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Appleby House

Appleby House

by Sylvia Smith


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Appleby House is Sylvia Smith’s delightful, refreshingly candid account of a year spent in a shabby bed-sit in1980s London’s East End.

Smith’s engrossing, understated narrative invests the story of shared living: shifting allegiances, cleaning negotiations, debates about whose turn it is to change the toilet paper (it’s color-coded) and who’s been stealing whose hot water (50p buys 2 baths) with compulsive suspense of the highest order. As tensions build around Laura’s adamant refusal to turn down her music or pretend to care about what her housemates have to say, we find ourselves astonishingly addicted to the goings on in this tiny corner of the universe. In the most artless and amusing way, Appleby House thoroughly indulges our very human fascination with the day-to-day and the surprising, often inexplicable, behavior of our fellow members of the species.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400032679
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/09/2003
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.46(d)

About the Author

Born in east London to working-class parents as the Second World War was drawing to its close, Sylvia Smith ducked out of a career in hairdressing at the last minute to begin a life of office work. She slowly and completely accidentally worked her way up to the position of private secretary. She is unmarried with no children. A driving license and a school swimming certificate are her only qualifications, although she is also quite good at dressmaking. Misadventures was published by Canongate in 2001. Appleby House is her second book.

Read an Excerpt


Both Sharon and Tracey admired my knitting. Sharon asked, ‘Could you make me a cardigan, please?’ ‘All right’, I replied, ‘but you’ll have to get the pattern and the wool.’

Hearing about this, Tracey asked me, ‘Can you knit me a sweater after that?’

‘OK,’ I replied, adding, ‘you’ll have to wait for it.’

One evening Sharon knocked on my door. She gave me a very complex knitting pattern and a bagful of red wool. I set to work on her cardigan. It was so complicated it took me far longer to knit than I had anticipated. I moaned to Tracey.

‘Forget about my sweater, then,’ she said, which I decided to do.

Sharon had made a very unusual electric lamp at college. It had a black circular base with black wooden columns supporting a silver colander, which opened and closed to reveal an electric light bulb inside. If you preferred a dim light you simply closed the colander. If you wanted a bright light you opened the colander as wide as possible. The colander was made of tin with a design cut into it, making a pattern on the walls when in use. I liked it so much I said to Sharon, ‘Will you make me a lamp like that while I’m knitting your cardigan?’

‘Yes, of course I will,’ she replied, adding, ‘this one has a cream cord attached to the plug. When I make your one I’ll make sure the cord is black, but it’s going to take a week or so for me to do it.’

I finished Sharon’s cardigan and gave it to her. She was really pleased with it.

‘How’s my lamp getting on, Sharon?’ I queried.

‘Oh, it’s coming along nicely, but it’s not quite finished yet,’ she replied.

Two weeks later I asked about my lamp again, this time to be told, ‘It’s nearly finished now.’

A few evenings passed by. Sharon knocked on my door. She said, ‘Here’s your lamp, Sylvia. I hope you like it.’

‘Thank you,’ I replied. ‘It looks really lovely.’

I closed the door as Sharon went down the stairs and I looked at my lamp. I thought it was beautiful, but it had a cream cord instead of the black one Sharon had promised. I told Tracey.

She said, ‘That lamp is Sharon’s original one. She told me she just couldn’t be bothered to make another one.’

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