A Home Of Your Own Part 2
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.
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.