Magazine article The Spectator

Crowded House

Magazine article The Spectator

Crowded House

Article excerpt

In 'Poetry of Departures', in which Philip Larkin imagines escaping his existence as a librarian for a life of wild daring and adventure, he writes:

We all hate home And having to be there;

I detest my room, It's specially-chosen junk, the good books, the good bed.

And my life, in perfect order.

It is, he concludes, 'reprehensibly perfect'.

I wish I could say my life was so well organised. In my study as I write there is a great heap of unattended correspondence on my desk that makes me feel guilty whenever I look at it. Press releases and play texts cover the floor, piles of newspapers seem to grow taller and more precarious during the night, and the whole place is strewn with half-drunk mugs of coffee, some of them sporting intriguing varieties of mould.

Bookshelves line three of the four walls, but they have long since been filled, not only with books but also with CDs. There are also stashes of CDs in a chest of drawers, my desk and various other nooks and crannies. There are further shelves of books in the hall and on the landing and a great tottering pile of recently purchased volumes on my bedside table. I sometimes worry that it will fall on me in the dark watches of the night. Whoever coined the phrase 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' clearly hadn't considered this possibility.

What I dream of is a proper gentleman's library, ordered and spacious, perhaps with a spiral staircase leading up to a gallery containing still further books and CDs. There would be a wood-burning stove for the winter, rugs on the polished wooden floor, a top-of-the-range espresso machine and a dog lying faithfully at my feet as I wrote my reviews. An air of tranquil calm would prevail, and any book or album would be in its proper place when I sought it. It would indeed be a life 'reprehensibly perfect'. I would take my ease and find my refuge there like Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

But such luxuries aren't possible in a suburban cul-de-sac, nor would our budget run to it if it were. So I fear my wife and I are considering a garage conversion. Our ugly 1970s house has an even uglier double garage stuck on the front that is more spacious than our living room. Needless to say, it is full of junk and we park on the drive, but it is the kind of junk that even chronic hoarders like us could cheerfully chuck into a skip. …

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