christine moved into a room on the ground floor of the nurses house, but not before we had to take up some of the floor boards and pour disinfectant everywhere we could as it became apparent something had died under the floor. At some point Andy Rose quit his job at the bank and came and lived with us as well. I am pretty sure Trisha Lord may have lived with us for a while in between studying Drama at Canterbury.