THERE is a new book out on the homes of dictators, and it is not a study in
taste. Everyone needs a home, of course. But maybe not everyone needs to
bulldoze vast areas of Bucharest to rubble and dust in order to build their
palace, as Ceausescu did. As with the sporting and showbiz fraternity, size
does tend to matter with dictators.
Saddam Hussein wins the Worst Taste award, with his huge collection of
semi-pornographic figures in various states of impending pain or dominating
assertion. P. J. O'Rourke has said that the invasion of Iraq may have been
legitimate on grounds of taste alone.
The Best Taste award goes to Lenin. His Kremlin flat showed him to be a man
of books rather than bling, while his out-of-town dacha was light and
beautiful, and is still duplicated in style in places like Hampstead today.
And my home? Well, I write these words beneath my bed, but this is not as
furtive as it sounds. My bed is on stilts with a workstation beneath, which is
good in all ways, as long as I don't sit up suddenly in the night.
I have only one picture on my walls. Less is more. It features Christ
embracing Adam and Eve. It is about nine square feet, and was painted by an
artist friend in black and greys. Some folk have found it a little morbid down
the years, but I cannot imagine a more wonderful image.
I am not a man of books. In past lives, bookshelves of mine have creaked
with strain. But this is no longer so. Though people said I needed books, they
were wrong. A purge has left me with only one or two special word-friends and a
few reference books.
Before me as I write, on two clear shelves, are eight images that currently
shape my life. They change with time; for nothing is always so. But for the
moment they simplify, remind, and focus.
Behind me is a cobalt-blue carpet. I like its cool clarity, though sometimes
I have knelt on this carpet and cried, consumed by the dire emptiness of
existence. But then I have also lain on this carpet ecstatic, alive to the
wonderful emptiness of existence. This is what carpets are for.
I do not allow Peter in. Peter is a pigeon who sits outside on my window
ledge high above the busy road below. I don't leave him food either, or it
could become like a vicarage front door again, with pigeons travelling miles to
tell me unlikely tales of feathered hardship. Sorry, mate, but no can do.
This is harsh. But then each of us is a dictator in our own home. Even if we
haven't bulldozed Bucharest to build it.