How We Met: Paul Simonon & Peter Ackroyd

'Having dinner with Peter is like having dinner with the British Library, if it had a moustache'
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The Independent Online

Paul Simonon, 52, was the bass guitarist with punk-rock band The Clash, and was featured on the sleeve of their hit album London Calling. He now works as an artist, and lives in west London

Here we are in East Acton, where Peter grew up and I lived when I was at art school. During the photo shoot Peter saw an Alsatian and said, "Look, there's a black wolf roaming East Acton." It was heading for a pushchair and I pointed out it was about to eat a child. That's sort of how our humour develops.

I was aware of Peter's books before I first met him. Leon Kossoff, the artist, was raving about Hawksmoor but I struggled a little with it, I must admit. Then I met Peter. It was in the south of France, where we'd both been invited by the artist Danny Moynihan and his wife, Katrina Boorman.

At lunchtime they had a lavish table set out and I was seated next to Peter. For some reason we started talking about East Acton: the pie and mash shop, the ballroom, the bowling alley that used to be a cinema. As the hours pressed on, the Pinot Grigio was lovingly washed down our throats and we got sloshed. The last thing I remember was late in the evening, seeing Peter on the balcony. I thought he was announcing something, giving a speech, but some people thought he was trying to throw himself off. I rushed up there to find out him pretty much collapsed on his bed and I patted his hand until he got all calm and fell asleep.

We met up in London after that and had oysters and seafood at Bentley's on Swallow Street and had a really good chat. Having dinner with Peter is like having dinner with the British Library, if it had a moustache. The capacity of his mind is incredible. We always end up drinking and smoking too much. Peter once told me I was like a character from one of his books. I hope it's not the Limehouse Golem.

I've been painting the Thames for several years now. Peter asked me the other day whether I'd read his book on the Thames. I said I had only got to page 10 and he just laughed. He's so prolific we can't keep up. How he does it is a real mystery to a lot of people. We assume that he's up through the night working and then gets up very early and works again. He's obviously very inspired and driven.

I'm interested in Peter's descriptions of places and situations, and there's many a time when I'm strolling down the river, maybe the Embankment at midnight, and I think of the possibilities evoked by his books. Jake Auerbach, the film director, said he saw the atmosphere of Peter'swork in the album Damon Albarn and I made, The Good, The Bad & The Queen.

I think The Clash passed Peter by. It doesn't bother me. In East Acton probably everything passes you by. They've probably just got Glam Rock. I sent him a copy of The Good, the Bad & The Queen but I don't know if he has a record player. He probably writes by candlelight and quill. I haven't been in his home, though I've dropped him off many a time and often wondered how he's going to get up the stairs. He always seems to manage somehow.

Peter Ackroyd, 57, is an author who has published 37 books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including London: The Biography. He lives in London

It's rare to meet anyone who has even heard of East Acton. We knew the same shops, Tube, streets – we inhabited the same landscape. Paul's a little younger than I am, so we were operating at different times. But we shared memories of this particular place, which was very much sui generis, one of the first 20th-century cottage estates in London. It did have the attributes of a village, a small community, so I suppose we share a fondness for it in retrospect. Paul is very charming, very articulate, and very much a Londoner, as I am, so we hit it off.

I'm not a expert on The Clash, but I can see in his energy, his exuberance and his irony a reflection of his music.

I like his paintings of the Thames. I like their luminosity. While he was painting them, I was writing a book about it called Sacred River, so our interests converged, and I wrote the introduction to a catalogue of his paintings. He paints from up on the roof of the Savoy, I think.

We're both Catholics, or at least we were brought up as Catholics, although I think he turned to communism at an early age; his father decided they would be communists. He never came to the church I was an altar server in, St Aidan's; he was an innocent Catholic, put it that way.

Now his sons go to my old school, St Benedict's in Ealing. It's strange how two lives can touch in tangential ways all along the path. I think it's the spirit of place, you see, a territorial imperative. If people are born in a place such as East Acton, their lives will touch at further points. If I hadn't known he was from East Acton, I think I probably would have intuited it in the end.

Perhaps that's a lie, but there's a certain texture of experience if you're brought up on a council estate that never really leaves you. That's why we immediately got on, because we shared the same sense of humour and way of looking at life. I suppose the irony of it is that we met in a grand house in the South of France.

An exhibition of Paul Simonon's paintings is on view at Thomas Williams Fine Art, London W1, until 9 May (tel: 020 7491 1485)

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