Our salvation, it seemed, was not long in arriving. As my final year Physics project, I was undertaking a set of delicate experiments intended to produce white-light visible holograms - a technology which was cutting-edge in that era. The apparatus required a certain amount of careful fiddling followed by very long exposures of the photographic plates, leaving me nothing to do but sit in absolute darkness and chat to my lab partner.
Torbin owed his name to a Scandinavian father, and his attitude and lifestyle choice to a Montessori private school. He was a devout Christian and a genuinely well-meaning do-gooder who dedicated the time between classes to charitable works rather than the dissolute lassitude typical of his less-committed fellows.
In the course of one rambling conversation in the black-out, I mentioned to Torbin the unpleasant state of the flat I shared with Rave. To my surprise, he was immediately able to suggest a remedy. Later that afternoon, he put me in contact with a friend of his who also worked at the centre for homeless people where Torbin spent much of his free time. This friend had an older acquaintance who worked for a well-known national children's charity.
The charity had recently purchased a large building with the stated intention of converting it into a hostel or halfway-house for teenaged boys who would otherwise be homeless, or incarcerated in one of those youth institutions even then known as Borstals. It had once a rather grand house set in its own surprisingly-spacious grounds somewhere in the nearly-forgotten Bermuda Triangle formed by the outskirts of Didsbury, Chorlton and Whalley Range, and not so very far from the Victorian terraces where our grotty little flat was located.
The charity had purchased the property cheaply from - I would come to suspect - a bankruptcy or mortgage repossession case, but did not immediately have the funds to convert and renovate the property. So, it appeared they were seeking some responsible individuals to house-sit the property while funds were being assembled in order to discourage vandalism and squatting. The net result of this chain of contacts meant that, after a short interview, Rave and I were considered to fit within the definition of "responsible individuals" and were able to move in the following weekend.
The sense of space in our new home was astonishing, allowing Rave and I to assert - entirely correctly - to our friends that we were living thirty feet apart, vertically. It seemed that the house had been only sparsely occupied for many years previously, and several of the rooms were uninhabitable. Even so, we had been offered a choice of accommodations. Rave took a couple of rooms as bedroom and study on the top floor - "like living in a proper garret", he asserted - while, on a whim, I took over a huge room on the ground floor with a large bay window which let in a prodigious amount of daylight whenever the clouds parted.
Our separate spaces were dotted with a somewhat eclectic collection of furniture, most of it looking as if it had been acquired cheaply from second-hand stores or perhaps donated by well-meaning benefactors. Nowhere was the clash between the grandeur of the building and the paucity of the furnishings more apparent than in the huge kitchen. This was a vast high space at the back of the house, with doors off to a separate larder and scullery. The old fireplace dwarfed the cheap electric cooker and the little refrigerator, and our few groceries and utensils did not fill even one of the endless arrays of cabinets and drawers that lined the walls.
The house was warm enough, at least in the areas we occupied; the massive oil-fired central heating boiler in the basement still worked efficiently, even if it did sometimes sound like we were keeping a small and mostly-tame dragon in one of the cellars. So, all-in-all, it was a vast improvement on our previous standards and the very modest charges the charity made for our accommodation - mainly to cover the rates and utility bills - meant that we have more money in our pockets than most of our student acquaintances.
With our unexpected wealth and good fortune in the relative luxury of our new abode, Rave and I started to build a new social reputation, throwing a series of low-key dining parties which inevitably extended late into the evening. Eight or ten people would gather around the old wooden table in the kitchen, enjoy large helpings of cheap but wholesome food - even in those days, I was quite a good cook - and wash it all down with equally large quantities of cheap red wine.
These parties were a huge triumph, in several senses. The minimal personal pressure on either party of inviting a new acquaintance to a "little dinner, with a few friends" seemed to work out well - both Rave and I were rather shy and reserved individuals - and certainly allowed me to have more success with members of the opposite sex than I had ever thought possible.
Rave sometimes entertained his own friends separately. In my naivety, I had only just begun to realise that he was pretty fundamentally homosexual although still, perhaps, trying to deny it, even to himself. His few, short-lived girlfriends always tended towards tomboyish in appearance, if not flagrantly androgynous, while several of his male associates did not try to disguise their proclivities, one even going so far as to wear a badge which proclaimed in flaming pink letters "How dare you assume I'm heterosexual?"
The highlight of many of these parties and gatherings was a Guided Tour of the Mansion, usually undertaken with wineglasses in hand while the main course was still bubbling away in the kitchen. We inspected the vast cast-iron boiler in the basement, we explored the old nursery area on the top floor with its wooden railings to prevent the little'uns from getting away when Nanny’s back was turned, and we checked out the cupboard under the stairs where a huge old-fashioned safe finished in black enamel could be seen.
In our tours, we found the most curious things in unlikely places: a hundred black wire hairclips hidden under the carpet in an unregarded corner of one room; a single earring set with a large white stone which we thought might be a diamond, but turned out to be just glass; a curious wooden implement which looked like a milking stool with a long handle which turned out to be a tool for agitating the washing in the tub.
But there was one room, and one room only, which was firmly locked, and which we could not see inside. It was, I had realised early on, directly over my own room on the ground floor and therefore was logically the master bedroom. But the door was firmly shut and, from a close inspection with the aid of a torch, appeared to be locked from the inside with the key still in the lock. How it could have got into that state was a mystery, since from the outside it was clear that all the windows were firmly closed, and in any case access from the exterior would require a substantial ladder.
We were curious, of course, but only mildly so; after all, we had the run of the rest of the house and all the distractions of youth and pleasant company. For many months, Rave and I simply put the locked room out of our minds.