Oh, for the freedom of the begging-bowl

You know beggars? You know what it is about beggars? It's their lack of elegance. They're such losers, such schlumps. All that matted hair, those horrible, deliberate clothes, the filthy dogs on string, the scrawled notices on cardboard like an NHS hospital. If Tony and the Blairenes ("A Song, A Smile and a Nolle Prosequi") ever want to make a real difference to our quality of public life, they might take a break from forming human pyramids in the Cabinet room, and commission Terence Conran to redesign our beggars.

Elegant minimalism is the line to take. A simple unisex robe in some becoming earth shade (saffron, perhaps, or a delicious ochre the precise shade of caramelised garlic), padded for winter, and a lightweight, loose slub-weave linen for summer. A functional but harmonious futon-style sleeping mat. A rough-hewn but perfectly ovoid begging-bowl. The whole speaking of an alluring and timeless mendicancy offering a daily glimpse of freedom and asceticism to us all.

I have just moved house, and the begging-bowl is in the forefront of my mind. You look at all your stuff, and you think, "This stuff has got to go," and you spend days filling black plastic bags with Stuff, black plastic bags which are then rifled by passing fools who steal your unwanted Stuff and take it home to sit and stare at it for a while, before they, too, throw it away. It circulates, this Stuff, like a filthy Mediterranean tide, washing up on the pavements, eddying round lamp-posts, never disappearing, just getting ranker and sadder.

As for the books... dear God, the books. Dreadful books, airport books, books where there's a second body behind the sofa, books where the aliens did it, books where the aliens were suspected of doing it but didn't, books where the heroine left her husband for a woman, books where the heroine left her husband for a horse, books of sociology, of dreams, of diseases, reminiscences, pornographic pictures, screenplay formats, software instructions, suicide instructions, guides to a better life, guides to staying in your relationship, guides to getting out of your relationship, guides to getting out of your relationship without feeling guilty, guides to dealing with guilt. Books you don't want, never read, or read on a desperate wet Sunday or long-haul flight and never, ever want to read again.

But you can't throw them away because you can't throw books away. Not books. Books are special. They are the fruit of men's minds, because they contain the distillation of years of mental labour; but men labour all their lives for the Inland Revenue or the collections department of American Express, and when they die we smile and dance on their graves; why should books be any different?

Why should anything be any different? I crawl to my bed each night through canyons of black plastic bags, past up-ended chests- of-drawers, toppling cataracts of shoes, stubbing my toe on piles of old first drafts, dead floppy disks, out-of-date airfield approach plates which would kill you if you actually tried to fly by them, nasty ugly chipped old mugs, at least one of every new revolutionary razor ever marketed (Blades Not Available), a lifetime's supply of Erasmic shaving foam, a lifetime's supply of Shavex shaving cream, a lifetime's supply of Kiehl's shaving cream, two lifetimes' supply of pen-nibs and box upon box of really nice notebooks, unused and always will be unused because they're just too nice to, you know... use.

And the clothes. The clothes. Too tight, too small, too nasty, too outmoded. All those mistakes; all those hopes dashed. Here are the five Jean-Paul Gaultier suits I bought in 1988 when A-- S---- gave me the elbow and cast me into such a terrible despond that I would literally spit at lovers in the street; these suits would make me a better man, a desirable man, a man whom nobody would ever leave, ever again; and I put the suits on, and fell in love with S-- D--- and, guess what? It didn't work, although she had three other lovers followed by a husband and a child and it wasn't until the second child that I realised that perhaps she wasn't playing hard-to-get. So why have I kept these suits? Why, when they make me look foolish and fill my heart with suet duff every time I contemplate their provenance, have I allowed them to follow me here, mute in their black plastic bags, humming with muted malevolence like the undead? Why did I keep the nasty jacket in the exact shade of a postpartum haemorrhage, or the hairy tweed suit with Herman Munster shoulders, or the snakeskin cowboy boots with chased silver toecaps?

Why did I keep anything? I have been here a week now, and I have looked for - actually sought out - three items. (1) My Parker 51. (2) The drawer with my pants and socks in. (3) My tape recorder. The rest could vanish tomorrow and I wish it would. The only thing I can think is that I keep this stuff, the terrible three-dimensional drivelling of a life devoted to displacement behaviour, because either I have paid for it or it has some sort of totemic significance. But the stuff I have paid for, I am paying for over and over again, every time I move it, every time I see it and wonder why it's still there. And the totemic stuff; well, that's nonsense. But beneath it all I am an unreconstructed animist. When I was little my mother would take me shopping and say, for example, "Do you want the green socks or the red ones?" And I would say, "The red ones," and then spend the next hour weeping because I felt so sorry for the green socks, whose life I had ruined by not choosing them.

It's time for it to stop, but I can't do it bit by bit. I throw out my black plastic bags but there's still just as much stuff left behind. It's strangling me, which is why I need Sir Terence. Matted hair and a filthy dog? No thank you. But give me a curry-coloured robe and one perfect bowl, and I'll be down on the street by sunset, my hand outstretched and freedom and tranquillity in my clear blue gaze.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game