Magazine article The Spectator

Caught Out

Magazine article The Spectator

Caught Out

Article excerpt

Low life

I've moved. On New Year's Day, after yet another row, I drove to the nearest town and rang up all the `accommodation to let' notices in the newsagent's window. Now I'm renting this 1920s suburban semi from a Buddhist, Chris, and his wife, Edwina. It's a nice gaff, sort of tranquil, with buddhas great and small everywhere you look. And there's a colourful poster in the bathroom that says, `Happiness, Peace, Joy, Serenity', sinisterly implying that these are all real, desirable, possibly permanent states of mind.

Chris and Edwina are staying in the Transvaal with an Afrikaaner farmer. They've paid an agency 1,600 each to teach his labourers' children English. They sent me an email yesterday, saying there are lots of poisonous snakes, though they haven't actually seen one yet.

My boy came to stay at the weekend. He's 12, and a country boy, and was quite unprepared for the buddhas, and for the town itself, whose inhabitants have a reputation for living 'alternative' lifestyles. On our first outing to the high street we saw a middle-aged woman draped in diaphanous material dancing ecstatically outside the chemist's to the amplified song of the sperm whale. We were also confronted by a young man clutching his girlfriend in a kind of headlock. Could we give him 80p for a bag of chips because they were both 'starving', he said. He must have been a drama student because when I gave him a pound he said, `Beggar that I am, I am poor even in thanks.' Not having been exposed to 'alternative' lifestyles before, my boy was disgusted and slightly disturbed by both beggar and whale woman. To the sound of bongo drumming, we selected and paid for ten sticks of incense from a stall in the market, took them home and cautiously lit one.

After tea we went for another walk around town. We often go for a walk after dark on Saturday night. There were no street lamps or pavements where I lived before, and we walked across fields and through woods to while away the evening. So it was a thrilling novelty for the both of us to walk along hard, brightly lit pavements for once, and to stop and peer through the lighted shop windows. In most of the shops we looked in, 'alternative' seemed to mean `over-priced crap with spiritual overtones from India'. …

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