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Crowded house

In ‘Poetry of Departures’, in which Philip Larkin imagines escaping his existence as a librarian for a life of wild daring and adventure, he writes: We all hate home
And having to be there;
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
the good books, the good bed.

21 May 2011

12:00 AM

21 May 2011

12:00 AM

In ‘Poetry of Departures’, in which Philip Larkin imagines escaping his existence as a librarian for a life of wild daring and adventure, he writes:

We all hate home
And having to be there;
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
the good books, the good bed.

In ‘Poetry of Departures’, in which Philip Larkin imagines escaping his existence as a librarian for a life of wild daring and adventure, he writes:

We all hate home
And having to be there;
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
the good books, the good bed.
And my life, in perfect order.
It is, he concludes, ‘reprehensibly perfect’.

I wish I could say my life was so well organised. In my study as I write there is a great heap of unattended correspondence on my desk that makes me feel guilty whenever I look at it. Press releases and play texts cover the floor, piles of newspapers seem to grow taller and more precarious during the night, and the whole place is strewn with half-drunk mugs of coffee, some of them sporting intriguing varieties of mould.

Bookshelves line three of the four walls, but they have long since been filled, not only with books but also with CDs. There are also stashes of CDs in a chest of drawers, my desk and various other nooks and crannies. There are further shelves of books in the hall and on the landing and a great tottering pile of recently purchased volumes on my bedside table. I sometimes worry that it will fall on me in the dark watches of the night. Whoever coined the phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ clearly hadn’t considered this possibility.


What I dream of is a proper gentleman’s library, ordered and spacious, perhaps with a spiral staircase leading up to a gallery containing still further books and CDs. There would be a wood-burning stove for the winter, rugs on the polished wooden floor, a top-of-the-range espresso machine and a dog lying faithfully at my feet as I wrote my reviews. An air of tranquil calm would prevail, and any book or album would be in its proper place when I sought it. It would indeed be a life ‘reprehensibly perfect’. I would take my ease and find my refuge there like Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

But such luxuries aren’t possible in a suburban cul-de-sac, nor would our budget run to it if it were. So I fear my wife and I are considering a garage conversion. Our ugly 1970s house has an even uglier double garage stuck on the front that is more spacious than our living room. Needless to say, it is full of junk and we park on the drive, but it is the kind of junk that even chronic hoarders like us could cheerfully chuck into a skip.

The idea is to create a room of simplicity and space. A sofa, a telly, a decent sound system and neat floor-to-ceiling shelves that would house the clutter that threatens to overwhelm us.

But this begs a question. What is the point of having space to store yet more music and books when we already have enough of both to last a lifetime? And when I say ‘we’ I mostly mean me. Nicki is the least materialistic of people and doesn’t constantly make extravagant purchases like her feckless husband. She does, however, find it hard to chuck anything out. I have a horrible feeling that within a couple of years the converted garage will become as squalid and overcrowded as my study.

Perhaps I should adopt the strategy of a friend who, whenever he buys a new book or record, takes an old one down to the charity shop. But I know what would happen if I did. As soon as I parted with, say, the Best of Vera Lynn, or a spy novel by Adam Diment that I haven’t looked at for decades, it would become the very thing I most wanted to hear or read.

And there are always new discoveries to be made. For years I casually wrote off Creedence Clearwater Revival as a bland Top Forty American band. Then, at the urging of Tim Rice, I started listening to them. They are absolutely terrific, combining great cover versions of songs like ‘Susie Q’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ with original material ranging from catchy pop to Southern ‘swamp’ rock. I’m now hopelessly hooked.

Their leader, John Fogerty, has a terrific voice, both rasping and expressive, and his superbly crafted songs have a terrific brio about them, with tight arrangements and lots of fiery guitar playing.

You can buy a box set of all seven of their late Sixties and early Seventies albums in superb remastered sound from Amazon for just £25. It also includes bonus tracks and live recordings, including numbers recorded at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom where the band were as big a draw as the Grateful Dead — and a good deal more polished after years on the road as a hardworking covers band.

This is one purchase I don’t think I will ever regret. I just wish I could find somewhere to put it.

Charles Spencer is theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph.


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