I had been working on the Basildon newspaper for six months before I was actually offered a flat by the development corporation. Travelling to and from Burnham-on-Crouch every day did not make it easy to form new friendships outside work.
The keys to the flat, on the fifth floor of Brooke House in the middle of the new town, were handed over on a Friday in mid-March, very close to my 22nd birthday. The flat had a large living/dining room, a main bedroom and a small single bedroom, an ideal study, as well as the usual bathroom and toilet. The floors were parquet with underfloor heating.
The flat was in the middle of the row of flats on the side looking out over the town centre and from my fifth floor in this Brutal tower block it was possible to see the Arts Centre and beyond that the parkland dividing the town from the industrial areas.
Calling it Brutal is not as brutal as it sounds.
Brutalism, also known as Brutalist architecture, emerged as a style of building in the 1950s but it harked back to the early-20th century Modernist architecture which embraced the new methods of construction, steel, glass and reinforced concrete.
Many of the early Modernist buildings were, in fact, quite beautiful, with clean lines along with the functionality. Unfortunately the change to Brutalism led to buildings characterised by their massive, monolithic and ‘blocky’ look with a strong, rigid style following geometric lines and with an abundant use of poured concrete. Its name actually came from that part of the technique and in France was referred to as Béton brut which translates as raw concrete.
Although born in the post war era it became even more popular in the 1960s as the austerity of the 1950s gave way to dynamism and self-confidence. It was frequently used for large scale government projects such as universities and car parks and was adopted by big developers for leisure and shopping centres, and, of course, high-rise blocks of flats and offices.
The movement began to decline in the 1970s, having been much criticised for being unwelcoming and inhuman, which, to be honest, was applicable to Brooke House. I didn’t let that put me off, however, as to me it was a place to live, close to my work and all the amenities, and could easily be made to look nice inside with the right decor and furnishings.
The flat was basically a blank canvas. The kitchen had a fitted oven and the usual cupboards and work surfaces, the main bedroom had a built-in wardrobe including drawer space, the bathroom was what bathrooms are and the living/dining area was just a large square with massive windows on one side, a door to the kitchen and a door facing the windows to the hallway.
On the Friday night I left my car in the secure underground car park at Brooke House and drove a hired Transit van up to North Wales to collect some furniture that my parents had managed to accumulate for me. Mainly a three-piece cottage-style suite, a small dining table with four chairs, a couple of bookcases, an old wooden chest of drawers, and, of course, the stool I had made at Rhyl Grammar School, as well as a couple of rugs which I had made myself when I had a bit of a handicrafts moment.
My old pal Roger helped me load the van, empty pockets of space amid the sparse furniture were filled with boxes of books and some basics in the way of crockery, pans and cutlery as well as bedclothes, pillows, and curtains which would help brighten the flat until I could get around to making my mark on it.
I drove back down to Basildon, leaving mid-afternoon, and Roger followed in his car to be there to help me unload at the other end and lug everything up to fifth floor. Fortunately I was able to get the van into the underground parking area and get it close to the lift.
We may have made life a little bit difficult for some of the other residents as we did hog the lift for a good couple of hours. There were times when we were heading up with the lift crammed when it stopped in the foyer for people heading up to their own flats. They could see there was no room but we promised to empty the lift quickly and then send it back down for them while we shifted my stuff down the long corridor to my flat.
It took us about three hours to get everything into the flat and spread around the various rooms. A lot of the boxed stuff was left in corners of rooms for me to go through in my own time.
Once the place looked moderately reasonable we headed off to the nearest café for a plate of eggs, sausage, and chips, washed down with a mug of tea, and then we repaired to the Arts Centre bar for a few drinks.
Roger kipped on the settee cushions spread out on the floor with the ones from the chairs as well, the following morning he headed home and I said I would see him next time I was up visiting family. That was the sort of relationship Roger and I had. Always there for one another but without having the need to hang out all the time.
Thus was I left in my Brutal home, my first home of my own.
I was in a position to invite friends round for a coffee, or even a party.
All I had to do now was find some friends.
Next time: Sighting a goddess and treading the boards once more.