Me and My Home: Books and a book man

Caroline Wingfield talks to the author Paul Bailey
Click to follow

Paul Bailey lives in Shepherd's Bush. His latest book, 'A Dog's Life', is set in the area and fondly recalls his relationships with close friends and, in particular, with his dog Circe

We bought the house in 1972 and it was a complete and utter tip when we moved in. There were no inside toilets and just one rudimentary bathroom. It had been a lodging house for many years and it was really just a series of small pokey rooms. The people who sold it to us were a very sweet Nigerian couple with two children who were going back to live in Nigeria.

"There were three of us buying the house: myself, my late partner David, and an actress friend, Lisa. We were all living in apartments at the time and decided we wanted to buy a house. It seemed the right time to buy a property and this was about what we could afford.

"We'd more or less agreed to buy the house when a property developer came round and offered the couple £5,000 more than we were offering, so we thought we'd lost it. But it turned out that the wife overheard him make a racist remark about the state of the house. So on the instant she told her husband that they weren't to sell the place to that man. They'd been offered £21,000 and we bought it for £16,000.

"It took months to convert it back; Lisa had the whole of the ground floor and we had the rest of the house. There was ancient wallpaper everywhere that had gone brown with cigarette smoke, and we did think at the time, 'Why are we buying this place?' On the other hand my late partner had a wonderful eye for interior decoration.

"When we first moved here the area was full of very old Irish people and very old Poles, and there is still a large Polish community around here. These were people who barely spoke English and they used to congregate in this Polish delicatessen at Shepherd's Bush and chat away all day in their native tongue, so many of them never got beyond the most basic English words. Some of them had been living here since the Thirties, but gradually they've all died off.

"Very few of the houses on the street were not flats - only in recent years have they become private properties. In the Eighties all the yuppies moved in, one or two of whom are still friends of mine. We even had a duchess up the road at one time, I don't know what she was the duchess of. We really went upmarket very quickly.

"I like the area most now, and I'm very hesitant to leave here, but needs must. It's a strange time of my life to be moving again because I thought I was going to be stuck here forever. I like the area very much but if I'm going to make a move I might as well make a big one. I've been looking in the east of London at all those conversions and warehouses, but apart from a convent in Shadwell I haven't seen anything I like.

"Wherever I go I'll need a big bookcase. So far I've already got rid of more than 1,000 books. Some dealers came around and they bought a few signed first editions. You realise as you get older that there are some books you want for reference, some you want to read again and some that you've never read, but keep meaning to. If I were ruthless I could whittle it down to a couple of hundred but I can't. I've probably got about 4,000; there were more, and I think I'm still going to have to reduce it to 1,000.

"I do care deeply who buys the house. I'm not boasting, but we did have a kind of vision for the place. All the other houses nearby were pretty neglected until they were bought by the Notting Hill housing trust and the council and converted. I know it sounds unreasonable but it would hurt me if someone wanted to put it back into flats. Considering what it was like when we were first here, we really did turn a tenement into a beautiful house; it's as simple as that. And it's taken lots of love and masses of money. As we were all self-employed it was a case of waiting until the next big cheque came along. It wasn't as if we could do it week by week; we had to wait for windfalls.

"There's been a kitchen up on the top floor since 1982 when I wrote a book about Cynthia Payne, the Streatham brothel keeper, and with the money my late friend suggested we convert this part of the house into a kitchen. He'd started to cook professionally and by midday this room is flooded with light, and stays that way all afternoon. I often sit up here and write.

"A lot of people say my house is the wrong way round with the kitchen upstairs, but they never offer an explanation. I think it's just that they're so used to the fact that kitchens are always on the ground floor. But in this case a kitchen downstairs would not have the same amount of light.

"When we have dinner parties it means I can cook in front of my guests while still having a conversation. I spend more time in the kitchen than the bedroom - as I suspect most of the human race does, give or take a few nymphomaniacs. Since the two downstairs rooms don't have much light they seem absolutely right for bedrooms. There is a logic to all this."

Paul Bailey's house is for sale at £560,000 freehold through Mark Peto at Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward (020-8563 9633). 'A Dog's Life' is published by Hamish Hamilton, £15.99

Comments