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Through the keyhole and beneath the bed

by
02 November 2006

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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.

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