There are few Mediterranean families that don't have a curtain screen when they first arrive in this country. While most southern European immigrants tend to leave the screen behind along with the bedsits they move on from, in our case, both remained part of our lives as my dad failed to move us onto better things.
Got 30 people all sleeping in a bedsit? Not an issue. For the Mediterranean family, the curtain screen presents a solution to many problems. My dad, an ardent supporter of the screen, quelled any unrest from my sister and I by allowing us to decorate our curtain screen with stickers and posters, a kind of substitute for not having any wall space. While one half of the screen was covered with my sister’s Culture Club posters, my side was covered with pictures of Liverpool FC, the Six Million Dollar Man, Victoria Principal and Madonna at various times. Behind that screen, I was able to be anyone. I was able to pretend I was anywhere else but there.
At ten years of age however, I'd had enough and bought myself a kid's-sized tent from Brixton High Road. Held together by rope tethered to the legs of several chairs, I pitched my bright yellow tent in the middle of our bedsit, and I was in there when the bemused Padre turned up on my second and final night in my new abode to enquire why the family had stopped attending Sunday mass.
Despite my mum's efforts to get us a council flat, my dad remained unmoved. "What do the kids want their own rooms for?" he'd say. "We're a family. You don't want them to be like the English, in their separate rooms all day, not talking to one another".
My dad reasoned with my mum that with the curtain screen, anything was possible. "You want a drawing room, here," he'd say pushing the screen to one side of the room and sealing off a corner. "Here's your drawing room"..."A games room for the kids?...OK, let's just take this little baby over here"... Back and forth the screen would go. The council flat never came.
"'What do the kids want their own rooms for?' he'd say. 'We’re a family. You don’t want them to be like the English, in separate rooms all day, not talking to one another'."
Indeed, the curtain screen proved very versatile. Whenever my dad was getting changed, or working out, one of us would be dispatched by our mum to wheel the screen over to him and give him his own privacy. We had the move down to a tee. We could shift it from one end of the room to the other in less than 3 seconds. We were like Formula 1 mechanics carrying out a wheel change. We even had our own jump suits and baseball caps.
However, we knew we weren't the fastest screen movers. A family at number 43 were curtain screen legends and enjoyed an elevated status within our community. They could shift their screen all the way from the kitchen, where the grandmother would wash every night, through to the bedroom, to afford the amorous father and mother some privacy as they made love like animals until nearly midnight (any of the five children could be summoned to do the moving at any hour, even on a school night - it didn't matter), in fifteen seconds flat. This was no mean feat when you consider their flat wasn't self-contained and the kids would have to negotiate safe passage for the screen via the cold, concrete floor of the yard just to get to the room.
When I hit sixteen, our screen, by then splattered with paint after my dad had taken up art, was given a new lease of life when I took refuge behind it to enjoy a brief and it must be said, intense dalliance with pornography. My family thought I was revising for my GCSE's, but hell no, I was busy marvelling at female flesh.
Some weeks later, I was again behind the screen, this time in a state of shock, as I realised my porn addiction (now curtailed after my sister discovered a copy of Escort hidden away in the sleeve of my Johnny Hates Jazz album) had meant I had passed only the one GCSE.
Sometimes, during the subsequent shameful episodes that have often brought my life to its knees, I’ve wished I was still able to hide behind that screen. I think I miss it. I really do.
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