Columns: Burning down the house

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The Independent Culture
THIS WEEK I have one word to say to you: arson.

There. You can unpack it and assemble this column on your own, and I can go and get some sleep, if I could find somewhere to sleep, which I can't. Believe me: I've looked. There's nowhere. Can't get into the bedroom because of Stuff, and as for the other bedroom, you wouldn't want to know. It's a plague zone. There are things in there breeding. There's plague, there are festering bubonics, haemorrhagic foci, slime-moulds, hatchlings, foetid miasmata, all the epidemiological apparatus of Gin Lane and the Bloomsbury stews. You could stick the Broad Street Pump in there and I'd be none the wiser.

The worst bit is the clothes. Observe the picture of me at the head of this column. Would you not agree that I am a man for whom clothes can do little? Does not my noble head positively drip intelligence, wisdom, tolerance and monstrous self-regard? What can the gimcrack adornments of clothiers, whether the masters of Savile Row or the vulgar style-peddlers of Sloane Avenue, do to improve the affect of such a man? I think you will agree that the answer is "bugger all", whether on the grounds of painting the lily or of flogging a dead horse.

And yet you should see the other bedroom. Not that you will. Nobody will ever see it, not even my daughter, who is now banned from my flat. I am, I suspect, on the cusp of a sort of eremitical sociopathy. One day I will be Found, by the authorities. The Man had Apparently Been Dead For Several Months. "His emaciated body was found wrapped in the remains of seven bespoke suits," said A Spokesman, "and post-mortem examination revealed that his last meal consisted of tweed, washed down with Guerlain's Mouchoir de Monsieur."

I don't understand how it has happened. I do not go out shopping, not really. Occasionally I will buy a shirt or two; from time to time I scuttle off in secret and order, say, a deepest, deepest navy-blue blazer in Super 120s cashmere-and-wool. Sometimes the Fit is upon me, and I will come home laden with four pairs of corduroy trousers in burnt rose, imperial purple, cerulean blue and old gold; on other occasions it will be a featherweight cashmere slipover in rich poppy-red, or half-a-dozen-pairs of lisle socks, a Solaro-cloth suit or a hacking jacket in subtlest, faded, antique Prince- of-Wales tweed. But I do not shop. In the past 12 months, apart from the above-mentioned little items, I have bought nothing except a Panama hat, three pairs of bench-made loafers, a double-breasted camel-hair overcoat, a pair of silk trousers, a paper-weight Italian jacket, a charcoal grey pinstripe suit, a fine puppytooth suit, a light grey tropical suit, four silk ties, another tie, and eight pairs of Calvin Klein drawers.

And yet the other bedroom is Clothing Hell. There are hideous Jean Paul Gaultier joke suits from the Eighties, when I thought I could make myself happy and win the love of quite the wrong woman just by dressing like a poof. There are overcoats from 25 years ago, horrible stuff bought in a panic in the Australian outback, photographers' waistcoats, tight- fitting sadist's black leather trousers, a Schott Perfecto motorcycling jacket I made a friend bring me over from America, a buttery suede reefer jacket I can't wear in case it gets spoilt, a nelly little Issey Miyake bumfreezer that makes me look like an Iceland waiter, cowboy boots, pairs of jeans two sizes too small, jackets I never liked, jackets I liked once but then the medication kicked in...

And on it goes. What does one do? I have tried editing; tried following the advice in magazines and going for a "capsule wardrobe", just like I have tried editing the thousands of books which occupy every inch of space not occupied by bloody clothes, or sorting out the tens of thousands of papers which occupy all the rest of the space. This morning I thought: I won't pay my rent arrears, and then they will evict me, and I'll have 14 days to get out, and I'll just have to throw everything away and start again, and for a moment it was lovely: a tweed jacket for winter, a linen jacket for summer, seven shirts, three pairs of trousers and a clean, fresh life. I got up at 6.30 and by 1.45 this afternoon I had thrown away an empty ketchup bottle and burst into tears twice, at which point I gave up and, filled with self-disgust, wrote out a cheque for the arrears.

I need help. Specifically, I need legal help. And the legal help I need is this: is arson illegal, even if it's only your own stuff you set afire? I've got the matches, I've laid in the paraffin. All I need now is the all-clear, and then I can get my life back.