When looking at Guy’s possible Lyceé down in Antibes, I remarked that he might have to get some ‘digs’ because the college was so far from home. ‘What’s digs Thomas’? he asked.
I explained that digs down here was the equivalent of renting a room in a house. ‘Have you ever been in digs Thomas’? he continued.
Have I been in digs Guy – let me tell you ………………………….
I was 17 and I’d been living in a cupboard at my aunt’s house in the west end of Glasgow. OK it was a big cupboard but it was still a cupboard. I had started to look for some larger premises when I found out that my employer, Rootes the carmaker, would double my wages if I had to stay in digs in order to reduce travelling time to the factory, so I said thanks to my aunt and wandered down Dumbarton Road looking in the various newspaper shops for ‘rooms to let’. I found what looked like a suitable room (on paper) and headed off to Rosevale Street which was about a 15 minute walk from my aunt’s house.
‘Knock, knock’. The door opened about 2 inches and a wizened old woman looked through the gap. ‘Yes – what do you want’? ‘I’ve come about the room’. ‘Yer no on the buses are yeh’? (there was a large bus garage beside the house)‘No – I’m not on the buses – I work in Paisley’. ‘That’s alright then – yeh can come in’. And so started two wonderful years in my life in Rosevale St.
The ‘interview’ was quite surreal. Mrs McLean who must’ve been in her eighties and who was four foot nothing, laid down the rules. “It’ll be £2.50 a week. That’s more than I normally charge but you’ll have a room to yourself. I’ll do you a cooked breakfast, sandwich box for lunch and a 3-course dinner at night.” I took all this in and then said, I wouldn’t need a lunch box. ‘It won’t be any cheaper she said’. I laughed as at £2.50 a week, the ‘digs’ were a bargain. “I’ll get the room re-decorated before you move in”, she said.
I moved in a week later to find a couple of Irish builders sharing a room across the corridor which was about a quarter the size of mine. Paddy and Mick (yes really) would get up at 5am, have breakfast, come home at 6pm, wash and have dinner with me. They never said a word and then went to bed about 7.30 and then got up at 5am again. What a life!
My breakfast typically took the form of orange juice, cereals, two fried pork chops or a steak and a couple of fried eggs. Oh and with 3 slices of toast! After a couple of days, I had to tell Mrs McLean that I would be happy with just the cereals. ‘The room won’t be any cheaper’, she said.
I loved it there. I usually took her flowers on a Friday night and on a Saturday when she entertained some of her lady friends in her main room and they’d all be drinking their little glasses of whisky, I’d present her with a half bottle. She thought I was a saint but in reality with Rootes giving me £7.50 a week for my ‘digs’, I felt guilty that I was getting away for a third of that.
And then the trouble started.
After a couple of months, I said to Mrs McLean that I was unhappy paying £2.50 a week. ‘Oh – I don’t want to lose you – shall we say £2 a week from now on’, she said. When I told her that I wanted her to take £4 a week she was beside herself. The problem was she put the rent for Pat and Mick up to £3.50 and they went ballistic. Every night at dinner I’d get the pair of them having a go at me, so in the end I had to tell Mrs McLean that as their room was tiny, it was unfair to charge them virtually the same as me. She relented and peace broke out for a while but only until my fiancée, Fiona (who was to become my wife) started to come to Mrs Mclean’s.
Mrs McLean liked her from the start and was happy for Fiona to visit me. Tea and biscuits would be delivered and occasionally a couple of glasses of sherry would be handed into the room.
Problem was Paddy and Mick had been told – ‘absolutely no women in your room - especially if they’re on the buses’!