An Englishman's Castle
Apologies for the delay in responding but we've been ensnared by the Hydra that is house buying in this benighted country.
Not, you understand, the normal process wherein one finds the house one wants, makes an offer pays the money and moves in - no, that would be too civilised.
We somehow found ourselves in a sealed-bid auction for an entirely derelict house which we had inspected once, for 20 minutes, by flashlight.
This morning they told us we'd won the auction so we now own a recently squatted pile with rats the size of Buicks and no roof. God help us. To give you some idea of the challenge, as I walked around the place with our builder he felt moved to enquire... 'Have you ever seen that movie 'Seven'?
How then, with a blank canvas, to turn it into a suitable home for a chap?
There are several features I'm tempted to keep for sheer redolence of Patrick Hamilton. It was never modernised from the time it was a classic Camden Common Lodging House so the electrical sockets are, naturally, round pin and Bakelite. Most of them are wired directly into the overhead lights by twisted fabric covered flex that hangs across the rooms like Spanish moss. The wallpaper, cheap and nasty when it went up in the 50s, has seen naught but 40 watt sepulchral gloom ever since and is gloriously unfaded. The single bar electric fires speak of drying stockings, tinned pilchard suppers and illicit liaison.
In one room, amid the effluvia of squatters, I found a tarmac layer's gas ring with an enamelled tin pan and the fossilised remains of an egg. I've placed a call to the Saatchi Gallery and expect a substantial sum from them presently.
I could never, of course, be rude about squatters having done it myself on my arrival in the Metrollops. I lived for a couple of grim years, in a gigantic pile on Camberwell Grove, just round the corner from the top secret government listening station (easily identified by the large graffiti we used to place on local road signs reading "This way to Top Secret Government Listening Station").
I became adept at tapping neighbours gas and water supplies. At one point a resident eight houses down was supplying 40 squatters with power from the spur that ran the train layout in his garden shed. I think he had half a dozen Hornby Dublo models that, for the six months before they caught us, were drawing more power than the British Rail London to Manchester line. But I digress.
There is, of course, the pressing issue of the study. I think Carlyle had his cork-lined to provide a more hermitic environment for contemplation. I shall rely upon distance choosing from a small cell at the top of the building, four floors from the Telly Tubbies or the small summerhouse at the end of the garden. In either case, it will be book-lined, equipped with a staggeringly powerful broadband hookup and an utterly silent computer.
I am a little worried about the bathrooms. I fear that the Mem may have frippery in mind. At our last house, she specified bathroom fittings designed by a Frenchman. I'm sure he's marvellous at decorative lemon squeezers but he's clearly incapable of creating anything upon which a gentleman would be comfortable placing his posteriors.
If I am to void into anything, it will be designed, as is right, by Tho. Crapper, have a wooden seat, a long drop and cunningly wrought straining bars. I'm an Englishman for God's sake. I can't dangle my testicles into something 'created' by a bidet designer.
And furthermore, dammit, when will people realise that a 'shower' is a medical appliance used in sanatoria to correct the behaviour of the floridly psychotic? I want a bath... with taps... and preferably a mould-encrusted loofah inherited from a dead aunt.
I will, of course, never see my wishes come to fruition but I still have my secret ways. While the Mem thinks I'm pursuing a costly scruffing, cleansing, toning and moisturising regime, in the sanctity of my own bathroom I will be scrubbing myself raw with the tiny piece of Wright's Coal Tar and the square of rough flannel I keep concealed in the bottom of my washbag. What the Hell is exfoliation anyway? Am I supposed to wash in Agent Orange?
I have probably not mentioned that, entirely incapable of regarding unemployment as an opportunity for rest, the Mem has begun selling her cakes through local outlets. As we live on the borders of London's fashionable Primrose Hill, 'outlets' largely comprise those places where ladies lunch and that can happily charge six quid for a cheese sandwich. She is, not to put too fine a point on it, raking in the cash. I am relegated to the heavier dough wrangling, meringue fettling and delivery.
Which, of course, brings us to the issue of the kitchen. The Mem requires flat surfaces and a cool environment for her bakery and who am I, happy recipient of her pies and tarts, to complain? I, on the other hand, need a place with blood runnels in the floor, with a smoke box near the ceiling, with an extractor fan which would grace the back of a Phantom jet and a large table on which I can dismember cattle.
Were it not for the fact we are to be married in July, I would predict divorce by June.
The good thing is that it is next-door-but-one to the house where Bruce Robinson wrote 'Withnail and I' and has not seen the touch of the gentrifier. I'm planning to arrange a Withnail party, before the builders move in, where the movie will be projected on the peeling, damp-stained walls while we match the protagonists drink for drink. If there is 'matter' in the sink, I intend donate it to the British Film Institute.