LA MAISON DU DÉLICE

PAUL HAWORTH



FIVE


I stopped by the mailroom. Sad place. A vault lined with pigeonholes. An eldery man and woman were in there shouting at each other in German. Twas ever thus.

Any time I visited, there’d be at least one other resident - someone who couldn’t wait until they got back to their room to open their mail - pouring over papers in search of a gotcha that could get them out: a finding that could restore their freedom, sanity and status.

These people.

Destroyed, obsessive, shambolic figures, hobbled by fraud, embezzlement, bankruptcy, divorce and other contrived legal disputes. Any conversation with one, invariably led to that person expounding in detail all the ways they had been wronged.

I made a beeline past the shouting pair for my pigeonhole, grabbed a clump of envelopes and got the hell out. I didn’t want to get sucked into their Teutonic drama.

As I took the lift up to the seventh floor, I barely skimmed the papers. Pages and pages of minutes from the last hearing.

How analogue law is: prints, signatures, photocopies of type-written documents. Contracts in manilla folders. Ring binders. Pages slipped inside those plastic sheets grimly redolent of school. Faxes! These documents accumulate into a psychological barrier to overcome before one even gets to grips with the facts they contain. Solicitors are trained to see through that: to look at an archive box chockablock with double-sided, 0.5-spaced A4, not as a lethal weapon but as a force for good.

Throughout my life I’d never much been one for paperwork. The thought of ever having an ‘admin day’ was risible: I employed people to deal with that. My work ended with a handshake or the strike of a gavel - business then handed over to administrators to draw up contracts, etcetera.

Which might explain why I was destined to put in a bad show at court. I was never prepared, never fighting my corner, never harrying my solicitor to try this or that: I just didn’t have the fire in my belly. Blame Anthrophobie Suisse. Or blame Joep, my legal counsel. He was an awkward, gangly fellow, representing me as a favour of a favour to Roland. He specialised in contract law. Which, strictly speaking, this was, but it was much, much bigger. Something for which poor Joep was woefully ill-equipped.

Back in my room, I deposited the papers on a papers pile I kept at the door. It was now head height. A wall built from document boxes. How deflating. It was probably structurally unsound - what a way to go that would be, crushed by an avalanche of legal papers. Upon departure, I would leave instructions to the estate managers: shred the lot.

Sad sigh.

I ought to start packing…

In the words/letters of Tracey, CBA. Can’t be arsed. CBA is what she (often) said when tasked with a job she regarded unnecessary, and it was how I felt as I set about collecting my things.

CBA.

Not that there was much to pack - one doesn’t need many things in accouchement assisté. As I made my way through each room and looked at stuff - the couch, the bed, the radio alarm-clock, the bathroom sink, the brown mug - that had known me so intimately, I had a sad thought: one big clean is the most it takes to erase the traces of a life. Nothing we do leaves a mark.

I was happy to be leaving. It was necessary to get the hell out of there - any more time in Switzerland would mortally wound me - and yet...this functional, loveless apartment, in which the hours were marked by illness and frustration, was the closest thing I’d ever known to a home.

The places I lived had all been transitory: military digs, the school cottage, Parisian garret. None of them the kind of setting to lay down roots. As for Basecamp Islington...in spite of it being the only London home I’d known, an abject air hung about the space. To all intents and purposes, it was a storage unit.

When I originally moved in, it fulfilled its role as aspirational-20s-young-professional house-share - a rite of passage that deserved a swift use-by-date - but I found myself never leaving. As housemates left, I simply covered the rent - it was easier that way - I just didn’t need the hassle of moving or chasing new housemates. Until eventually I found myself the occasional ghost in a large and increasingly dusty shell...

I had peers who moved often and often internationally. They did not let the nomadic life degrade their comprehension of home. For instance, my pal Jake, a dealer currently based in Moscow, seemed to move countries every couple years and would post photos of his residences: they were always impeccable, always full of character. Jake calibrated a state such that his furniture, objects and speakers had exactly the ‘right’ distance between them. This approach was not so much one of interior design as interior positioning: seeking the perfect arrangement for possessions.

By comparison, Islington was subsistence living. A few sparse pieces of landlord furniture, piles of catalogues and invites, and my clothes. There wasn’t even any art. I must be one of the only dealers who didn’t have a private collection. That was because I would never trust myself to be in possession of any art. I respected it too much.

I wonder - spitballing here - maybe I never wanted somewhere that could compete: a place to pull me from work, parties, openings. I didn’t want to be wishing I was in my comfortable bed, or grouting the bathroom, or watching the latest boxset on a ginormous QLED 4K TV, or doing whatever people do in their ‘nests’. A ‘nice’ home might distract from my vocation.

Further spitballing: I was biding my time until I could move into the Family Home. That detached Edwardian family home in Brixton, set across three floors, with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a private garden, was purchased as a gift for Jan and Dougie. Secretly, privately, wishfully I saw myself there…I thought I could slot myself into the dad-shaped hole...and, who knew, maybe then I could apply some of the not-inconsiderable interior-design knowledge I had accumulated working in galleries. I knew so much about lighting - the merits of LED or halogens, spots or washes - as well as the merits of smooth walls. And, you know what, with my house in order, maybe I’d finally be then ready to make the leap into collecting. Just a few works to hang on the walls. I could even commission some art. Say, my own Elizabeth Peyton portrait of Dougie.

Ambitions, wishful thinking, delusions - the line between them is so thin as to be almost invisible.



NEXT CHAPTER