Men and pine furniture: the two things responsible for my habitual moving.
It was the purchase of this small forest that set the ball rolling, and I was doomed never to recover. If I hadn’t bought that damned pine furniture, I wouldn’t have had the quandary of where to put it when I broke up with Carl, wouldn’t have moved it to Soho and had my heart broken by Phil, wouldn’t have moved it to Cardiff and started up with Steve, and wouldn’t still be stuck with it by myself in Cardiff over 25 years on at the age of 57, hoping that pine, like avocado-colored bathroom suites, might make a comeback.
I was living in Belsize Park, in my first mortgaged home, and Carl was a fellow critic on a national newspaper and had been living with his girlfriend of seven years, Jane, who was trying to get pregnant. Carl didn’t like the fact that she was so fat and said that he would like to have a child with me. We were talking about a seriously unavailable man here.
I was still hung up on Alan, a manic-depressive who went into hibernation for six months at a time. I knew it was over when, adopting the Florence Nightingale approach during one of these dark periods, I sent him, by taxi, a spinach, rice and cheese bake (Delia Smith recipe) I had baked for him, a bottle of Burgundy, a cone of Swiss chocolates I had bought for him during the Montreux Comedy Festival and, for reasons I have yet to understand, a 12 foot inflatable skeleton. I paid the driver an extra £20 for his trouble, although he had to leave everything on the doorstep (including the fully inflated skeleton) because, he informed me by phone later, there was no reply at the door. The day after, I received a message on my answer machine, in painfully flat tones: “Hello, this is Alan. Thank you for my present. Goodbye.”
This really isn’t going anywhere, I thought.
I thought I was in love with Carl and the intensity was extraordinary: endless phone-calls, incessant declarations of love, the strange comfort of late afternoon fog, hand in hand, walking his dog on Primrose Hill; fingers clasped across dining tables, resentful of the cutlery that separated them even for an instant. And I remember the seeming timelessness of passion.
There were only two down sides for me (apart from the obvious one of him living with someone else). One was the hideous green and yellow jug in the shape of a duck that Carl gave me for my 30th birthday. A china duck is not romantic.
The other was that I had to keep hearing different versions of his columns. I would receive a phone-call in which he gave me version one, then he would arrive at my apartment with version two, then I would get a phone-call with version three before he filed it to his newspaper. He once dragged me out of bed when I was sick with tonsillitis to have me sit on his lap while he read me his column straight off the computer.
On the one occasion I went to his house, I had to hear not only his columns, but every piece of music he had ever written; I was even required to admire the enormous Heal’s table on which said his music was composed. Then he started to bring me tapes of said music, too.
He also became ill, still claiming that he wanted to leave Jane, but never knowing the right time to tell her. We met almost every day, in restaurants and bars all over London. Carl acquired a facial rash as a result of the stress and, sympathetic as I was, dermatology wasn’t an aphrodisiac as far as I was concerned, and neither were the flakes of skin he used to leave on my pillow. So after just five months, we decided that we wanted to put an end to the trauma and be together. Before he told Jane, we went apartment hunting, Carl expressing a need to have his own study and also a garden for his dog.
Quite why I put down the entire deposit myself and also one month’s advance rental on the place we chose, is anybody’s guess. Carl also said he liked pine furniture, and off I went to buy up half of Camden Pine (again, without him contributing a penny towards the woodpile money). Having rented out my own apartment and moved into the three-bedroom maisonette we found in Hampstead’s Steele’s Road, I waited for Carl to inform Jane that he was leaving her. I predicted that she would ask him to stay for three months to try to work things out.
She did. Bells started to ring when he told me that he still intended to leave, but he thought it decent to hang on to give her time to lose enough weight so that she would be attractive enough to meet someone else. This was the Notre Dame of bell-rings.
It ended for good on 3rd March 1989. Carl told me that there was a lot more low-fat yoghurt in the fridge and that he had started to feel closer to Jane again. I was upset but relieved. I didn’t want to hang around for three months in some kind of diet reality show. I put down the phone in the middle of the conversation after telling him so.
I could no longer afford the new rent and so when the tenant in my own apartment did a runner, I returned there. One problem: there just wasn’t room for the pine. So, having always harbored a desire to live in Soho, I rented an apartment in Brewer Street: not for me to live in full-time (Belsize Park was still my main residence) but to house the pine furniture. Having bought it for such a ridiculous price and also feeling it held a certain sentimental value, I could not bear to part with it. Renting a second little home for us both seemed, strangely, like the more cost-effective option.
It would prove to be just one of many bizarre twists of logic I would apply throughout my life in relation to moving.
As it happened, the pine – or, rather, the location of the pine – proved to be a sexual magnet for my next conquest, Phil, a TV presenter. And so began another romance in the brown shadows which, by now, had cost me around ten grand.
As I looked around the Cardiff house I was selling in 2014, having decided I never wanted another mortgage, I knew that it was finally time to chop down the pine forest, along with the grain of every man in it, and send it to the great wood chipper in the sky.
Sometimes, you can pine for love too long.