Here I am, then, in the new flat. I am looking out of the window, and, by gum, you do get a better view on the second floor than you do from the basement. Beforehand, the living-room window afforded the prospect of a bank of assorted wildflowers (very pleasant in spring and summer, a bit raggedy in autumn), people’s heads and the tops of buses (seen from below, of course). You couldn’t see much from the bedroom window unless the neighbour’s dog, Bobby, was doing an inspection. He always seemed astonished to see me, even after a year.
But right now I am looking at, first, ranks of jumbled roofs and chimneys and, further on, the sea. It is cloudless, so the sea is too bright to look at, but if I squint I can just about discern the wind farm, far out into the English Channel. I remember when I first saw these, some years ago, my initial reaction was a mild outrage: the spoiling, I thought, of nature. It didn’t take me long to realise that what they are trying to do is save nature, and I have become fond of them. They’re like sentinels.
That said, the raked view down to the sea is by some measure the best thing about this flat. The second best thing is the bed. Contrary to my impudent daughter’s prediction, I managed to assemble the bed and bung a mattress on top of it (and even put the duvet inside the duvet cover). I could have not done this without Ben, who did the lion’s share of the lifting.
He learned something, too, as he looked at my gasping and sweating self before we’d even got up the first flight of stairs. Ben, you may recall, is the one who keeps trying to get me to go to the gym, or, when he’s feeling a little more psyched up, do boxing training. He looked concerned.
“Nick,” he said. “Promise me one thing.”
“What’s that?” (It took me a couple of minutes of panting for air before I could answer him.)
“Promise me you won’t take up boxing.”
“I think – pant – there is very little – gasp – chance of that happening.”
“No really, mate, I don’t want you to die.”
I had other help. My friend Jed let me put umpteen boxes of books and a surprisingly heavy second-hand folding table in his car and we carried them up the stairs; my friend Shan supplied pillows, various useful bits of kitchenware and a deckchair whose fabric component is a facsimile of the first Penguin edition of A Room of One’s Own; my daughter drove down from London and carried up my chair from the Hovel, referred to as the conn, or the captain’s chair. And I do at times feel very much like a sea-captain, when the rain lashes the windows, and the clouds scud across the sky. Actually, one sometimes feels as though one is up among the clouds, or almost so, and one of the finest sights is when they are at that certain level where they look like those pictures taken from below of white cats sitting on glass tables.
Of course, everywhere I live in needs a name. The Hovel was, of course, the Hovel; Bamff was Bamff and the Grieve’s House was the MacHovel. My friend the Moose came up with the Crow’s Nest, and I liked that very much indeed. Second place was the Eyrie; but in the end the clear winner was from my friend C—, who came up with the Hove-l, and even though I don’t think I live in Hove I am close enough. In time I will drop the hyphen, but it will be pronounced Hovel to rhyme with dough-vel.
This will become a kind of shibboleth, in the way that the cognoscenti know that Houston in New York and Houston in Texas are pronounced differently, and the Dry Salvages made famous by TS Eliot’s poem rhymes with “assuages” (a fact made clear in a note at the top of the poem; so when Jeremy Paxman pronounced it on University Challenge as “salvages”, he made it clear that he had not read it, and that either no one else in the studio had, or that they were too terrified to correct him. I like bringing this up from time to time).
Meanwhile, I keep looking at the view. It is, unlike my previous view, ever-changing (dog/no dog, as per my previous address, I don’t really count as much of a change). It makes me feel like I want binoculars, and some of those brass things you get from chandlers. I’m not sure there is a chandler until you get to the marina, and that’s a bit far for me. (The boaty part of the town and the non-boaty part of town don’t seem to acknowledge each other’s existence.)
Outside, as the sun sets and the light fails, I see the red navigational warning lights begin to pulse in unison. But after that it’s not so good: the view changes to a solitary man in late middle age, with thinning hair and a pot belly.
This article appears in the 14 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Can Joe Biden save America?