THE LOG BOOKS
Season 1 Episode 1 “Crashpad needed”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
This episode contains stories of suicide and racism and historic terms.
[telephone dial tone, music]
July 31 1975
Crashpad offered, SW1. Up to midnight. This is not operational till the caller confirms date – ringing back within a month when his flat mate moves out.
This is a log book entry from Switchboard from 1978 and Phil was the volunteer who took the call from Paul.
Paul was originally from Leicester and phoned this evening to say he had just been released from hospital after being admitted for trying to commit suicide. He says he’s destitute. I’ve given him three hostels and told him to contact social security tomorrow. Paul is 29 who had come to London because he was ridiculed -he certainly doesn’t sound camp!
TW: It just makes me feel so emotional hearing that. Not only is he feeling like he can’t continue anymore – he doesn’t have some where to fall back on and at least Switchboard was there to talk to him - at least he had someone to speak to.
You’re listening to the Log Books – stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today.
AS: In partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline. I’m Adam Smith.
TW: I’m Tash Walker.
Switchboard is a helpline for anyone who wants to talk about gender identity or sexuality – whose volunteers began answering the phones back in 1974.
They used to write down a record of the calls they had taken in what were known as the log books which date back to its very first day.
AS: And we have been looking into them to try to find the stories that give us a sense of what it was like to be LGBTQ+ from 1974 onwards.
This is episode 1 ‘Crashpad needed’
TW: And we are going to be talking about the log book entries that mention home, run aways, rough sleepers, communes, flat shares, and crashpads.
AS: These stories are so common in the log books as you heard at the top.
TW: When Switchboard began in the 1970s – not to mention before then and also since. So many people have been in search of somewhere they feel at home.
AS: And Sali was one of them. Here she is with our first story of this episode.
I grew up in the north of England -between Yorkshire and Derbyshire often in small villages and towns and finally settled in quite a large town in the North called Chesterfield.
Hi, I’m Sali. I am 53. I’m a parent and a lesbian and a vegetarian.
In the 70s at that time growing up as a young lesbian there really wasn’t anything on offer. I didn’t think I was unique, but I wasn’t sure how many people there were that were like me, and I certainly didn’t know anybody at that age that was out - either my age or older. And in the press, you never saw any positive role models at all if there was anything it would be a chap and it would be usually in a comedy or something -somebody like Larry Grayson and I didn’t relate to any of the images. We moved around a lot because my mum had mental health problems and we’d be fine for a few weeks sometimes a few months and then she’d get very stressed, and she would give the keys in to the local authority and then we’d be put in care for a bit and then we would return home again and the same thing would happen again and again.
I left home at 16 - I’d had enough coz my mum was physically and emotionally abusive and I just had enough at that point. So, I packed a carrier bag, and I went to social services. My mum said to social services that she thought I was gay and they weren’t very interested in that - they just said: it is of no concern to us whether you are or not. Which in a sense - it was a good response at the time, but it would have been much better if they could have said if you are here’s services that are available to you. Do you want to talk to anybody about it? So, it was acknowledging it but not really helping me with it.
TW: People often have to make a decision as to whether they stay at home and hide or leave. Just as Tim and Elaine told us.
In the late 70s many LGBT people still lived in fear and were terrified about what might happen if they came out so what I think is really interesting is that people came out later, people stayed at home, people hid their identity.
I was born in 1945- just as the war ended in fact, I was born on VE day. So, I can’t lie about my age…
Hello everybody my name is Elaine, and I was born in Leytonstone and when I got married I moved to Leytonstone- another part. I lived in extended community with my sister in the house next door and her three children. On the other side my friend Jean lived with her daughter, so it was a very community focused time. Anything outside of my own world was quite a shock really. And having this … sudden realisation … that I was in the wrong life was really scary. I was married I had a son of 10 I had what my brother described as a hot house affair with another woman in 1981. And from that time, I realised the life that I wanted to have was a different life from the life I had currently.
AS: And that is why some people decide to leave home or run away from home.
We’ve got an entry here from 11 June 1982 and David was the volunteer that took the notes, and he has written:
I had a call from a 19-year-old in Ashford who has been thrown out of home this evening by his parents who had just discovered. We have had a long chat, but he will probably phone back tomorrow for long term advice. Luckily, he seemed reasonably together about his situation and was reconciled about spending the night in his mini.
Imagine taking a call like that and not having anywhere to direct someone to - other their mini which is lucky he has a car as well. This is a hidden homelessness - this is no outreach worker is going to find you if you are sleeping in the back of your car but obviously you do feel much safer than sleeping rough or going into mainstream services that can be pretty scary if you think you might be met with people who have the same views as your parents or your neighbours or whatever’s thrown you out of home in the first place.
My name is Julian Hows. I’m 63 years old this year. Being gay in 1971/72 when I started came out - I ran away from similar to thousands upon thousands of young people who were run aways from home because they were either not accepted or couldn’t come out at home. When it was all discovered - this terrible thing of loving other boys or loving other girls you know. So it was a lot of people moving to the big city and being lonely and isolated and having no support mechanism at all.
I was involved in a big thing at school in that I invited the Gay Liberation Front to address my school debating society at the age of 16. We’d had other external speakers from CND I think but when it was heard that the Gay Liberation Front were going to come to us in 1971 or 1972 the headmaster said ‘No no no it’s not allowed you’ve got to refuse’ so we the sixth form being a bolshy lot turned round and said no we are not going. I was expelled from school from being a corrupting influence upon the younger pupils, so I though sod it all anyway.
In the main I had a supportive mother who sort of knew I was gay from quite an early age -didn’t quite approve and thought it was a phase that I might grow out and all the rest of it but never really stopped me and so it wasn’t as though I was thrown out, I walked out.
And I had been involved with the early GLF and the GLF Information Service and various things and had been on marches already and been to the early GLF meetings as a precocious little brat of 16 or so. So, I decided to move into a commune in Notting Hill Gate and estranged myself from my parents for nearly a year - they eventually came and visited me in this commune - my mother did - so I ran away from home and went off to join the circus.
August 27 1975
A woman called Mrs Lord phoned - very worried about her possibly gay son who is down in London. If he phones in to Gay Switchboard, can we try and ensure that he phones her to reassure her that he is ok. His name is Mark.
I wanted to live somewhere where I wasn’t going to feel like I was the only person - where there would be groups and clubs and pubs and social things to do. And obviously eventually to … maybe meet somebody that I would have a relationship with and I didn’t feel there was much chance of that in Chesterfield so I decided I was gonna be leaving and probably end up in either London or a large American city.
AS: The big cities hoover many of us up – it’s the same old story.
TW: But in the 70s and influenced by the feminist movement many women were exploring new ways of living.
It was my 20th birthday I had just dumped a boyfriend and I was pretty fed up with the whole trying to be straight thing. I’m Suzanne Ciechomski - I’m 61 years old and I would describe myself as a lesbian. It suddenly occurred to me that actually I didn’t have to have a boyfriend if I didn’t want one. Whereas before it felt like it was kind of compulsory – socially - you had to be attached to a man and I thought actually no and that is the first time I realised it and then I cut off all my hair and then I looked in the Coventry Bulletin and found there was a women’s group meeting that night, so I thought ok I’m going to that. One of the girls, Pat, said to me ‘are you a lesbian?’ And I said, ‘yes I am, are you?’ And she said, ‘Yes we all are’. And I said, ‘Oh I did wonder’. So that was that the night I came out. Then I had a whole group of friends they lived in a separatist house in Coventry and just a bunch of women and I went and lived with them. A separatist house was a house where there were no men, and they did everything they could to avoid contact with men it was a kind of a political movement at the time of women who wanted to kind of get away from a male dominated world and kind of like find out who they really were just by themselves and as lesbians and as women. And we did a lot of political work and political thinking. If you were to just come into the separatist household – say - just walk in the door you might find a bunch of women cooking like lentil soup because we were pretty much vegetarian. We also use to have consciousness-raising sessions where we all used to tell the truth and people get upset - there would be a lot of crying and maybe arguments but we’d get through it and come out the other side of it and actually it was a very good process - it was a healing process and also it made us trust each other and feel more able to tell the truth about how we were feeling about things and what was happening even talking about sexual fantasies and things like that so it kind of opened up and felt liberating actually but it wasn’t always easy.
AS: I guess not everyone can find or build a home like Suzanne did.
TW: That’s right and for people who actually needed more help Switchboard created an accommodation service, so it had files and folders - all stacked in top of the volunteers on the small phone room just like Tony who remembers exactly what the old office was like.
I’m Tony Whitehead. I am 65 years old, and I never thought I would reach 65! If you came to Switchboard in 1978 - the door next door to the book shop. You opened the door and it was steep steps right in front of you and I think people did attempt to brighten it up and repaint and from time to time but my memory is of it being a bit tatty - well used … well used. And there was two or three rooms upstairs - the main room with the telephones absolutely packed with files during the day particularly it would be busy I mean you could get three people on the phones. I’m not sure how many phones there were lined up – three or four - and it could be packed and there would be people each one talking on the phone and files being down and somebody might drop something.
This is a log book reading from September 26 1975
Carl and his mate would be happy to help any lonely person who comes to London by offering temporary accommodation. They are a long-standing affair - their interests are boating, travelling etc. They have a large house.
He sounds very pleasant.
They sound really nice. Traveling, boating, big house and they sound pleasant. I’d like to meet these people. And my first response is - this is kosher – it is above board. Its welcoming. I’m interested and I think I am inclined to trust them.
My name is Jonathan Izard and I’m 64 years old and in 1978 I’d just moved to London and I was looking for somewhere to live.
I wasn’t just looking for anywhere to live – I wanted somewhere that I would be comfortable and gay flat share was … there was the term. So, I would go to a phone box with my money and put in …. What was it? … 10p maybe at that time and make the call to Switchboard and say’ I’m looking for a gay flat share what have you got? Has anything new come in since I last called’ coz I might have called two or three days before and nothing else had come in. They’d go through the papers and books and say ‘oh there’s something here in SE15’ which meant nothing to me. What’s SE15 where is that? I don’t know. And they would come out with places that I’d never heard of like Rotherhithe and Woolwich and Croydon. I thought Croydon is that in London? Well no is the answer to that. But I probably would have gone there if there was somewhere to live. But it had to be somewhere that I was ... yes. Comfortable with people I was comfortable with and who were comfortable with me too. And so, there was an awful lot of sifting through the information, jotting it down while they spoke and ‘do you want to share with three lesbians and four dogs or vice versa in Maida Vale?’ … Yeah maybe but not really top of my list…. Sifting through the information and then of course making contact with those people and then going to see those addresses and meet the people and I would say eight or nine times out of ten come away thinking -you must be joking no - I couldn’t live there. Quite often I would go somewhere and discover it’s a one-bedroom flat and you want me to sleep on the sofa bed. This is not a home. Or it’s a one-bedroom flat and you want me to share the bed with you. No that’s not what my understanding of what is on offer. So, there was a lot of wasted time.
I’m Lisa Power. I am a dyke who has been around for donkeys’ years. I was on Switchboard between 1979 and 1984. I loved the Switchboard accommodation service it was a very useful very incredible service - but it was also quite fraught at times because there were a lot of rules about what you could and couldn’t take.
May 14 1975
Mackintosh phoned ask if he was still listed under crashpads. He isn’t and he would like his name re-entered. Side note – he is banned from the crash list.
We had the accommodation service we had the huge list at the front of the file of people who were banned from using it because some people would try and use it as a sex service, they’d say they had a room to let and everyone who went round got grabbed. So, anybody who rang up and made an accusation that was it the person there was not question of do we hear two sides of this... they were automatically off the list.
Here's a record of somebody who is offering accommodation and this person says they are offering accommodation for one male between the ages 18-25 and this is a male of the age of 50 who is offering this in Chelsea. Nice part of town.
And what’s on offer here? A bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, ah… and everything is shared … There’s a double bedroom to share a double bedroom plus kitchen and bathroom. The weekly rent is £10 a week including food. This is getting more and more suspicious other details – 18-25, so there is a maximum - you can only be half his age. And it also says not effeminate.
That make me quite …. [sigh] …that makes me quite angry. Now this may be kosher and above board as the other one was it may well be but there are a lot of hints there that somebody wants a … the word is that coming to my mind is exploitation and that just feels … just very … dangerous … very unfair - very cruel and .. yeah…that’s really touched me.
This is a log book entry from November 17 1975 and Peter was the volunteer who took the call he says that Richard -a Dutch Indonesian- aged 25 has been suddenly evicted from his Watford lodging. I‘ve given likely places for him to check out for accommodation but he has to be out by the 18th I’ve told him should he find nothing he should phone us back and we could think about referring to him to one of our crashpads for two or three days to help him look around. He’s been looking but he says his Indonesian background has caused people to reject him because he looks to be coloured.
TW: I think that most of us in the LGBTQ+ communities know what it feels like to judged in one way or another to add in to that judgment being a door slammed in your face from within your own community must be … must be a truly incredibly difficult experience to go through.
AS: Some people just do genuinely want to help even if just for a respite or for a trip.
TW: Yeah, definitely there is an entry in the log books from the 14th July 1975 where the volunteers noted - Fred who is a counsellor in Aberdeen calling in to say that he’s known in the area and openly gay but also very happy for anyone visiting to be given his name and address and he will gladly provide accommodation and would be quite happy to help.
AS: I like the way that the volunteer who took the call noted in the entry I don’t think he suggests great sexual expectations more just sometimes a lonely gay who would like to get some companionship while helping other gay people.
TW: Yeah, I guess sometimes you just needed to point that out…
I think for me just how much an attempt to find a home or a place to stay was so embedded with risk and the number of entries that we’ve found that talk about sharing a double bed or asking for a very specific type of person in the ad is just so glaringly obvious how much trust there was - which I think you still really need a lot today.
AS: People are still obviously looking for homes and now today queer people use very different methods from phoning Switchboard like they might have done in the 70s. There are Facebook groups there is Spare Room – website, apps, and everything like that so flat hunting is very different but what is interesting is that people do still often want to live in a LGBTQ+ household or a queer household and some of those Facebook groups are specifically for people with the same sexuality or the same gender identity that kind of thing.
TW: I just think these entries and these memories and commentary on the situation in the past just bring into light the ever expressing need to support those left on the street or in their car or just those left without a home - which is why we went out and spoke to some people who work in that area today such as the Albert Kennedy Trust now known as AKT and the Outside Project.
30 years ago, this year - and ally set up AKT up because any young people were facing homelessness after coming out to their parents.
I’m Tim Sigsworth. I am Chief Exec of the Albert Kennedy Trust now known as AKT. I am passionate about LGBTQ+ rights. AKT provides safe homes and better futures for LGBTQ+ people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. What’s changed in terms of the problem - is very little. The only thing I’m thankful for is there is access to safe homes, support, mentoring and better futures for LGBTQ young people coming out today. But I think about a young person like Josh. Josh came to us after being thrown out by his violent father when he came out to him. Josh had to live on the streets he turned to survival sex and got into the chemsex scene and had acute mental health problems as a result of his experience. When he came to us the first thing we needed to do was put him in safe housing and take him to a sexual health service and as a result Josh he find out was HIV+ at just 17 years of age. So, what he did with Josh we supported him into safe housing. We got him mentoring we got him a counsellor to help him with his experience around diagnosed HIV+.
Suki was a young women who came to us whose parents had … she’d come out in a devoutly religious family and they wanted to send her away to be married and obviously as a lesbian she wanted to hold on to her identity and be in a relationship with another woman. So, with her - we had to take her out a forced Marriage Protection Order to keep her safe. We had to put her in safe housing, and we helped her to continue with her education because the thing with Suki she was determined to finish her education and she is now actually studying to be psychologist - so is absolutely wonderful. Things turned out well for her but unfortunately she still hasn’t be reconciled with her family.
My folks are quite old fashioned - being Asian – I mean they quite religious I’m Dave. I’m 45 and I like pizza. The reason why I left my parents place is because we really didn’t see eye to eye on things and they come from a different background I guess it’s like the ultimate sin or cardinal sin or whatever you want to call it. I’ve lived in squats. I’ve made good friends who can support me for a while obviously its strains the relationship as well especially if you’ve got a one bedroom flat -you want to go to bed early they want to watch a film so is kind of a bit clashing and so it is a bit hard as well. Like day centres sometimes people have got dogs, drugs, they could just spark off quite easily the one that I saw in Whitechapel the guy had a dog and one guy said ‘Oh your dog bit me’ and then plates were flying and stuff like that so you didn’t want to be in a situation where you got caught like that so I found it quite scary and not a very good … I just probably walk away or run away the first thing when I see a fight so is not a place where I want to be.
Hi, my name is Carla Ecola. I use she/they pronouns and I’m the founder/director of the Outside Project -which is a LGBTIQ+ homeless crisis shelter and community shelter that is now based in central London. From the little research that we do have its estimated that 25% of the homeless population within London are LGBTIQ+ - that’s not just youth homelessness that is across the board. 1 in 4 that are homeless being LGBTITQ+ which is a huge over representation in itself and I think if you were to look at any minority demographic and show that as the same representation - it would be classed as a crisis and there would be a big response. I’m not quite sure what gone wrong in our campaigning world for our services -where there hasn’t been a huge response from the system in trying to bring that figure down and trying to explore how that’s happened. These reports and these statistics have been out for years…
TW: So we’ve been hearing stories from people about their home life …
AS: But we’ve got to move on to the next episode …
TW: Yeah, we are moving on to night life such an important part of life for gay men and lesbians in the 70s and. of course, the LGBTQ+ community today …
AS: Everyone likes a bit of a dance on a Friday night!
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s names.
AS: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Adam Smith and Tash Walker in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
AS: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute.
AS: The folks at Acast,
TW: Gareth Mitchell at Imperial College London,
AS: The staff and volunteers at Switchboard.
TW: And all the contributors who shared their stories.
45 years on Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you are affected by any of the issues in this podcast or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality you can call Switchboard on 0300 3300630; email email@example.com; or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money or time to help.