Consistency is a quality I neither possess nor particularly admire, but I'm a little abashed, to say the least, at the unexpected turn my life has recently taken. I'm perfectly sure that I was commissioned to write a summer diary (everyone's away, let's keep it low-key) around the studied uneventfulness I'm always declaring my life to be: a page of nothing happens in meticulous detail. Yet here I am, embarked on an ill-considered project of selling the flat I've inhabited and worked in for 15 years, leaving London where I've always lived, and buying a house in the provinces - all, my dears, in wild pursuit of my heart's desire. In the first place, I don't do wild; and in the second, I don't have a heart. These, I would have said, were givens. I can still be heard to mutter testily that they remain so, as I instruct estate agents and fail to receive with good grace the amused congratulations of my friends, but I'm uncomfortably aware that I'm only trying to salvage a little self-respect.
The Poet and I have been love's middle-aged dream for 18 months now, and the 60 miles between Cambridge and London have become an insufferable distance. The more so given that Camden's resident parking policies mean that I am only allowed to have a lover who stays for four hours at a time. There are all-day parking permits, but residents are entitled to purchase no more than ten of these a year. This interesting piece of social engineering seems to require marriage, or solitude, or brief and efficient sexual encounters for which the residents must pay Camden at a rate of 40p an hour for the first 40 hours, 80p for the second 40 hours, and £1.20 an hour thereafter. This is a competitive rate compared to the market price, I know, but being a child of the Sixties, I haven't quite managed to shake off the notion of free love. So when the house directly opposite the Poet came on the market (I haven't entirely lost my mind - I'm not actually going to live with him), I threw caution to the wind and decided to sell up.
What has become clear in the past few weeks is how right I was to maintain that affairs of the heart should be secondary to keeping as emotionally still as possible. To start with, I have pitched myself into the half-lit moral desert of house buying and selling. One thing I know is that wanting anything badly makes a person vulnerable. A shrink once said to me that the problem was my refusal to make myself vulnerable (as in not making the necessary transference on to him), to which I replied that I couldn't for the life of me see how volunteering for vulnerability could be seen as a prerequisite for mental health. On the contrary, it is OK to want something, but not so much that it would upset your routine if you can't have it.
If anything confirms the danger of desire, it is getting involved with estate agents who, like the most manipulative of lovers, gauge the degree of wanting and then employ maybe-you-can-maybe-you-can't games that propel you back and forth to the edges of hope and despair and make of you their plaything. A lover you can tell to get lost, but an estate agent selling the house across the road from your heart's desire is in sadomasochistic heaven when he tells you that your offer has not yet been firmly accepted and will not be unless you are prepared to put your finances and psyche on the line with inordinate bridging loans and inconvenient completion dates. If only I didn't want that particular house . . . if only I didn't want that particular house . . . if only I didn't want . . . I wake up sweating at three in the morning. Imagine, caught up in such helplessness at this late stage of my life.
And in any case, what am I doing, all quiet and in control, free, independent, unbeholden, moving to a strange town in a draughty fen for a man? I know about men. But the Poet soothes me with talk of late-onset passion, of finding and keeping, of time running out. Not, now I come to think of it, entirely unlike the methods used by the estate agents. Married friends encourage the move, partly pleased that I haven't got clean away with it, but also whispering out of earshot of their partner that it's a brilliant idea to have two houses, and if only they had thought . . . And even my daughter, just left home and therefore instantly wise in the way of the world, smiles benevolently and says: "You might as well, you're not getting any younger."
So now I am deracinated, looking into a black hole of debt ("No, no," my more sophisticated friends explain, "mortgage isn't debt" - although they have salaries, not publishers) and mortified in the sight of the god of my principles by my emotional volte-face. The first few decades of my existence were really very busy. My whole aim in the second half of my life was for nothing whatever to happen. It was my intention to become increasingly reclusive, decaying gently in one place, newspapers piling up, empty cat-food tins encroaching into the flower beds, clothes moth-holing, stockings sagging above my carpet slippers. Just describing it makes me feel restful, and perhaps all this will come about, but not quite yet, it seems.
In the meantime, if you should hear of anyone who wants a charming, four-bedroomed flat with a verdant garden just a stone's throw from Hampstead Heath, previously owned by a careful, a very careful, lady writer who was last heard of going to the bad, you should not hesitate to get in touch with me, care of this journal.