The Way to Hornsey Rise

Jeremy Worman

A Memoir

Sample Passages

  • A Visit from Mother

    The leaves were turning soft yellow.  I had arranged to meet Ma outside the Turkish cafe on Beaumont Road, assuming she made it.  She had told me last week: ‘I’m determined to find my way on public transport; I’d be embarrassed to ask a taxi to take me to that part of town.’  But unlike, say, the floor directions of expensive department stores, tube maps and bus timetables were not her natural territory.  There were few people around and certainly not Ma.  I crossed the road.

    ‘Darling, it’s me.’  An emerald-ringed finger pointed from the opened window of a black cab.

    The taxi stopped.

    ‘I thought this would be the safest way,’ she said.

    ‘Quite right.  You can’t walk for twenty paces around here without being mugged.’

    ‘That’s what I feared.’

    ‘It was a joke, Ma.’

    The cabby jumped out and opened the door for her.  An emblem of Home-Counties style stepped into one of the poorer boroughs of London: well-cut black slacks, dark-green silk blouse, short beige jacket and tartan beret.  Red toenails glowed in brown leather sandals.

    ‘Such an interesting drive, John.’  She gave him a five-pound note.

    He touched his dark crew-cut hair, which contrasted with his ocean-blue polo shirt, and shook Ma’s hand.  ‘Enjoy your adventure, Madam.’

    A Spurs pendant swayed on the dashboard as he drove off.  Ma and I looked at each other.

    ‘Well, what do you wear when you’re visiting your son in a down-at-heel area?’

    ‘You look perfect.’

    ‘You haven’t kissed me yet.’

    I did.

    ‘Fresh coffee back at the flat, and I’ve planned lunch.’

    ‘Perhaps you could get together a team to tidy the place?’ she said when we reached the entrance gates to Welby House.

    I marshalled her quickly across the yard without bumping into anyone I knew.  Fortunately the stairs had been recently washed with disinfectant and she followed me but said nothing.  She went into the living room and sat on the blue armchair.  ‘Very airy space.  Will you get a few friends to live with you?’

    ‘I’ve tried.  Welby House seems to frighten them off.  Traitors!’

    ‘You’ll find someone; I’m sure you will.’

    ‘I’ll go and make the coffee.’

    She got up and looked out of the window.  A few minutes later I carried in the old pewter tray from Egham, and two matching cups and saucers, Staffordshire bone china, unchipped, which I had bought last week from the PDSAs second-hand shop in Islington.  I poured from the cafetiere.

    ‘Help yourself to the baklavas,’ I said.

    She nibbled one.  ‘Lovely.  I’m pleased you haven’t given up all the pleasures of the good life.’

    ‘Why would I?’

    ‘I thought you squatter types rejected everything.’

    ‘Turkish cakes are allowed.’

    She put down her plate.  ‘I was thinking of travelling again, Jeremy; I might stay with people I haven’t seen for years.’  She stood in the middle of the room.  ‘I don’t know how you ended up here.’

    ‘I didn’t want to live a Surrey sort of life any more.’

    Her gaze peeled off my squatting dreams and exposed my fears.  How could I have any vision of my own if she did not approve it?  Was my real terror not that I had rejected her but that she had rejected me?  I saw this place through her eyes: the torn section of flock wallpaper around the chipped door; the semi repainted living room, in a special-offer Dulux Sage Green, from the hardware shop on Holloway Road; the loose floorboards; the stained carpet.

    Where’s the bathroom, darling?’

    ‘Up the stairs; first door on the right.’

    What could I trust if she was not in my life?

    Ma came back from the bathroom. ‘I forgot to give you the champagne; let’s have it now; it’s still quite chilled.’  She took it out of her Liberty-print bag.

    I got two glasses from the kitchen, rubbed them with the drying-up towel, and rushed back.  She pushed out the cork, which bounced off the ceiling, and filled our glasses.

    ‘To your new life,’ she said.

    ‘Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for lunch.’

    The stale smell of the flat followed me to the kitchen.  How had I landed up here?  Why did I want Ma to see this place?  Was I trying to shock her?  Was I saying, ‘Just look how much I have rejected your fucking pretentious Surrey world?’  Five minutes later I carried in two plates.

    ‘Voila.’

    We sat at the table and talked about family things, which seemed to come from a distant world.  The champagne intensified my sense of disjuncture.

    ‘We’re going to grow organic vegetables and sell them,’ I said.

    ‘Here?’

    ‘Yes.’

    ‘How sweet.’

    ‘It’s not “sweet”; it’s changing the way we think about the city.  Do you want to see the allotment?’

    ‘I know what vegetable patches look like, darling.’

    After lunch we looked out at the square.

    ‘Come home for a few months if you want.’

    ‘I like it here.’

    ‘Do you mind if I pop off?  I’ll get a cab to Simpson’s; I need a new outfit for the autumn.’

    ‘If we walk to Archway Road, you’ll find one more easily.’

    ‘No.  I feel quite safe.  It’s not as rough as I expected; if I need help I’m sure the natives will be charming.’  She picked up her bag.  ‘Thanks for showing me your experiment in living.  Come and see me soon.’

    ‘I will.’

    We kissed and she left.  As the door shut, I felt terribly alone and wanted to hear her voice again.  I recalled that day years’ ago at Miss Fish’s when she was late collecting me.  I had been looking out for her at the small landing window and pictured her face but could no longer hear her voice.  The silence made a void in which I was nothing.  Then I saw her face again, and heard different voices speak from her mouth, but none of them was hers.  It was as if she no longer existed.  Perhaps she had found another voice with which to speak to a boy just like me.

Summary

This memoir explores how Jeremy, a privately educated schoolboy, comes to reject his comfortable rural Surrey background to end up in the squats, drugs and hippy scene of 1970s Hornsey Rise.

The central theme of the book is Jeremy’s need to escape from the intense relationship with his alcoholic, charismatic and mentally unstable mother, her lovers, his ageing, ailing father, and about his romantic relationships.

Foremost among his mother’s lovers is former Indian Army officer, Neville Prideaux, who lives in an apartment in their house.  ‘Uncle Neville’ moves out and commits suicide, but his continued presence haunts the memoir.

Among Jeremy’s amorous relationships, his bittersweet romance with vulnerable Clare stands out, and has quite an impact on his life.

Besides being an engaging personal story, starting out in 1962, Jeremy coming-of-age makes you really care for him, what makes this memoir of particular interest is the way it explores how a 1968-style vision of the world collapsed in the 1970s, and its implications for Jeremy and many of his generation. This visionary countercultural world is not going to happen.

The final chapters are set in Hornsey Rise, the largest squat in Europe.  The embers of the counterculture, and its lived reality, are evoked in terms of its victims, drugs use and disillusioning effect on Jeremy.

A journey about discovering what really matters in life. How a growing sense of self-belief can keep someone going in challenging circumstances.

The Way to Hornsey Rise is a moving and very personal story, laced with intriguing observations about society, which all adds to its universal appeal.

A few of these themes have been touched on in Jeremy’s two collections of short stories but in the memoir he steps out from the  mask and tells it as it was.

Jeremy’s website is www.jeremyworman.com.

ISBN: 9781907320989
Number of pages: 264
Price: £0

Publication Date: autumn 2022 depending on funding

Reviews

‘Jeremy Worman’s memoir is a compulsive read. He’s a beautiful writer with an eye for detail and a good ear for dialogue. The memoir really grips you from the start with Worman’s description of his horrifying relationship with his abusive alcoholic mother and her woebegone husband and boyfriends. The memoir rips away the veneer of the British upper-middle classes, showing them to be venal, despairing, corrupt. It’s no wonder that Jeremy seeks answers in the opposite to his upbringing in a commune in north London; his journey is moving and archetypal. We see him triumphing over his conditioning and finding a voice, a meaning to life…Highly recommended.’ – Francis Gilbert