A Home Of Your Own Part 2

Christopher Fowler
penthouse lounge So we found we'd moved into what appeared to be the business class lounge of a space station. At the time of moving in there were no buildings to break the view right across London - you could see almost to the airport. A blank minimalist household proved stunning in summer but bleak in winter. Taking Le Corbusier's quote to heart, that 'a house is a machine for living', we found that this particular machine took a surprising amount of looking after. Nothing stayed white for long in the bright or even dim sunlight. Plaster and paint chipped. Leaks weren't reachable. We couldn't see the TV unless it was very dark, and in London it's never really dark. There was nowhere to put anything - not that there was much left to put away now. I found it hard to settle. But then a strange thing happened that involved a change of thinking. Instead of being shut in by familiar streets I now started to feel conjoined to a constantly changing skyscape, and became aware of everything that was happening around me. I could see St Paul's, the London Eye, the City and the West End. We started being 'outside' more than 'inside'. Soon the environment initiated a fundamental psychological change. No longer enclosed, I kept my laptop in my backpack and wrote on the move. We began travelling with hardly any luggage to more challenging places, and I wrote about India, the Middle East and the Arctic as I went. Life became less settled, more peripatetic. My writing style noticeably changed. It became (I hope) more expansive, less parochial and in my head at least, less 'English'.
It was impossible to form habits in a flat with nowhere to settle. I was no longer able to take anything for granted. Penthouse apartment in Albert Dock, King's Cross, London I've never felt comfortable around authors who hold court, and now I found myself drifting away from old contacts, going to events for readers and new writers, making unlikely friends in unusual places, constantly looking for new experiences. This untethering was a direct consequence of shedding the old life like a snakeskin, but it had a downside; you feel separated by age and experience. Reconnecting with readers was challenging because the world had changed behind my back.
This is what happened to the forgotten authors; they didn't lose their way so much as become stuck in time. As I researched the lives of other writers for 'The Book of Forgotten Authors' I found I had done precisely what many of them had done; burned bridges in order to change. Writer friends
approved, but while they could get their heads around physical changes they found it harder to alter a mindset. Certain coded phrases cropped up. 'We're married so we wouldn't feel comfortable living as you do' and 'Of course you don't have children to consider.' We had lived in this skybound waiting room for eight years, but I knew there would have to be a balance between using a home as a place to sleep and making it personal and comfortable. As soon as we could afford it we decided to demolish and rebuild the space to strike a better balance between 'open' and 'enclosed'. We planned to rent a nearby AirB&B for a year, living out of backpacks. I packed a laptop and an e-reader. It might have been an idea to take more than two pairs of pants... The last part follows tomorrow.  


Ken Mann (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 11:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The pictures remind me of W Heath Robinson's illustrations for "How to Live in a Flat", so it shouldn't make you feel less English.

SimonB (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 13:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Interesting stuff. I'd been piecing together a rough idea of where you were based on previous posts (Now up to Feb 2011 in the archives!) so nice to have my thoughts confirmed. Looking forward to part 3 now.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 15:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You been reading too much J.G. Ballard?

One of the difficulties of modern life is our preoccupation with 'stuff'. I'm a major sufferer - whilst not exactly being a hoarder I still feel a need to own or possess stuff.

Its hard to remember the level of poverty that the masses lived in from the 1900's to the 1970's - photographers like Bill Brand and Newcastle's William Forsyth show homes where people had no possessions other than a bed, a table and 3 or 4 mismatched chairs. Pub culture, as seen in 'Corrie and Eastenders existed because people didn't want to stay in their own homes. Weddings, funerals, christenings all happened in the pub because folks didn't have a 'posh' room or enough chairs to sit people on or enough fuel to heat the place.

But the lure of objects is too seductive; I have digital cameras but I still have old, mechanical, film based Nikons, Zeiss Ikonta's, Mamiya's because I love the feel of them in my hands, the weight, the sound they make. Its similar with books; nothing beats the smell of a new book better than the feel of an old book.

Maybe we should all have a home for living in and a separate warehouse for all the stuff we just can't get rid of, to let our nostalgia loose by visiting it for one day a month for years until we eventually don't go back anymore and stop paying the rent.

Martin Tolley (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 15:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brilliant idea Peter. But why stop at just one life-stuff hoard? We could have one for, say, every decade of our lives. A childhood store for the first 10, an adolescence one for 10 to 20 etc. Maybe that could be the basis for a novel or extended series of stories - a person going back to visit their previous life-stuff(s). Or could an outsider become a "stuff archaeologist", learning about a person (successfully or not) by tracking through their storage rooms? Over to you Mr F.

Brian Evans (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 15:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think what Peter Dixon writes about above is very poignant and sadly only too true. One can see on "Pinterest" photos of poverty and slums as recent as the late 1960s and early 1970s which really shook me.

Our "house" has books and pictures and bits of our past and present all over the place. So we call it a "home". Minimalism is not for me, though my partner wishes I wouldn't keep trying to fill every corner. The flat in the picture above looks absolutely fantastic, but in a "Homes Under the Hammer" sort of way-it's had a depersonalised make-over in order to help it sell easily.

I did have a go at de-cluttering some years ago. I decided to get rid of most of my fiction books in order to make more space for my rapidly expanding none-fiction collection. After all, I very rarely read the same novel twice. Then the following week my partner won a competition in the "New Statesman"-£750 worth of Oxford University Press classic fiction.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 16:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Apart from books and bookshelves, there's all the desks and furniture, 'ornaments', the teddy bears and toys, old cars, saws and hammers and drills and other tools, hydraulic rams and mig-welders, computers and screens and printers, TV and stereo, paintings and prints, fountain pens and pencils and nice boxes to keep them in, brushes and easels and paint, clothing. None of it can be thrown away (the council make that complicated these days), given away (who'd take it), or sold (who'd buy it). And, anyway, it's all essential: the LOML and I use it all every day, almost, or would do if we had time.

Christopher Fowler Fri, 10/11/2017 - 17:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Two suggestions here;
Read Brian Moore's 'The Great Victorian Collection', in which a man finds all the objects he ever wanted outside his window and is then tasked with the problem of looking after them.
Watch 'The Whisperers' and be amazed by the level of Victorian poverty in the 1960s!

Brian Evans (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 18:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mr F, I've been trying to watch "The Whisperers" for donkey's years as I've never seen it, but it's very difficult to get. The only copy for sale at the moment is an import which won't play on my equipment.

snowy (not verified) Sat, 11/11/2017 - 12:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Psst: Brian, it can be viewed on a well known well-known video sharing site [starts with a Y, the one that sounds mildly insulting if you say it with an Aussie accent].

Brian Evans (not verified) Sat, 11/11/2017 - 16:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wow-thanks Snowy. Yes-it's up there! Well, that takes care of this evening. Thank you!!

Brian Evans (not verified) Sat, 11/11/2017 - 22:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks Mr F and Snowy. I've just watched "The Whisperers" Dame Edith Evans and the rest of the cast are stunning.
It's almost a classic, I think it would have been where it not for the melodramatic crime issues later on, although they are good scenes in a sort of Curate's Egg sort of way.

Seeing the slum streets of Oldham, being demolished as the film is being made, is fascinating and the superb location shooting also turns this into an historical piece of British social history. I worry, though, that the poverty shown here is still around.

Never has the saying "As cold as charity" been more apposite.