I spoke at length to the landlady when I moved into the house last week. She was pleasant, charming, interesting and interested.
She reminds me of a couple of people, one of whom is Anna Madrigal. Of course, if you haven’t read (or watched the 1990s TV series) of Armistead Maupin’s masterful Tales of the City then it sadly won’t mean anything to you. But do read it. It’s a wonderful book that transports you back to the heady days of 1970s San Francisco. Anna Madrigal is the landlady of Barbary Lane – the apartment building which the key characters reside in. She’s an eccentric, friendly old dame. In the mini-series she was played by Olympia Dukakis.
Who, then, am I? Well, I’m part Mary-Anne Singletone, the small-town, rather naive country girl from Ohio (or in my case, the west coast of Wales). It’s probably fair to say I’m not heterosexual lothario Brian Hawkins. But I am more like Michael Tolliver (“a sweet and personable gay guy known to friends as Mouse”) and at times I have the ditsyness of bohemian bisexual Mona Ramsey. Job-wise I probably have elements of “the scheming bisexual husband of DeDe” – Beauchamp Day.
(Mouse, Mary-Anne, Mona)
I guess what I’m trying to convey is that I experience parallels with 28 Barbary Lane and my own new place – especially with regard to the landlady. I really did think of Anna Madrigal when first I met her.
The other person she reminds me of a little bit is Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson in the original film of Sunset Boulevard and on Broadway by Glenn Close (below).
Why Norma Desmond? Well, she does have this faded European countess persona thing going on, living in this vast Westminster townhouse, which she owns. I think she was glamorous in her heyday. And she does – it’s hard to explain – seem eager to have young people around her. She said to me “most of the people here are your age, do mix with them, enjoy it” (or words to that effect). As I said last time, she just feels completely different to a common or garden landlord who normally wouldn’t take any such interest. And she’d shared some stories about the house coming into the family after the war. I feel a sense of history in the house, of past lives. What was it like at the start of the 1900s or perhaps during the inter-war period of the 1920s and 30s, those halcyon days before the outbreak of the second Great War which brought this city and this country to its knees – changing everything, forever. And what was it like during the blitz, during the blackouts, during the fires, when bombs rained down on London 70 years ago?
So much history is here. So much character, both in the building and in its eclectic owner.
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