I met in the autumn of 1961 at a party, and I moved into his house with my
young son, Nicholas. We married in 1963 when I was eight and a half months
pregnant with my second son, Dan.
Ron was one of the first owner-occupiers in Chalcot Crescent; he put half the house in my name. The houses were built in the 1830s for the gentry, but had become very run-down. It was a poor part of London, known as “the coal blow”, and had the highest bronchitis mortality rate in the city: coal dust from the Euston/King’s Cross railway marshalling yards blew over and covered everything with black soot. There was a coal hole in the pavement in front of the house where the coalman emptied his bags, inches away from the basement windows of our tenant, a white South African supporter of the ANC.
When I moved there, the area was emerging from slumhood, the trains were being electrified and the air was becoming clean. I watched while the crescent became gentrified — they were narrow town houses with lots of stairs. The front room, which later became my office, was a junk room full of objects.
Ron had been to art school and become an antiques dealer, so “things” ruled his life, and soon mine. He turned up with something new most days. I once went on strike because there was no room for the children. I put 18 Victorian green tubs of aspidistras in a row outside the house, and Ron took them to the shop and sold them.
Ron’s daughter, Karen, had the back bedroom on the ground floor until 1963, when she went to live with her mother. On the first floor was the living room and the kitchen. From the french windows we could see the green slopes of Primrose Hill. The children could play outside because there was so little traffic. There were no yellow lines, and you could park anywhere.
In the kitchen was the bath with a wooden lid — if you wanted a bath, you had to clear everything away. I had dinner parties using Elizabeth David recipes, full of brandy and cream. I fed the children on fish fingers, mash and frozen peas. We didn’t have a washing machine for years, partly because there wasn’t room for one, and because Ron didn’t like the sound of machinery. Ron said, only half joking, his ideal woman was pregnant, at the sink up to her elbows in soapy water.
On the next floor was our bedroom, which smelt of turpentine until Ron packed away his paints, when he got painter’s block. The children slept in the back bedroom. If it was cold we wore woollies; when we got out of bed we ran around on cold lino.
I was working in advertising for Ogilvy & Mather. I had a job and it was money; I didn’t notice I had a career. It was the same nightmare for working mothers as it is today, juggling what is now called childcare, though it didn’t have a name then. I had live-in au pairs who were fine, except one who turned out to be working nights as a croupier.
In the Sixties, the fashions changed suddenly, and you changed with them. Skirts shot up, and I had springy bird’s nest hair. I was writing television commercials and started writing plays.
I turned to novels because I had more control over what I was writing. I must have written six novels in that house, but I didn’t give up my day job for five years. I had to write by hand because Ron didn’t like the noise of typewriters. He was not an easy person. He went to a psychoanalyst thrice weekly, and I went to one twice weekly.
In 1975, the middle classes decided they had to flee the city and move to the country because petrol was going up to 50p a gallon. The end of civilisation seemed nigh.
Ron put the house on the market for £40,000, but omitted to find another home for us. I had a feeling he really wanted the marriage to end but couldn’t quite say so. By then, I had three young children. I bought a tiny house for £11,000 in Belsize Park, but Ron went to live in the shop. After six months, he produced a house in Somerset — a house I burned down in a later novel, Worst Fears. I gathered up the children, we settled down and had another baby and were happy again.
Marriage to Ron lasted 31 years. A therapist claimed that his and my horoscopes were incompatible, and he believed her. He died in 1994, the day the decree nisi came through.
Looking back, Chalcot Crescent seemed the most perfect place in the world. I had some brilliant times — I was young with a future, and all things seemed possible.