Work continues on the Spooky House I will be moving into at the end of November. It actually has a name: the Grieve’s House, Grieve being a Scots word for a bailiff, or farm overseer. Having always considered myself more of a poacher than a gamekeeper this is quite the turnaround, but then when I first came here, about five or six years ago, I started daydreaming about giving up the London literary scene, and becoming a sort of apprentice groundsman, occasionally retiring to a shed to write an exquisitely poised feuilleton about the simplicity of rural life or some such poppycock. Now I don’t think living in the Grieve’s House will actually involve any duties as such; I won’t be collecting rents or pointing a gnarled stick at someone and saying “you there!”, but the thought hangs in the air, and it makes me smile.
As for the work that continues, it would seem I am being asked to do some of it. Last weekend, the Lady of the House got me and young R— to move a heavy rolled-up carpet, and then a heavy wooden table, from a utility room to the House, and by “heavy” I mean both “very heavy” and “unwieldy”.
Carrying the carpet was a nightmare but moving the table was worse. As we turned it round to get it through the door, its drawer fell out, and out popped a dusty copy of an old Escort magazine dating from 1994. I didn’t recognise it as being from 1994, my knowledge of this soft-core grumble mag (rhyming slang too rude for me to explain) being even scantier than the women’s clothing therein, but I examined it later, purely in the spirit of sociological enquiry.
Actually, sociological enquiry, as it turns out, is all it is good for, for although one does not want to be ungallant, the women in it are not the most enticing. In fact I am amazed that anyone, even in those days when lonely men were not as spoiled for choice as they are now, could have been aroused by the contents.
Anyway, I have no need for any such entertainment, as the Welsh Enchantress joined me again for the weekend. Again, she drove up nearly 500 miles. (And yes, it does make me think of that song.) I cannot begin to say how touched that makes me.
Seeing how she was putting herself out for me so much, I agreed to a request from her, which involved me popping into Boots in Blairgowrie because what she wanted me to get was not the kind of thing I wanted to get in the nearest chemist, because the nearest town is about the size of a hall carpet and once I bought what she wanted me to get, word would get about, and people would point at me and snigger – even though there is no shame in this (well, OK, quite a bit) and I do not, as it happens, have a problem in that particular area. It’s just that I’m not as young as I was, and sometimes I drink ever so slightly more wine in an evening than the government recommends I should, so a sort of belt and braces approach is, I was told, advisable.
So I gave Kelly a lift back into town that day and she asked me what I was up to in Blair (that’s what the town is called here – I like saying it too, as it makes me feel like a local). I said I had to go to the chemist, and then I realised that she was giving me a look which was roughly along the lines of “but there’s a much nearer chemist”, and so I stammered something about the chemist in Alyth not stocking what I wanted, which was blatant garbage, so I made things rather worse for myself, but not as bad as I did when I went into Boots and found her standing at the prescription counter. I ran away, but not before she waved at me. I went in the next day, wearing a false moustache.
I tried this thing I was asked to get for the sheer hell of it, even though I do not have a problem in that particular area, and one of the more remarkable side-effects it had was – and I can put it no better than this – an increased flow of blood to the brain.
The Welsh Enchantress drove back on the Sunday morning and I was left at something of a loose end, so I actually started writing, which is unusual for me on any day of the week except filing day for this magazine, and even then it’s sometimes unusual.
By the end of the day, I had about 2,500 words down, not all of them bad. I repeated this feat (not the words, the feat) the next day, and the next, and what with one thing and another I ended up with 8,000 words of prose, every one of them a gem, which, I have just learned, has been accepted for publication by the first people I sent it to.
Whether I can put it down to this thing I got at Boots I am not sure. I wonder if it will help me at picking up tables, because they are bastard-heavy things, tables. I shall stick to writing, and being a Grieve.
This article appears in the 31 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Great War’s long shadow