If you listened to my interview with artist John Lee Bird about his days working at Crash you might remember a few mentions of his flatmate, who was… shall we say… exposed to some salubrious shenanigans whilst hanging out with John.
Well, I’ve been nagging for a while, and finally got John’s flatmate, Ros, on the show to share some of her story!
We started talking about different venues and nights in London in the early 00s, but the conversation really became about the importance of their relationship – a gay man and a straight woman – and also the importance of safe spaces and communities when you’re on the journey of becoming who you are…
Never forget actually most of the things that people would say to me like, Oh my God, your best friend is gay. But someone that’s so nice. He met him, like mean to me like, he cut my hair. He threw away my clothes. He taught, you know, like what to wear. I was like, he’s we are not like cuddling up and like chatting about boys like, he’s just a normal guy. Like, I don’t know what you think this mythical creature is.
K Anderson 0:32
Hello, I am K Anderson, and you are listening to last spaces, the podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode, I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there, and the people that they used to know. Now, if you listened to my interview with the artist, john liebhard, about his days working at crash in London, you might remember one or two mentions of his flatmate, who was, shall we say, exposed to some salubrious shenanigans whilst hanging out with john? Well, I have been nagging for quite some time. But I’ve finally got John’s flatmate rose on the show to share some of her story. We started off by talking about different venues and nights in London in the early 2000s. But the conversation really became about the importance of their relationship, a gay man and a straight woman. And also the importance of safe spaces and communities when you’re on the journey of becoming who you are.
So we probably need to just start off by coming clean that you are not you’re not an L a G, A B at ACU and I are in a you’re an ally. I am. But like, so? How do you feel about that word?
Um, I don’t know. I, I like it. I think I think allies are important, aren’t they people don’t ever win a war without having some powers on their side. Also, I think I’ve also taken my fair share of abuse. So yesterday on the tube, I, I think I was the victim of a hate crime. I was verbally abused by a man who said to his friend, that lesbians made him sick, and that they dress like men. As soon as I sat down next to him on the central line, and why did they dress like men and one day, God willing, he will spill their blood. And why and his biggest problem was that he they made him feel dirty. And he wanted them to stop looking at him. And so I didn’t use usual line. Because like Normally I’m quite happy had lesbian shouted at me quite a lot. And normally I use my I think my brilliant line of why you get in like, why you get up in my grill? bruv is that because I’m going to get more pussy than you. But I decided to keep quiet yesterday.
K Anderson 3:55
I mean, that so Okay, so he you got on the tube, he sees you. And then he decides to start.
Yeah, and his friend who is much more frightening looking than him was like, just like, you can think these things but don’t say them aloud. Not while we’re out in public. Oh, he’s brand was moderating. His friend was moderating. He was more than a friend was moderating him. And this unmasked small man was shouting about how dirty he felt by like, freaks on the cheap. Yeah, I mean, however, this then turned into like, just a general women hate because a very glamorous woman got on and he then abused proceeded to abuse her and he had. Yeah.
K Anderson 4:42
Anyway. So that takes us off from the original question about your use of the word ally. I mean, I was gonna say it’s somewhat better than fatcat right?
It is. Huge. I mean, I I really hate the idea that because I think also like, I feel that having lived with a gay man for the last 20 years. I, I don’t like that term. Okay, because I don’t think that’s what I am. I am just as powerful like,
K Anderson 5:15
did you have you had people Bandy that at you, though?
Not at me directly, but like that term kind of thrown around as it’s sort of like Well, well, you know,
K Anderson 5:26
I said weird, isn’t it like you don’t have your own agency or your own life? You’re just kind of there as an accessory? Yeah, it is. It’s weird. One of the, one of the other terms that was proposed as an alternative was gay adjacent. Which I like, I really love. I read this, like this article. I, woman, like who had come up with the term, there’s a woman Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. But the person with the term was like, I don’t want to be called a fag hag.
I want to be called gay Chase. Chase. so ridiculous. But amazing, obviously. Anyway, yes. So this this gay man that you’ve been living with for 20 years? What should we call him? Let’s give him his name.
We’d like some fancy alias for him. Okay, so john. So how did you start out? Like, I don’t know this? How did you actually start living together?
So I was a really nice, shielded, quiet, middle class, Indian girl from South Hall. And then my parents sent me to boarding school in India. And I decided I wasn’t having any more of it. And when I when I came back home, I started to assert some of my rights. Ah, really involved going out.
K Anderson 7:06
And and so and so was that because you were influenced by the people at school, or because you were so stifled at that school that you were just like, ah, I need to break out.
Yeah, I think it was being stifled. But I think it was also like, I, my parents had kind of really gone full Asian parent on me in my kind of teenage years, and I kind of took it. And then when they sent me to boarding school, and it was kind of hellish. I thought, well, you know, what, all bets are off now. Like, I’m not going to be like, you’ve just sent me to the other side of the world to like this nightmare Christian boarding school in a mountain, which is beautiful. Yeah, you know, kind of a bit like,
K Anderson 7:51
I’m not, I’m not gonna play by the rules anymore. And so but Okay, so how long were you there? Just a year before I was sent back home. They didn’t want me to, like expelled or he just encouraged not to return.
I wasn’t even mentioned in the yearbook. So you’re encouraged not to return? funnily enough, partly because I think one of the many things that they thought I might be was a lesbian. I shaved off all me when I was there. How did you get access to clippers? And they will like with scissors. So I say shave. I mean that. I mean, shaving shaving with scissors. It was not a good look for me. But you were determined nonetheless. It was absolutely determined to Beck’s devils hair cut soundtrack. And, yeah, and my friend, my still a very good friend of mine, but she she and I often took refuge in the airing cupboard, and we’d like, I don’t know, be kind of found sleeping in there together on the floor, frolicking, you know, that sort of thing. And like it was completely innocent. But it wasn’t really going with the ethos of this sort of Christian boarding school. Yeah, well, yeah, I
K Anderson 9:15
can imagine why they made some certain assumptions if you were locking yourself in a closet with someone. Yeah. So. Okay, so you came back and all bets were off. And you were just like, right, that’s it rebellious.
Say I’m gonna go wild. Yeah. And then I just during my period of going wild, my parents just said, put their foot down and we’re like, Okay, if you want to be this person, we can’t have you here anymore. So you either play by our rules, or you leave. And I had met the girl that was living with john at University. She and I were both doing the same degree. And she said to me, she taught taught to me JOHN often because like we had similar taste in music, and she was like, Oh, you’ve really got to meet john. And then so I kind of knew Who’s this acquaintance from the pub. And then she said that they had this. I told her about some of my troubles. And she said, Oh, well, we’ve got one of our flatmates is now moving out. And we’ve, we’ve got a room in our place. You know, you could have it temporarily. So this is meant to be like, I think she was like, we don’t know who this do. We want her, you know. And so I, I came here, like, where I am still down, like, Where am I? Where I landed? Um, I met john. And we got on quite well. And I got on with his flatmate, as well, you know, and they were like, Yeah, she can stay for a month. That was that was the original deal. So that was in to the year 2000. And I was 19 years old. Wow. Yeah, you’re still there. And I’m still.
K Anderson 11:00
And so was it? Like, were you just like friends from the off? Or did it just take a while?
Yes, there was a real turning point. At the time, I had a boyfriend, who I’d met at boarding school, and then he’d come to London, and then we’d start seeing each other. What I didn’t realize is that he was a homosexual. Despite now, looking back, the warning signs with clear Warning. Warning signs to me, perhaps the signs are clear. Let’s, let’s be fair. The signs were. I was ignoring them and burying my head in the sand. And so I was quite, sort of, I just, you know, I just moved out of home. I, john and i weren’t properly friends then. And his flatmate and I kind of saw each other, but I wasn’t really super close to anyone. And then there was one night, and we went out for someone’s birthday party, and john invited me out. And I went out had a really good time. And you’re not this, this guy. turned up? Should have maybe I shouldn’t say his name. Okay, Carl, I can’t say Karl. Karl, you’ve got a great way of saying, Bob. Okay. Oh, yeah. Bob Shut up. So Bob turned up this this evening, at the end of the evening. And Bob was already drunk. And the kind of party was breaking up. And some of the people going home, some of you were going on to other places. And john said to me, I’m going out. Do you want to come? And I was like, Yeah, why not? And then Bob came along, too. And it became painfully clear that he was really, really wasted by the time we got to embankment station, because he started to try and run up a down coming escalator. And I still remember this, I can still see john turning around to look at me now. And this is like, the friendship. He turned around. To me. He’s like, we’re gonna be friends, but you need to make a decision. You’re going to come with me, but you can stay with him. You’re going to come with me. You need to, like loosen up and like you to get with the program because I’m a gay man. And I love sex and cork. I like an all it knows is like, I don’t know. 19 year old me was like, wow, this. This guy’s really laying out the table. Like how can I refuse and, and I picked john.
K Anderson 13:56
Bob is still running up a downward escalator somewhere in an embankment. We just
we just left him there. And off we ran. And that was my first night of popcorn. I think also, I had never, I’d never met a gay man. I’d never met a lesbian. I’ve never met anyone who was bisexual. Not knowingly anyway. So he was the first person that I’d ever met, who was just so open about who he was. And I really respected her. You know, like, that’s, I think maybe I saw something a bit more about like how I wanted to be, you know, because I’d spent so long like, trying to analyze like, Okay, this, this guy seems mad.
K Anderson 14:40
I can’t I really can’t imagine john being that assertive. He was a lot more shouting when he was young. Okay, so let me say there’s maybe some alcohol involved, as well. It’s quite bossy. I can’t imagine that. I don’t.
I needed it though. I needed it. You made me choose like, you know
K Anderson 15:00
Okay, so you ran away from Bob, and you’re with john, and you go to popcorn. Yeah, presumably that was your first ever gay venue night. Yeah. What was that? Like?
Yeah, it was amazing. It was, was absolutely amazing. I didn’t know people could have this much fun. Like it was genuinely like, also drinks for a pound with your student union. That’s how people could have so much fun. That’s exactly how people have that. So at the venue that we left his friend’s party, they had been this man in sort of elasticated trousers. And his friend had said to me keep keep john away from this guide, like, I don’t know what he’s doing. And I you know, I just met her and I really didn’t know john very well. And I this night had really proved that I was going to be the person who would follow john into Hello high water so I remember like, following him into like, finding him in the men’s toilets, sort of with elasticated trouser man. And I was like, john, you really don’t want to do this.
K Anderson 16:08
Okay, so what what elasticated trousers, like, elasticated waist or just the whole thing was
he they weren’t they weren’t they had an elasticated waist. He was he was a larger man. He’d let himself go. But john didn’t fail to see the beauty in him. And I was
K Anderson 16:26
an artist. so comfy trousers, like he was screaming. Okay, all right. Sorry. Yeah. Now I know this weekend.
I’m being unfair to this poor guy. Poor guy. You know, like he was just having a good time. But yeah, they were extremely they were like a catalog trouser. These ones that they advertised. Very comfortable slippers and you then you can get like a stair lift and one of those things that help you.
K Anderson 16:54
Okay, so if we were if we were in 2021, and you were in the pub, he would have been wearing like a slanket
be the model. Okay, so you you burst into the toilet where john is entertaining this man.
Yeah, he he, he seemed to have a real. He he was gravitating towards. This man was now topless. And john was sort of, I don’t know, like he was looking as though he was going to lick his armpits. And that’s when I encountered poses like, john, you really need to re evaluate some choices that you’re making. And then he was quite grateful to be tried to have trials and man probably was quite grateful that he’s bad people. But yeah, the club was amazing. It was just an indie club. And I it was all the music that I loved. And I really felt. I didn’t know that there were places that would just play the music I liked. Oh, really? Listen, I grown up in South Hall. Like, there was nothing I didn’t go out. I didn’t know really what clubs were. I’d certainly didn’t go to the pub. You can’t overestimate how sheltered I was.
K Anderson 18:21
just didn’t know that clubs like that were a thing. And you hadn’t kind of experienced any of that, like through university life or anything.
No, because this was like the first time I was free, like so for the first year of university till my parents kind of threw me out. I was living at home in South Hall. So of course, I had to go back home and it’s quite a long way on the tube, so I just didn’t didn’t go out.
K Anderson 18:46
I just didn’t go Wow. So like, they played the music. He liked what like give me a flavor.
And so it was like Just don’t be ashamed embrace it. There was like, I don’t know, like just, you know, like, bit of Nirvana, like a bit of like, the Smith’s bit of like the dandy Warhols, you know, just late 90s jangly indie elastica I feel like elastic. I’ve just been like forgotten. Yeah, definitely. Definitely a bit of a lot of hair and a bit of blur and that sort of Yeah, it was great. The music was great. And this place just carried on serving till like 2am you know, and then and then and then you get the night bus home.
K Anderson 19:42
Can we talk about the night bus home? Three of you had taken on this role of let’s say babysitter. Okay, so what word would you use?
I mean, self appointed babysitter. Yeah, I don’t really needed it or wanted it, but I really taken it upon myself that I know I’m totally with you there like
K Anderson 20:07
I am that person when we go out like I am that person who’s like, right Is everyone here like don’t cross the road without me saying it’s safe to do so like, let’s do this. Like that. So with that in mind how stressful was getting the night bus home?
Yeah, it’s pretty stressful. To be honest with you. It was mostly stressful because I just thought we looked like freaks. And those people on the bus didn’t look. Also we went, you know, like, there were some freaks at the start. And then the freaks were dwindling. Well, before we got to each time, the nightmares became quite threatening. And there’s this like, these two weirdos getting on this bus out of their tiny minds, you know, completely incapable of like defending themselves if they had to, and like the night bus brought some pretty hectic energy. I felt like we were really maximizing our set ourselves as targets by combining our forces as this sort of like, Asian girl with this terrifying haircut. And, you know, a sort of a very artistic, young, beautiful homosexual. I felt that our target group was widening for hate crimes, you know, really what I like? To be honest, we were probably quite irritating because we were quite loud. But yeah, we would make it we would make it home, we would make it home most nights.
K Anderson 21:38
So, so yeah, so popcorn was that first place? And was that like a regular thing? Did it become a regular thing?
Yeah, it was, it was a regular Monday night thing. So we, we really maximize the fact that we had no money. But we really wanted to go out quite a lot of the time, because obviously, once john started taking me out, he’d open the portal for like, more, I then became like, hungry for like, new, frightening, exotic experiences, as I saw them, you know, like, and some of these didn’t always turn out that Well, for me, tell me more. What we, we used to frequent, some local places, which really, I think when you think you’re trying to pages say they were horrifying. They were fucking monstrous places. They were also great fun. There was a sense of these were very local places that we could walk to, if we put our minds to it. You know, if we have enough kind of booze inside us, we would certainly walk back, let’s put it that way. And there was the angel in Stratford, which was just by a church and like, by a graveyard. And just he was like, somebodies back room, but like that, that like was like this perpetual wait was happening awake with a disco? It was there was like this, literally curtain. There were really, really sort of repeat people who were who hadn’t. And I don’t want to be disparaging, because I think people found a real community there. And they were very nice to me. Sometimes too nice. Because I was definitely the one of the few brown people they saw. And I think I was seen as a sort of exotic treat.
K Anderson 23:52
What do you mean by trade? I got pulled out quite a lot. Really? Yeah, by by women or by men, by women. Okay,
um, but I was too polite to say no, because I thought it would be really rude. I was entering their space if they wanted to pour out me who was going to stand to have personal boundaries. really rude to them. I did explain. I remember explaining many on many occasions that I didn’t think I was a lesbian. And I then I had a boyfriend. But that didn’t stop them. Nothing, you know, nothing horrible. But you think it was because they were fetishizing? You? I mean, I certainly wasn’t the most attractive person there. So I really tried to struggling to see the draw. Definitely other people I would have gone for. So yeah, no, I think I was I had a lot of novelty value. And I was obviously pleased. I think maybe their standards are quite low. I had this, what I guess must have passed off as a very kind of sort of dominant lesbian look. But in fact, I was rebelling against my Asian roots. And they didn’t realize this and it wasn’t their fault, you know that. They didn’t see the the amount of kind of confusion that. Yeah. So okay, so you ended up with quite a lot of female suitors. A lot of female suitors?
K Anderson 25:30
Do you still call it a suitor? If it’s a female? What’s the origin of that word? sutar sutar. Anyway, I’ll look that up. So at some point, and was john, okay. So I have to ask this question, knowing that john might listen to this. Was he? Okay? Okay, I’ll say it like this. Sometimes homosexual men, bring female friends to the nightclub with them, and then abandon them because they’re getting off with someone that did that happen at all, ever.
He never abandoned me. But often, I think it legitimized the frightened men that he was approaching. Because I had this air of sort of like, I don’t know, like, I think knowledge, I think I’ve said that the wrong way. Like, sometimes, it was a good way of saying, like, I’m not mad, see, look at my very nice Indian friend that I brought with me. It’s completely safe to come home with me. I’m very kind good man. He’s taken in this naive young child into my home, you’ll be completely safe. And I definitely know that that has happened. So you helped him get laid more? Maybe? I mean, I can’t really talk about what happened before pre pre me.
K Anderson 27:02
And then to how did your parents respond to you moving in, to like, into a place on the other side of London,
they were not happy at all. My dad was almost certainly more horrified by the fact that I was living with a homosexual.
K Anderson 27:21
And, like, they wouldn’t visit the house. Because it because there was a homosexual in there offer like a number of reasons.
Yeah. But like, you know, I was living with not just john that and like I was living with, you know, two other girls as well, who were also gay. And my parents were just like, you know, this is clearly a den of iniquity. You know, what, what is what’s happening here, you know, and I remember, they started to realize, I guess, that it was actually an incredibly caring relationship, and a really nice friendship. And there was a real turning point when john wasn’t very well. I remember speaking to my dad, and my mom. And they were just like, you know, butcher that prayer is all these things, but it was their answer, you know, and they were being, they were being kind. They were like, well, we’ll pray for him, you know, will really pray for him. And, and then, after he was okay, like he, they, my parents started to kind of come over. And, like, my mum ended up coming to some of John’s exhibitions, like, yeah, like, and she met all of these people that I’d been friends with for years. And, like, shot some really shocking things stage. I remember seeing, like, one of our friends during a strip, you know, like, that’s like, Oh, my God, Mom, please. We didn’t we take a little walk, you know, like thinking might be too much for this. But yeah, she came to some of the exhibitions, and then my parents both came to the house and like, they, they met john, they really liked him. Now, you know, they’ll, they’ll ask after him all the time. And they, you know, I remember my dad, like, shaking his hand and being like, you know, thank you for like being there for our daughter and stuff. And I just thought, if this kind of really old man who was a priest can embrace this, this hope for everybody. You know, like, that means everybody’s capable of change. And I thought that was a really, I thought that was a really nice, really a heartwarming moment after that. The trials that had brought me to live here in the first place. Like, there wasn’t, there was a nice happy ending,
K Anderson 29:50
but you didn’t tell them what you were getting up to at night. Did you?
Didn’t tell them where they’ll to this day. Do not have a clue. about, you know, the places that I frequented the things that I saw,
K Anderson 30:05
and do they have an email address? I can send this to them. They’re not very open on social media. Okay, so before we go, you’ve, you’ve lived with john for 20 years, and it’s been 20 years, 20 years since
since you first had that little rebellion and and decided, fuck it, I’m gonna go and do this. If you could go back in time and have a conversation with little baby Roz, what would you say?
I think, actually, I don’t know. I think baby rose really, really enjoyed herself a lot. I think I would have said, to make sure that I really, like remember this stuff a bit better than I do. Because it’s definitely was a character forming time. Like it made me. It brought me out of myself. It made me stop caring. Like I was too uptight to dance. I was not you know, somebody who would have I was far too self conscious. I hated the way I looked. And then being taken to all of these, like amazing and ridiculous places that sadly, like, you know, it’s sad. I feel sad that I can’t take people to them now. Because I want I want them to like to have that portal back into the past because I think some of them definitely wouldn’t have changed. I feel like they taught me how to let go and might not care and like nobody’s nobody. You’re absolutely fine as you are. I think that’s a very nice thing. I think everyone should have a job when they’re young and last as long as they’re not, you know? Yeah, they’re ready for the consequences.
K Anderson 32:11
If you enjoyed today’s episode, or you just want to have a wee chat, then reach out to me on socials, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, my username is K Anderson music. Tell me what you thought of the episode and tell me what you’d like to see featured on future episodes. Love spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I have been writing songs about queer venues, and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single which is called well groomed boys and is playing underneath my talking right now on all good streaming platforms. If you liked the episode, I would really really appreciate if you subscribed or followed left a review on Apple podcasts or just told people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to I am K Anderson and you have been listening to lost spaces