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Q & A


As told to Harriet Maxwell, digital manager

Viv's home is in Elephant and Castle. Recently it was gutted by fire so she is living in temporary accommodation in Peckham while it is repaired.

She has lived in Elephant for 20 years. Before then she was living on the streets. She first became homeless at the age of 42, the situation at home became impossible so she left her children with their father so they could remain at school, and went to stay with friends and then she found herself on the streets and in hostels. She has an immense knowledge of the streets of London, and now gives tours of some of the places where she once slept through Unseen Tours.

Viv's story

What’s your earliest memory of home?

My earliest memory is being upstairs in the flat in my Granny's house in Norway. I don’t know how old I was, probably about 9-10 months old, something like that. Screaming in a cot for my parents. That's where I lived at the time, in Bergen.

Where is home for you?

Elephant. Elephant and Castle to give it the proper name. Or Newington Butts. I don't count Peckham as home because it is temporary accommodation.

How do you make people feel welcome in your home?

I don’t have visitors! I’ve had two people in that flat since I've moved in. That's it.

It's because of my partner, he doesn't want anybody. As far I'm concerned I'm too busy working.

I like socialising with girlfriends – I'll invite them to dinner parties maybe. When I was running a family, that's what we did.

What meal do you especially associate with home?

Maybe lentil shepherd's pie with Norwegian salad. When I was vegetarian (years ago) I used to do an aubergine dish, with layers of aubergine, tomato sauce, cheese and sour cream or buttermilk.

You slice them round, and you do the salt thing, then you deep fry them like chips. And then you make a sauce. It's a bit involved. I used to make it for dinner parties.

Are there smells or sounds that you associate with home?

I burn incense – patchouli, sandalwood. I’ve got something called dragon blood at the moment.

And perfume as well, My favourite one I can’t get any more. It's just called no7. Plain no7. No famous company. It's just the smell I like. It's one of those cheap ones I used to get up at Elephant and Castle shopping centre, they’ve stopped making it. Cos I knew they were going to stop selling it in the shop, I got about seven bottles.

How do you connect with nature within your home?

I kill plants! We’ve got a balcony, so when I go back in the flat, I’m going to have some greenery on the balcony. I used to have plants in the house with the kids around, but I’m not the best at looking after them.

I had a yucca for years on the balcony. It had been in a pot, but most of the soil fell out. It looked like it was dying and it suddenly started sprouting away again. It is weed, where it comes from in Africa, it is weed.

Who does the housework at home?

Who do you think? I just have to do it!

I used to do cleaning in Chiswick, for professionals, working in the City. Some of these places were so clean they didn’t even need a cleaning lady! 

Is there a book that has changed the way you think about home?

I read so many books, I can’t think of one that has changed the way I think about home. I’ve got cookery books and I’ve got embroidery books and I’ve got knitting books and I’ve also got a library of books about London and the Thames.

There are a few that stand out – there’s a book I’ve had with me for a very long time, actually I got again cos I lost it. It’s called Bridge in the Jungle, by B Traven. It’s about South America. The autho,r B Traven, was an English guy, and he got lost, he disappeared, there’s a good old mystery about him.

What’s your going to sleep routine?

Shot to pieces.

At the moment I don’t really have a routine, as such, my life’s a bit upside down.

I’m a late night person. I’ve never had an easy time getting up in the morning, even when I was doing painting and decorating and I had to get up half past six. I would got bed 12 and 1. When I was working physical jobs I got up every morning, but didn’t always go to bed when I should have done.

What do you most appreciate about your home?

Central. The fact that I’m in the middle of a transport system. I’m so lucky. Buses. Trains. Underground. Overground. You name it. Bakerloo line, Northern line. You can go anywhere in London. I could do with a helicopter!

If there was one you could change about your home, what would it be and why?

A bigger balcony. A bigger kitchen. And a bigger bathroom. I could do with heating in the bathroom, a few towels and some sparkly bits hanging from the ceiling and fairy lights around.

What one thing would you bring with you if you had to move today and why?

Backpack. I walk around with the kitchen sink. So you never know what you’re going to find in my bag.

I might not be a girl’s scout but I’m always prepared.

I might have knitting needles. I might have nail clippers. I might have Olbas oil. I’ve definitely got wipes. I’ve definitely got tissues. Some sort of soft drink. Water. Juice.

How did lockdown change the way you feel or felt about home? 

It didn’t. Apart from I had more time at home, and I could enjoy myself a bit more. Sit and cuddle myself, or sit in front of the tv with a cup of tea, or a good book, or listen to the radio. I always go out every day. I couldn’t stay in every day. It’s very rarely I’m actually spending two days in the building, without going out, getting some food of some sort.

Does anywhere else feel like home and why?

London. That’s it. All over London. Because I love it. I kind of call Norway home and Sweden, but it’s not home anymore because I’ve not been there for a long time. I’ve spent most of life here, in London.