I had been away for all of the very hot summer of 1976, it was my first time abroad and I was staying with friends who lived in Athens. I spent a wonderful six weeks partly in that beautiful city and partly island hopping, which was terrific. I met a gorgeous Egyptian boy there, called Mido and he added an exciting and romantic element to the whole holiday, Mido and I remained pen friends for several years when eventually, he finally confessed to me that he was gay, which I had already figured out, silly boy.
After the Athens experience, I reluctantly returned to my parents home, my mother was cross with me for having stayed away for so long, so she hardly spoke to me for several days. I was growing up and we were growing apart a little bit and I can only suppose she resented me for leaving her on her own with my dad who was rather deaf which frustrated her and her sister, my aunt Muriel, who was significantly disabled. We overcame those few cold days together and life went on.
It was approaching autumn when I ventured to my local pub, The Bulls Head and this is where I met Tony, an old boyfriend who I hadn`t seen for several years. Tony was about to become the father of my first child only we didn`t know that yet….. when we finally reconciled as a couple again, within two weeks I became pregnant.
My parents had me in their mid-forties so they were very unhappy about my expecting a baby. My father shouted at me, (the only time he ever shouted at me in his life) “Did you expect us to be happy?!” and I said, “Well yes dad, I did actually.” My mother trailed after me into the kitchen and said, her face a mask of tragedy, “Well you can`t stay here Helen.” It was the shame you see, of having a child out of wedlock, it was a lot for them to deal with. So I left, taking all my belongings with me and found a room in a shared house in Church Road in Moseley. I think the rent was £12 a week and the Landlord was called Kovaks.
The room was a bedsit and I shared the toilet and bathroom which I later discovered were so filthy, I couldn`t bring myself to use the bath and used to visit friends to use theirs until I could summon up the necessary courage to thoroughly scrub the place down. When I needed the loo, I crouched standing up or lined the seat with a gazillion pieces of loo roll. I cleaned the little kitchenette and lifting the rug to vacuum, discovered maggots underneath it munching on some rotten food, it really was revolting. But I continued to scrub and clean and made it mine in a sense. Kovaks would call round with two henchmen every Friday night to collect the rent. He didn’t scare me but I was told by other tenants (mostly young girls) that if they didn`t pay up on time, or if they weren`t in when he collected rent he would have them harassed and intimidated, ringing their doorbell or banging on their doors at three in the morning or opening their post and taking their benefit cheques.
When I was 12 weeks pregnant, Tony and I were offered a short life housing association flat which we readily accepted. It was in a beautiful old house in Poplar Avenue in Kings Heath, so I left that little room without giving in my notice to Kovaks and did a runner in the middle of the night so as not to bump into him and his bodyguards.
Some time later I read in the papers that Kovaks had been arrested and charged with a number of offences, similar to the nefarious Peter Rachman of the nineteen fifties and sixties. Rachman was mentioned in court during the Profumo affair as someone who had kept both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies as mistresses and it was the unfurling of the Profumo scandal that gave the public a clear understanding of the term racketeering.
Kovaks was charged with procuring young women for sex, in other words he was a pimp. He also regularly gave his tenants notice to quit and then put the rent up by astronomical amounts and re-let the houses to more vulnerable young women. He was further charged with racketeering. He received a nine-year prison sentence and I realised what a lucky escape I had had. I sometimes wonder what became of him, I imagine he has long since left this earth, I wonder if he redeemed himself in any sense before he died.
His own beautiful house, his family home remains of course as a legacy to his criminal past and I hope it has been passed on to be nurtured by other, much more caring human beings.
Oh and when our son Jesse was born, all was forgotten and forgiven and family rifts were healed. Babies have a habit of doing that!