At Clive Murphy’s Flat
Clive Murphy at his desk
Writer Clive Murphy has lived in his two room flat above the Aladin Curry House on Brick Lane since 1974 and filled it with an ever-growing collection of books, papers and memorabilia. But this weekend he is going to tidy up, and so I realised I must record Clive’s glorious disarray lest his environment lose any of its charisma in the process of getting organised.
When Clive saw the card in the window and rented this flat, it was above a draper’s, but that went long ago as the Bengali shops and curry houses filled the street. Then, in more recent years, the nightlife arrived, with clubbers and party animals coming to throng Brick Lane at all hours. Yet, throughout this time, Clive has lived quietly on the first floor, looking down upon the seething hordes of visitors and inhabiting a private world that is largely unchanged, save the accumulation of books and leaks in the ceiling.
Walking up the narrow staircase from the street, you come first to Clive’s kitchen looking back towards Hanbury St and Roa’s crane. At the front is a larger room looking onto Brick Lane which serves as Clive’s bedroom and study, lined with fine furniture barely visible under the tide of paper, and sitting beneath a water-stained ceiling that resembles a map of the world.
“I’ve had so may leaks and serious floods,” Clive recalled philosophically, “I have been sitting in the kitchen and water has come from the ceiling like from a tap. The landlord wanted to get me out because he could get seven times the rent, but when when the inspectors came round to assess the rent, I said, ‘Do you want to see my bathroom, it’s above the wardrobe?’ That brought my rent down.” And Clive raised his eyes to the tin bath on top of the wardrobe, chuckling in triumph.
Before he came to Spitalfields, Clive had already gained a reputation as a writer, with two novels and two volumes of oral history published. “When I first started writing, I’d write a short story and it’d be accepted, but then the pace slows down …” he confessed to me, casting his eyes over to the shelf dedicated to the volumes that comprise his life’s work and then gazing around at the piles of notebooks, files and packets of his books, mixed up with the contents of his library scattered higgedly-piggedly around the room.
“You see that suitcase,” he indicated, casually gesturing back to the tin bath which I now realised contained a battered case with a tag, “it has a novel in it.” I enquired about a stack of thirty old exercise books which caught my eye. “They are for the continuation of one of my novels, eventually I might read the whole lot and write a book” Clive assured me, turning to point out a selection of bibles on the shelf next to his bed. “My mother became a bit holy in old age, but that was because her friend seduced her into religion,” he informed me wearily, just in case I might assume they were his, “I think if people convert to Christianity in later life it’s a symptom they have lost their minds or need an emotional crutch to lean on.”
On the floor next to the bed was a wallpaper pattern book with newspaper cuttings pasted in it, the most recent of twenty-seven volumes that Clive has filled. “I collect all the things and people that interest me, either because they attract me or because I dislike them,” he explained, “I also keep all correspondence and note all phone calls.”
Visiting Clive’s flat is like entering his crowded mind, containing all the books he has read, all his own work and all the minutiae of life he has sought to preserve. It is the outcome of Clive’s infinite curiosity about life. “I used to walk all night and have lots of promiscuous encounters.” he confided to me, “I was an immigrant and I had to make friends. They say, ‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ but I think that’s very stupid advice because if I didn’t talk to strangers I’d have known nobody. I’m a very gregarious person, hence by talking to people at great length I got to know them.”
It was Friday afternoon and Clive was bracing himself for the approaching weekend and the ceaseless nocturnal crowds beneath his window.“It does keep you alert and alive and interested.” he admitted to me with characteristic good grace, “I don’t know anywhere else now and I have grown to love my little world. I like being in the hub of things.”
In Clive’s kitchen.
Note the wallpaper pattern books which Clive uses as scrap books for his press cuttings.
Clive at his desk overlooking Brick Lane.
“When the inspectors came round to assess the rent, I said, ‘Do you want to see my bathroom, it’s above the wardrobe?’ That brought my rent down.”
You may also like to read my original profile of Clive Murphy
Clive Murphy’s oral histories are available from Labour and Wait
and his ribald rhymes are available from Rough Trade