My producer doesn't care. We're Oop Fookin North on BBC business; serious stuff. But it's a serious question, too, my lease up in the spring and no idea where to go next. So: could it be? Perhaps; but then my metropolitan appetites, fitful and capricious, suddenly demand espresso, croissants, polenta, for God's sake. I hate polenta; but now that I can't have it - only things with thudding, brutish, Northern names (baps, cobs, butties) - I want it desperately.
I whine for delicatessens as we descend towards the river. The road follows a tributary, beside which stands an abandoned mill, not yet converted into a Heritage Centre or spacious luxury flats for flat-vowelled, striving Manchester commuters: architects, media buyers, young men from corporate finance with Hugo Boss suits and cold, glossy girlfriends. Its windows are broken but the chimney still stands, though Fred Dibnah will be along any moment with the tools of his trade: pit-props, old tyres, klaxon and TV crew.
In the village, a hand-painted sign says "SHOP". The building looks like a farmhouse; this was once a farming village, but the farmhouse doesn't have a farm now, just as the millworkers' cottages don't have millworkers but people on re-skilling courses, people on income support, families where only the mother has a job, going off to Manchester in the car each morning while her husband stays at home and safeguards his masculinity by failing to learn how to cook fish fingers.
You can't tell which is the door of the shop. I push on the most likely one, which opens on to a kitchen. A woman is frying liver; an ancient man is sitting in a bursting armchair, filling a tiny, blackened pipe from an old, worn 1lb tin of Redbreast Flake. "If it's shop you're after," he says, "it's door on left-hand side of yard." I wonder what would happen if I said: "But it's not the shop I'm after." Perhaps they would have invited me in, given me lunch, let me stay. I could have married a local girl, raised a family, sung in the choir, complained about the yuppies and the death of village life.
The girl in the shop is a bucolic Venus, plump, fair, simmering with fertility. I wonder if she has a lover, and whether he appreciates her. Perhaps she is nurturing dreams of the Metropolis; perhaps one day she will turn up at Euston with a little tartan suitcase and end up in a Queensway bedsit, doing anxious businessmen at 60 quid a pop. I scowl at her and ask for cigarettes (Benson & Hedges; there are no Camels, no Lucky Strike, no Kent Gold) in a harsh, joke-Home-Counties voice, to show that Londoners are nasty people, vicious ponces in expensive suits who wish her ill and will do her harm, and strut coldly back to the car.
"I could live here," says my producer. "All that space. All that quiet."
Eventually we arrive at our destination. It's come on to rain; the moors are blurred beneath a thwarted, snivelling sky. There's a ruined barn beside the house, and four horses grazing in a paddock. The woman we have come to see is wearing three pullovers and odd socks, and it's so quiet in her little stone farmhouse that I jump when the boiler comes on. From the low-set kitchen window I can see nothing but moorland and rain. I picture myself sitting by this window, a simple table, a simple wooden chair, a simple Macintosh PowerBook 5300 and dedicated high-speed ISDN Internet connection. I would sleep like a lamb, rising at dawn each day for a simple breakfast while the log fire caught hold, then wash up, shave, on with three jerseys and odd socks and back downstairs for a day's writing, secure in the certainty that there would be no builders, no carpenters, no pig-faced, cleft-buttocked demolition men, no snarling subhumans ripping up the street. No drunks, no techno-enthusiasts, no lunatics being cared for in the community. No refitting of doomed shops, smashing down of doomed offices, converting of doomed light industrial workshops into horrible homes. Just silence, quiet achievement and the changing light and seasons.
I nurtured this fantasy for an hour after we left, and then terrible desolation struck. What would one do? In the peace and tranquillity, what would one do? Go to the village pub? No; everyone would know me, and know what I was up to. Go for walks on the moors? No; half an hour on the moors and home would beckon, with its lovely cargo of razor-blades, gas, shotguns and pills. Drive into Manchester? Too far, too lonely, yet not lonely enough, unable to offer the absolute invisibility of London.
It's a terrible conundrum. In six months, I have to find somewhere else to live. I can't wait to move. I can't bear to leave. Never mind the delicatessens, the tobacconists, the great department stores, the museums, theatres, tailors, hatters, galleries, parks and monuments; never even mind the street life, so that you become a walk-on in a perpetual movie each time you leave the front door; the important thing is that London is the centre, the apex, the place things happen. Craving silence, I'm all the same in bondage to London's frantic roaring. It's a love-affair of the most captivating and desperate sort, and I don't know what to do. The moorlands are out. The provinces are out. Suburbia is out. The only thing I can think of is just so ghastly, so shameful and hateful that I don't even want to say what it is. I can't. I won't. All right, I will. Not double-glazing. Triple-glazing. There you are. I've said it, and now you despise me. What a life. !