Focus: 'With no money in my pocket, I left suburbia, and my parents, for good'

The teenage Janet Street-Porter was distraught when her family moved from groovy Fulham to a suburb where "every bloody street looked the same". This extract from her new book tells why life in a mock Tudor hell was simply too much to bear
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The Independent Online

'We're moving," my father casually announced to my sister and me one cold January evening at tea time in Fulham; "To Perivale." He might as well have said Afghanistan or Mars. I had no idea where my parents were talking about. The western extremities of the Central Line were quite outside my experience. We had no relatives or close friends there at all.

'We're moving," my father casually announced to my sister and me one cold January evening at tea time in Fulham; "To Perivale." He might as well have said Afghanistan or Mars. I had no idea where my parents were talking about. The western extremities of the Central Line were quite outside my experience. We had no relatives or close friends there at all.

They told us that our house in Fulham had been sold, for £5,000, to a Greek hairdresser and his family who were to move in within a month. My father had wanted to buy a house near his parents, but it turned out that none of the properties he liked would be ready by the time the hairdresser was to move in. The crisis was resolved when a workmate told him about an empty house near his on the outskirts of Ealing.

Having viewed it the previous weekend with Mum, my father had snapped this property up, without showing it to either my sister or me. Now, as usual, he'd just issued the children with the minimum information necessary. That was his style: no chitchat, no discussion. We were never offered any explanation for the move; it was presented as a fait accompli. Conversations on such matters did not take place in our household - our thoughts and opinions were of no consequence whatsoever.

One reason for the move might have been his father's recent death, and the fact my Nana was ill in hospital, a very difficult and demanding patient. Who knows? In fact he was making the worst economic decision of his life, moving from Fulham less than 10 years before it became a highly sought-after overspill area for the middle classes who wanted to be near Chelsea. Our house would have been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if we'd stayed put.

To this day I cannot believe how cruel this decision was: to uproot me at 14 from the place where I had not only gone to school, worked in the library at the end of our street, been to Brownies and the Girl Guides and belonged to the running club but, most importantly, attended the youth club next to St Dionis Church on Parsons Green. Fulham was the epicentre of my entire world. I knew all the streets, the shops, the parks, the local gangs. We played rounders on Parsons Green, tennis in Hurlingham Park, walked across Eel Brook Common to Fulham Broadway and through South Park to the River Thames.

I'd learned to swim in Fulham Baths and had the only dolly I'd ever owned mended at the Dolls' Hospital off Fulham Broadway. Of course my mother hadn't come from Fulham in the first place - it was where my father had been born and brought up, even though his parents had long moved away. But, even so, Mum had her sister living next door and her close friends Sylvia Knapp and my friend Vicky's mother, Violet Wise, living at the rear of us in Harbledown Road. So, for her, perhaps more than him, it would have been a difficult move. But when he wanted something, we all fell into line. There was no disagreeing with the latest troop movement order.

I spent the next days wandering around in a haze of resentment. One minute I was secure in my familiar world, with my close circle of friends, my piano lessons, and my 15-minute walk to school under the railway bridge in Parsons Green Lane each morning past the sweet shop and the chip shop; the next I was plunged into commuting right across London for hours on end, denied the possibility of hanging around the neighbourhood after school, going to local events and just doing what every other teenager at my school was doing - staring at boys outside the record shop, going to cafés, buying a Wimpy.

Before the new school term had started in January, I had travelled on the Underground up to the High Street Kensington branch of C&A after school and bought a skirt in the sale. I'd even gone to the Guides meeting wearing black stockings - the ultimate in teenage protest. At the optician's in Fulham Broadway I'd bought some new glasses, and got drunk at a party in Putney one Friday night while my parents were out, swigging Ye Olde Shakespeare cooking sherry at two shillings and sixpence a bottle and getting up on Saturday just to sleep off my hangover in Bishop's Park while the crowds streamed past en route to football at Craven Cottage. All normal adolescent behaviour. This cosy existence I knew so well was suddenly terminated forever. But why Perivale, of all places?

My father had rented an allotment in this part of Ealing for a year or so. It was near the river and frequently flooded but he didn't seem to mind, enjoying the drive to and from it as an escape from the domestic dramas in Fulham. His workmate Cyril lived nearby on a dreary housing estate just off the A40; there was only one road in and out of this forgettable series of cul-de-sacs, which just about summed the place up. You entered from the thundering traffic on the four-lane dual carriageway via a parade of completely uninspiring local shops, a newsagent, chemist, butcher and greengrocer. There was a chip shop - I would soon be a regular, lurking around outside it several nights a week - and a church, built at the same time as the estate, with a hall next to it, where the youth club was held every Wednesday and Friday. Every bloody street looked exactly the same, with pairs of semi-detached villas in two styles, one with mock Tudor gables, the other with stucco façades and rounded 1930s bay windows.

The only building of any note locally was the wonderful Hoover Factory on the other side of the playing fields by our road, an Art Deco temple of high style, modelled on the Parthenon. I would occasionally go to dances in the workers' club at the rear, discovering that the interior of the building in no way matched up to the breathtaking façade with its glittering chevrons of red, blue and green ceramic tiling, and its gorgeous green-painted geometric iron gates.

In Fulham we had shared our house, our bathroom, our hall. We had an outside loo, a scullery with a white old sink we washed in, and my sister and I shared a bedroom. Now my mother was thrilled that at 2 Bleasdale Avenue we had our own front door and my sister and I had a bedroom each. Being on the corner of the road, I felt curiously exposed, unused to so much space around one side of our house after the narrow gardens of Fulham.

Here we had a wrought-iron gate and a paved area at the front of the house in which were planted roses. But inside our new home the bathroom was tiny, the toilet on the upstairs landing little more than a cupboard with zero privacy.

The 10-minute walk to Perivale Underground station was along a poorly-lit asphalt path between two sets of chain-link fences skirting a playing field. The nearest open green space which was not a manicured park was a mile away, Horsenden Hill. We weren't in London, we weren't in the countryside. We were in a featureless, recently-built zone of housing estates, factories, pubs with huge car parks, golf courses and football pitches. Street after street was empty all day, as all the inhabitants worked every hour God sent to pay their mortgages. This was suburbia, and I was going to have to like it or lump it.

From the outset I felt a complete outsider. What did Perivale have to offer someone who had grown up in Fulham, with its Victorian terraced houses, its exciting proximity to the glamorous Georgian squares of Chelsea and the fascinating shops of the King's Road, which seemed like a cosmopolitan village in the late Fifties and early Sixties?

For the next six years I would spend several hours each day commuting to grammar school in Fulham, clubs in Soho and finally architctural college in Bloomsbury. I lost count of the time spent waiting on the platform of North Acton Station for a West Ruislip train, shivering from the cold and the grim realisation that once again I'd be in the dog-house with Dad for coming home after the permitted hour. Finally, one Friday night, I'd had enough - I walked out with no money in my pocket and caught a train to Earls Court. I had left suburbia, and my parents, for good.

Extracted from 'Baggage: My Childhood' by Janet Street-Porter (Headline). To order your copy for £13.99 including p&p (normal rrp £16.99), call 0870 755 2122 and quote offer code BSH121A