Sean's spots are healing, Emma making friends; Lynda is working in London today. The house is "coming together" (as in, it's no longer falling apart). The roof of the summerhouse is secured with tarp and screws. There's nothing useful I can do alone. Nothing for it: I must write.
My biggest concern about leaving London was whether I'd find the ambient energy I needed to write surrounded by these verdant greens and mixy-addled rabbits. Regardless of the fact my London workspace was a windowless cupboard beneath the stairs, that humming buzz beyond those dank walls - ten million stories, all to be re-told by me - gave me plenty to write about.
But then - I published two novels, both London-based, and neither sold in numbers that would concern JK Rowling - or even JK Galbraith. Maybe moving to a small community would provide me with new insight; allow me to create something that might tickle the ancestral memories of an increasingly urbanised readership in remembrance of things past?
I'm pondering the above - as opposed to getting on with the second rewrite of the new novel my agent assures me is unavoidable - when at the end of the muddy drive I see two men in the clothes of the physically employed scratch heads, check clipboards, look up at the house.
After checking their clipboards again the two men wade up the muddy drive, looking with amusement at the sulking Stilo. An amiable if tardy mechanic charged us £450 for new "steering rods", I term I strongly suspected he invented; an early Christmas present.*
There's a firm knock. Secretly relieved I hop downstairs and open up. The two men are in their forties, shabby and nondescript - like me.
"Asbestos?" one offers in a local yokel accent.
"Um - no thanks."
The man looks as confused as I am: he checks his clipboard.
"No - I mean - we're here to take away the asbestos. From the shed roof?"
"It's funny," says the same man as I point them in the general direction of the back garden, "I've lived in Old Front Bottom thirty year. Never heard of this row before."
His tone is somehow accusatory; it's impossible to respond. I'm reminded of a man with whom I worked many years ago, cleaning computer screens in the City - the most forlorn, thankless, humiliating job I ever had, despite stiff competition. This man, who had lived in Islington his entire life, asked me where I lived. When I said Archway - in Islington - he blithely shrugged.
"Never heard of it."
Remembering Archway - the local colour, the monolithic blocks, the little eddies of wind round the DHSS tower that for some reason always reminded me of Darth Vader - I look out the window at the green fields, the shaggy black sheep or cows, the addled rabbits, the - serenity.
After a bit of sawing and swearing the two men emerge from the back garden with large slabs of asbestos balanced on shoulders like deranged leaf-cutter ants. I should say something; explain how I've done in-depth research on the subject for major national newspapers and even chrysotile shouldn't really be allowed to flake all over your shoulder like the devil's dandruff - but I say nothing. What can I say to these two men? They perspire for a living.
Desperately I look out of the window in search of something inspiring. Will I find it here, or will I spend the remainder of my days blaming the countryside for my failure to write anything of note? In London I wrote of beggars and bombs, of characters and contradictions (that unforgettable Gazette billboard, "Traffic Warden Kicks Tramp To Death") - what on earth will I write about here?
I watch the two men plod back up the lane with their vast slabs of flaking asbestos, for which they presumably have great plans.
Nope. Can't think of a thing.
Still - I believe the Straw Dog is still serving lunch.
Fancy a pint?
*Yes, this column is back-dated. Sorry to spoil it for you.
Next week: it's party time in Old Front Bottom