Friday, March 16, 2012

Author in a tight spot

Writers have been known to adopt desperate measures to get a little peace and quiet. But though my house has never been more full of people – small children with snot and temperatures, an au pair, a recuperating parent with a bewildering pharmaceutical regime, and an endless parade of tradesmen – that’s not what I’m up to in these photographs. Things aren’t that bad, not quite.
I’m actually in the process of fitting insulation beneath a section of roof, rendered highly inaccessible by a recently added stud wall within. Why my Albanian builders (and their British overseers) didn’t do this for me, before the stud wall was built, is for them to explain. But, fed up with corner-cutting and delay, I decided to let my friend Heiko, who knows an immense amount about this sort of thing, take on the job instead. The only problem was that Heiko – who was stuck underground for hours during the 7/7 terror attacks, in a packed rush-hour train – suffers from bouts of claustrophobia. So I decided to help. It turned out to be hot, dirty, suffocating work, but strangely satisfying once completed – not that I’m planning a second foray any time soon.
Actually I’ve always liked the idea of writers having a manual trade, or at least being good with their hands. The notion of the novelist as a pure intellectual, spinning tales in the splendid isolation of a rural retreat, is unattractive to me. I like my artists to get their hands dirty, and to interact with the physical world as directly as possible. That’s probably why Bruno Krug, the central character in The Valley of Unknowing – it would be inaccurate to call him a hero – is a man who writes for a living and plumbs on the side (though it was once the other way around).

Actually, I could do with Bruno’s plumbing skills right now, because the Balkan bloke who came to fit up the new bathroom was something of a let-down. I suppose if he wrote good poetry or something, that would make up for his professional deficiencies. But it would have to be very, very good.


Debbie said...

Crumbs, seeing a whole new side to you, Phil! Wait till I show this to Rob... xx

parisgirl said...

amen to that!

Philip S said...

Yes, truly a long, dark night of the sole(s). I feel the Black Lung coming on already...!