At Mick’s Flat
Mick Taylor invited me over to his flat in Whitechapel. After hanging around outside the Beigel Bakery for the last half century, and becoming renowned for his personal sense of style, so familiar is he as a living landmark upon Brick Lane that I was honoured to accept Mick’s invitation and discover his actual place of habitation.
As soon as I entered the large square between the modernist housing blocks, filled with huge trees in blossom, I lifted up my eyes to the top balcony where Mick was waiting, immediately recognising his white beard and red neckerchief, as he sat perched upon a stool outside his front door on that bright April morning. We exchanged salutes and I ascended the concrete stairs quickly, hurrying along the top balcony which gave a panoramic view of the estate, eager to shake his hand and step inside. A skinny cat ran between my legs as I crossed the threshold and walked through into the room at the back, where Mick and I settled ourselves down upon two armchairs to savour the quiet in this hidden corner amidst the clamour of Whitechapel.
The room was almost empty save for the chairs and a wardrobe with a few clothes hung carefully on hangers. Sleeping on a camp bed at one end, was a homeless young woman from the street that Mick had offered shelter and protection to, so we spoke in whispers to avoid waking her. Nevertheless, Mick was keen to talk, relating how he came to the flat and thinking out loud for my benefit, contemplating the nature of his lifelong relationship with Brick Lane.
“I was living in rented accommodation in one room on the ground floor in Fieldgate St for a year before I came here. It was opposite Rowton House – that was a rough place – and sometimes at night young people used to come and take drugs right outside my door. I didn’t know much about that side of life then.
When I went to the housing office, they gave me this flat and, since I came here seven years ago, I never looked back. They said, “If you want this flat, you must view it tomorrow.” It was in a state but I took it at once. I had all the walls done and new fittings, and I had curtains that I got down Wentworth St. I held them out and said, “They’ll do me.” I had a wall of mirrors too, it looked good. Everyone that came liked it. But I’ve cleared the flat out and I’m going to start again. I want to strip the walls and paint the ceiling with a roller. That old lamp’s been there so long, I can’t remember where I got it. Maybe it was Brick Lane?
Originally I went down the “Lane” to find things, you can’t find things there anymore. The days are gone when people used to leave things out to take. I didn’t do anything bad really, I think I’m pretty straight. I’ve grown a beard and it makes me look like a hundred years’ old man but it gives me freedom. I’m sixty-seven. I’ve changed a helluva lot. Maybe it’s going down the Lane has ruined me? I know all the people there in the shops. If I go anywhere else, I’m lost. A girl who works in the coffee shop, she asked me, “Why do you wear that red suit?” I said, “It’s the way I am.” You can only be what you are.
Every day I walk along the Bethnal Green Rd, across Weavers’ Fields, over Vallance Rd and up Cheshire St to Brick Lane. So many places to go looking for things, back alleys and streets where once you could pick up things. It was a funny way of life I had but I enjoyed it. All I know is to go down the Lane. I trust all the people down there, there’s no bad ones. A photographer from New York took more than twenty pictures of me and gave me one pound fifty. I said, “Are you short of money?” and give it back to him. I’ve had a few arguments with people, but things get better. You’ve got to see the good in people. Life’s never what you want it to be, but you learn a little humility along the way.
It’s nice to come back home and sit down in the peace and warm. It’s a good feeling to sit here and know the rent’s paid, and be enjoying a bit of grub. Whereas if you sit in a coffee shop, you wonder what you’re going to do with your life? “
All this time the girl slept, unaware of our conversation. Mick explained that, to give her privacy, he had spent the previous night in the flat below belonging to his friend Johnny. And so, recognising that perhaps this was the reason Mick had sat outside awaiting me and that maybe he intended to visit his neighbour upon my departure, I took my leave. “I’ll go down to Johnny’s flat in a bit,” Mick admitted in a low voice, as we shook hands, “He takes care of me and I take care of him. He’s a good friend, we’ve always got along well. We hit it off when we met on the day I moved in. He takes care of his grandfather who’s ninety-odd.” Walking back down the stairs, I was struck by the modesty of Mick’s frugal dwelling and touched that, when he had so little, he would sacrifice his only room to one more vulnerable than he.
“It’s a good feeling to sit here and know the rent’s paid, and be enjoying a bit of grub.”
She asked me,“Why do you wear that red suit?” I said, “It’s the way I am.”
“I’ve grown a beard and it makes me look like a hundred years’ old man but it gives me freedom.”
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