Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wick's End

Last day in Hackney Wick by Pants

I started a detailed email to High Riser who had innocently enquired as to how I could possibly have swapped London, England, Europe, the World for Larrikin's End, Victoria, Australia, the Wilderness, when I realised that there was a blog post in it. 

High Riser has better things to do on a Saturday night than read my emails so the effort will be better directed here. This thinking is, in a way, the crux of it. I have spent most of my life trying to find a better way of doing things, most often without trying the orthodox way to begin with. What can I say, I'm a product of my generation. We were born to rebel.

Be that as it may, I had an awareness that I had been gifted a valuable cachet of experiences that needed the space and time to mould themselves into a body of work. I seemed incapable of fabricating on the run. I was good at making notes and completing small projects but I needed a place with no distractions to realise my life's work. Unfortunately, the big to-do items on my list hadn't yet been to-done.

I have mentioned before but eagerly reiterate here because it is the only known example of fiscal acuity on my part, I knew that the then-coming and now-cometh financial crisis would clobber Britain. I also sensed that I could sieze a bolthole opportunity. I may have had issues with my home country, but it was a place where I could afford to buy my thinking-and-being space outright. Australia weathered the GFC very well. I neither predicted nor contributed to that but am grateful for it. My issues are extant and will be the subject of further chapters.

My little flat was right on the border of the 2012 London Olympics site and my timing was impeccable. The flat sold in the time it took me to watch a movie* because that is what I was doing as three aspiring homeowners decided that they were prepared to pay more than the asking price. They then had three days to make a higher offer. A buyer who wins such a race doesn't come hassling you over whether or not you're leaving the net curtains. In fact, mine didn't even ask for a second viewing. There's a psychology to that but we'll go there another time. 

The picture above is the front-door aspect of House of Pants on the day I left it for the last time. This was a winterscape with which I was very familiar and I knew it would disappear, along with its abundant wildlife, as the Olympic machinery rolled in. I had only a rucksack by this stage. The rest of my belongings had been shipped away two days earlier. I kept back a kettle, a small camper's kit and my twenty-year-old mattress. I slept on that in my sleeping bag on the floor. The central heating was still connected so I was warm but it was a reminder of how I'd started out in London - in a sleeping bag, on a mattress, in a squat.

Until a few hours before I left that flat, the only other possession remaining was my darling baby grand piano. I tried to play it but I had no charts and I'm not much good without them now. I couldn't remember anything, not even songs I'd written myself. The piano-mover turned up and then my neighbour helped me haul the old mattress down onto the street. A mattressless street is as unthinkable as a muzzled Pit Bull in Hackney. I'd spent two days honing that flat to a cleanliness of immaculate conception. I felt some obligation to the timid buyer but I also wanted to remember it the way it was when I first saw it, brand new.

This was the last time I saw the sweet vista I'd overlooked for eleven years. I had lived beside that canal for more than twenty years in total, my previous flat being only a block away but not directly on the water. My London was a bus-ride away from one of the greatest subsets of contemporary experience available anywhere in the world but it was also a delicate vignette of an England where swans still lived on lakes. It was magical, but doomed. The Olympic decision made that real for me.

I'm now mortgage-free in the vantage-rich but somewhat street-ugly villa you will know as Seat of Pants. The Pantibago is holding up admirably and the Pantifortune will be adequate provided I either die youngish or write a latish bestseller. I wanted this isolation and now I have it. As I predicted, I've moaned a great deal. I imagine I'll get over it, and myself, eventually. I knew that I couldn't stay in Britain. That's all I knew at the time. I don't regret leaving. I expected my mental state would get much worse before it got better. I am certainly correct about the former. Such a pity my psychic powers can't be put to better use. 

There is laughably little culture here in Larrikin's End but there is very great beauty. And there is ocean, and there are birds, incredible birds. I will make friends with my land. We have a lot to get through. Now I have the time and space for that. I wanted to be in a place without distractions because I've got so much experience already. What I wanted was a place to be still and distil.

* This is how I knew that I wasn't ever going to make it as a keynote speaker - the film I saw while my flat was being sold was Atonement. Yet, when I met Ian McEwan and Christopher Hampton in Jaipur at a special screening of the film a couple of months later, I failed to ice-break with this obviously delicious anecdote. But that is so Pants.