Winter is coming… and pretty much here.
So far it’s been a touch cold and a good bit wet. Not too bad on either count to be honest, but as it’s the first winter in a new(ish) place there have been drafts and peculiarities to discover this July. Hints of mould have emerged in the colder and darker corners of the unit, and if it lasts much more than mid-August we’ll have a harvest of mushrooms in spring. I’ll admit a fair part of the damp air has (probably) come from my preference for ridiculously hot showers in a closed bathroom. Nothing like opening a bathroom door and having the steam drift out as if it’s an industrial smoking oven. Roman baths achieved a peak of civilization that we have yet to surpass.
In any case – the mould reminded me of a favourite quote from one of Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs I’d read years ago. He has always had a fantastic turn of phrase, and this particular paragraph is a beautifully condensed and vivid impression of his dismal university accommodation…
When I opened the door and stepped into my darkened room, I fell across the bed and smacked my forehead smartly against the opposite wall. Luckily the wall, under its many geological layers of plaster and paint, was sufficiently resilient to absorb most of the impact. It was also quite moist. When I found the light switch, a twenty-watt bulb dispelled just enough gloom to reveal that the moisture was not my blood. It was rising damp. It was also descending damp, with a good deal of transverse damp mixed in. The smell of mould was tropical. The temperature of the air, on the other hand, was arctic. There was a two-bar electric fire, one of whose bars worked reasonably well for half its length.
Also from Unreliable Memoirs… not a word wasted in painting a picture:
I was writing poems about Florence. They were full of Medici pomp and Machiavellian circumstance, of tasselled banners and blazing trumpets, the sweet waistlines of Paolo Uccello handmaidens, and the crackling flames of Savonarola’s pyre. All this I wrote about while sitting under a chalked menu announcing that spam fritters with two veg could be followed by spotted dick with custard. Outside the dirty window, rain that for some reason would only make it dirtier fell thinly but persistently, like a small annoyance.
One more – back to the richly contrasted impressions of the occupants at Cambridge:
Another shock was the hitherto unannounced presence of Romaine Rand, who had already taken another room on the same floor as mine. Indeed it was the room next to mine. It was the big front room facing onto the street. In something less than a week, Romaine, who in another time and place might have run the sort of salon that Goethe and the boys would have swarmed around like blowflies, had already transformed her room into a dream from the Arabian nights. Drawing on her incongruous but irrepressible skills as a housewife, she had tatted lengths of batik, draped bolts of brocade, swathed silk, swagged satin, ruched, ruffed, hemmed and hawed. There were oriental carpets and occidental screens, ornamental plants and incidental music. The effect was stunning.
Aristotle Onassis had married Jackie Kennedy in vain hopes of getting his yacht to look like that. Romaine, however, once she had got her life of luxury up and running, did not luxuriate. She had a typewriter the size of a printing press. Instantly she was at it, ten hours a day. Through the lath-and-plaster wall I could hear her attacking the typewriter as if she had a contract, with penalty clauses, for testing it to destruction. As well as finalising her thesis, apparently, she was working on a book…
I resolved that I, too, would transmogrify my environment. Picking out a section of wall where a shelf might go, I tapped it with a testing forefinger. About a square foot of plaster fell off and brained a cockroach.
Literary gold. Thankfully the plaster here is holding up well.