We had found a modestly priced flat or studio apartment which was one large room with two beds and sparse furnishings. The apartment was in a house with two other flats. We all shared a bathroom and kitchen. You needed to use coins to feed gas to the stove and to get hot water for a bath. The house was located at 53 Bassett Road in Ladbroke Grove (North Kensington), London W10. We purposely choose to live in a residential area far from the tourist areas since we wanted to immerse ourselves into the daily fabric of London.
Our jobs at Marks & Spencer were not glamorous but paid enough to keep us comfortable as well as entertained and proved to be a great addition to our adventure. Glenn worked in maintenance and had to go in at 6AM but was able to leave by 3PM. I was assigned to the sub-basement where they bailed all of the trash that was accumulated in the store to be picked up twice a week for recycling. I went in at 9AM and worked until 6PM most days, but stayed until 8PM on Thursdays and on some Saturdays.
We were the only Americans in a store of about 200 employees, so we quickly became a main topic of conversation. Soon many of our co-workers were seeking us out to join them for a drink and even providing invitations to their homes. Since London was and still is a very diverse city with people from all over the world due to England’s once far flung empire, we were meeting and becoming friends with people from all walks of life and from many different countries. We were probably getting a better education than if this had been a study abroad program.
Even Mr. Brown, the manager of the store and who the employees deferentially called the “governor” sought me out in the sub-basement to personally welcome the college student from America. Glenn and I were struck by the fact that our co-workers were more accepting of class distinctions than we were in America. It seemed that they took notice of and were impressed by the fact that the “governor” was willing to seek us out and talk to us as an equal. This status, the fact that we were somewhat of a curiosity and our efforts to make friends with our co-workers all seemed to help increase our popularity. We took full advantage of this popularity, so we never suffered from loneliness.
As our co-workers got to know us better, it was not unusual for the bins that they used to wheel the trash down to the sub-basement, to contain pastries and other treats that had been “inadvertently” left in the packing boxes. In addition to these surreptitious treats, Marks & Spencer provided subsidized lunches and snacks so we usually had our main meal at work. Even though working the bailer could be quite grueling, I usually looked forward to going to work since it was also a great social outlet. I enjoyed spending my lunch time engaged in stimulating conversations with various co-workers as well as the many social opportunities that became available to us after work.
Glenn and I had a great experience working at Marks & Spencer. We only had one bit of trouble after we had gone to Brighton, a seaside resort on the English channel, for a weekend in July. We were reprimanded because we had called in sick on Monday, July 21st after having stayed up all night watching the first moon landing with the other guests at our bed and breakfast. We were surprised that we got in trouble for this since; previously, we had been admonished in a humorous way when we did not take the 4th of July off with some of the employees whistling “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as their way of teasing us.
We did our share of socializing and went to several great concerts; however, we also spent many evenings in our local pub The Prince Arthur playing darts and having heated conversations with the other local patrons. In one such heated debate about the Vietnam War, I blurted out a comment to the effect that we had saved their butts when we bailed them out of WWII. This created quite a firestorm among some of the older patrons and it took several pints of bitters to calm everyone down.
We never did meet the Stones; however, we often went to the Marquee Club on Wardour Street in London where they had gained much of their early popularity. While there we did became fans of several local groups one of which had a brief brush with fame, King Crimson. On July 3, 1969, Brian Jones, founder of the Rolling Stones, was found dead in his pool. On July 5th, the Rolling Stones gave a free tribute concert in Hyde Park for over half a million people including Glenn and me. It was our answer to Woodstock which took place that same summer.
We saw the Who and Chuck Berry on the same bill at the Royal Albert Hall which made for an interesting mix of rockers and “teddy” boys in the audience. We also saw Yes, Deep Purple, the Moody Blues and many other lesser known groups. One of our favorite things to do was to go to the all night music sessions at the Lyceum Ballroom, once a grand theater on the Strand. You spent the night listening to great rock music as you roamed the various rooms of this elaborate old building and in the morning there were free doughnuts and pastries for those who had the munchies which, of course, was just about everyone.
London was our home and our playground during that summer of 1969.