Like the state it once declared itself independent of (i.e. the UK) and the partly devolved country where its territorial claims have been focused (i.e. Wales) Landskeria is of late an entity more characterised by doubt than by certainty; and more by questions than answers.
Questions like: Can we afford a new porch? Who is the correct authority to report littering to? And: Where do the hundreds of bats that live in our loft go to from October to March every year?
Those questions are only applicable to Landskeria; but similar ones on a different scale are plaguing the administrative rhythms of the larger entities that Landskeria finds itself simultaneously a part of, and apart from.
Since the beginning of February this year I have been commuting to London on an almost weekly basis. I’ve spent about a third of my time in Pimlico, a third in Landskeria, and a third on trains or in cars getting from one of these places to the other. I have a contract job in Westminster, just a short walk from Warwick Way where I lived with two friends I met at Exeter University for a short while in the Noughties, until approximately ten years ago when I met the woman who is now my wife and moved in with her in Hackney.
As a result of this period of intense extra-governmental activity, Landskeria has effectively been functioning without a government. Like Northern Ireland. But unlike Northern Ireland, none of our elected representatives are holding sway over the Government of the parent state whose jurisdiction we have found ourselves under. Thus Landskeria is still careering toward an exit from the European Union, and there’s very little we can do about it. Just try to stay sane and keep paying our bills.
Of a more immediate concern to me than “Landskrexit” is the continued depositing of plastic carrier bags full of of rubbish into Afon Wern, by (or on behalf of, or, at the very least, containing intermittent correspondence addressed to) one Glyn Nicholas of the neighbouring parish of Llangolman. I am looking into the best course of action for dealing with this, since my philosophical attitude toward the state of affairs is frequently challenged by my wife, who does not like me sorting through sopping wet bags of other people’s household waste in our own kitchen. (For some reason.)
Having little else I can say about that at this time, until the relevant extra-Landskerian authorities have answered my calls for assistance, the rest of this blogpost will be an account, for posterity, of the time I’ve spent thus far, during the early months of 2019, in and around my old neighbourhood of Warwick Way, Pimilco, London.
Week 1: 3 nights, Hotel Romano
My work having kindly agreed to cover my travel costs and provide a modest stipend for days when I am working away from home, I calculated that provided I stayed only in the cheapest and least salubrious resting places made available by the tides of supply and demand in Westminster, I ought to be able to conduct my business as a cog in the machine of the United Kingdom’s celebrated capital without imposing upon siblings (in law or blood) or friends (of whom, here or elsewhere, my age and situation leaves me with increasingly fewer with each year that passes). Nevertheless, I did not want to spend every evening away watching TV and drinking Huel, so on my first week in town I arranged to meet Paul for dinner at Cypress Mangal, opposite where we used to live; and this social outing served to partly quench the tides of frazzlement whipped up by the stormy mental conditions associated with beginning a new job. We talked mostly about work and family. A little bit about politics, but not much. We had some turkish white wine and mezzes. I had salmon. The hotel was depressing at first: the room was small and bare, and felt quite unlike anything one might recognize as “home”. But I quickly got used to it. There was a balcony overlooking the main road outside; which balcony was accessible from the balconies of neighbouring rooms, and indeed buildings. I was alarmed to find there was no key, and promptly asked for one at reception, much to the confusion of the glum, apparently unPortuguese concierge. Nights were restless, though the bed was comfortable. Breakfasts were hearty. Days were long.
Week 2: 3 nights, Enrico Hotel
I neglected to arrange any dinners in my second week; which was foolish: I’ve by now worked out that there are still more living people that I know, like, and can broadly class as friends, living in or near London, than I will have evenings in which to meet them before my contract ends in time for the beginning of the summer months. I had Huel for dinner most nights, as I had for most evening meals (and all lunches) on the first week. I watched the tiny TV in the quaintly old-fashioned hotel, which had is reception downstairs and looked like it hadn’t been redecorated since the ‘70s, and WhatsApped V to compare notes on Grand Designs. I treated myself to a takeaway kebab from Cypress Mangal one night; but they made it unfathomably large, and I had trouble getting to sleep as a result. Nights were still restless at this stage. Largely due to the increased mental activity after a while spent without full-time (paid) employment; but the kebab almost certainly didn’t help matters. I spent about an hour each evening reading a book about the growth of the Blood Libel in medieval Europe, while supping an ale in one or other of the decent but unremarkable pubs in the vicinity. I found a pound down the back of a chair in one of them, and briefly calculated how many such discoveries I might have to make per sitting if I were to consider reading books in pubs as a viable alternative career. Too many, was the conclusion. Breakfasts were even heartier at Hotel Enrico – and earlier, which fact I was grateful for, as it allowed me to make the days even longer. The bed was not comfortable, but it did not especially matter, since I am not very fussy.
Week 3: 3 nights, Gustavo’s (not a hotel)
The third week found me seconded to Vauxhall, which disgruntled me sufficiently that I subsequently took control of the booking process from my wife. It turned out I was fussy – specifically, about location. The extra mile walk each morning was probably good for my health, but, when combined with the even longer walks I willingly took to meet Steve at a pub in Soho one night, and then Dave at a pub near Sloane Square on another night (not necessarily in that order), all that extra walking did for the soles of my brogues. By the end of the third week I had two out of three pairs of shoes needing cobbling before their reuse was viable. The anticipation of this necessity had encouraged me to write a simple villanelle about the experience, and my meeting with Paul in the first week (included as a PS to this blog-post). I promised Steve I’d write a poem after meeting him, and have yet to fulfil that promise. One cannot simply summon the muse, unfortunately; the muse visits without warning and must be accommodated or spurned as the poet sees fit. I went to a nice bento place with Steve, and he bought me food, since he could tell (since I am not very good at hiding it) that I was almost out of money by this point. The costs associated with working away had yet to be mitigated by the benefits, since I hadn’t yet invoiced for my first month’s worth of work. We talked about architecture, mostly, and I consulted with Steve about my plans for an extension to the front of the house – a combined porch and sun room. I’d found out it would cost at least thirty thousand pounds, which was unfortunate because I didn’t have any pounds; much less thirty thousand of them. I was going to have to postpone the project, much to my annoyance. When I met Dave, I had a cheapish burger and we chatted about work, and about our respective geniuses not being wholly recognised. He showed me a Lego village he’d built in his flat. It was huge. The hotel that week wasn’t a hotel, as I mentioned above, but a ground-floor flat on an estate by a big road. A big road called Vauxhall, where Kate Hoey presumably lives. There were French people eating dinner when I arrived, which I wasn’t expecting. I asked them if they were expecting me, and they assured me that they were not. It turned out the flat was divided into three secure rooms with a communal area, which was clean and convenient, and a TV which defaulted to a dirty sex channel if you dared turn it on; which I consequently did not dare to do again. I worked out how to make TV happen in my room, using my phone and laptop combined. But since I was out both evenings, there wasn’t much time for Huel or iPlayer. As good as the place was, I missed Pimlico and vowed to return there next week if even remotely possible. The days were long, but work was beginning to fall into place, so I slept better. Breakfasts, alas, like lunches, were desk-based, and often largely reliant on Huel.
Week 4: 3 nights, Park Hotel, 1 night, Zef’s
The next week I was even poorer, and thus arranged no evening meetings, and mostly drank Huel. I stayed in Park Hotel, which was the cheapest and so far the least clean hotel I’ve stayed in. It had a shower in the room though, which was a first. Not counting the place in Vauxhall, which had an en-suite, but which was not a hotel and not in Pimlico, and therefore bad. Both Romano and Enrico had shared shower and toilet facilities located just a short jog down the hall. So this place was both a step up and a step down. I treated myself to a sit-in pizza at O Sole Mio in Pimlico, realizing halfway through my meal that I had eaten here once before – ten years ago, or maybe more, when I lived on Warwick Way. I was probably dining with Paul. Quite possibly Ralf too, who now lives in Australia and whom I consequently never see. Maybe Steve or Adam were there too; since they had lived in South London at the time, and thus would often come to visit us in Westminster, which is much nicer than South London. The breakfasts at Park Hotel were too late to bother with (eight o clock; pah!) so I made do with takeaway flat whites and yogurty, porridgey things from Eat on the way to the office. Huel at lunch, as standard. Snickerses and Jack Daniels and cokes in the evening; and intensely flavoured Turkish crisp snacks from a newsagent on Warwick Way; odd, the things one finds oneself ingesting by habit when in new or different places. And odd how soon habits are formed and adhered to. I would never eat a nut-product at home, because my daughter is allergic. But drinking whisk(e)y and coke is something I haven’t done much of since I was a teenager; so I’ve no idea what about working in Westminster has made me think it’s a thing I do now. But it has. And thus it is. The nights were becoming more restful by week 4; though the days were getting longer and longer, and the job’s full complexity was now apparent, it all still seemed vaguely in control. Some bits were progressing faster than I’d anticipated, and some slower. But the overall progress seemed okay, so I was having no trouble sleeping now; and though I still enjoyed the process of leaving London halfway through the week, and did not enjoy leaving Landskeria on Sunday afternoons, I by no means felt only relief in returning, nor only regret on leaving. I had begun to enjoy arriving in London as well as leaving it. This week I managed to go north for a night to Stoke Newington to see my brother Zef, and Felicia, and to enjoy an evening in their company; though money was still tight, so I was grateful that we ate out at an affordable pizza place in Dalston. We passed the cinema where my oldest brother once sent me with £5 so that I would be out of his way while he was entertaining a female friend. I was about 18 or 19, I think. I watched Swimming Pool. I was grateful for the fiver, since I had none of my own, but thought the arrangement odd since I had come to Hackney specifically to see him.
Week 5: 2 nights, The Grapevine (actually Sheriff) Hotel
By week five I was into the “usually working from home” part of my contract, but still had meetings to attend, so returned to Pimlico for the shorter duration of two nights. On my way to my hotel I passed a residential square and saw an illuminated study in a gorgeously posh home, with a stunning library. I fantasized momentarily about somehow being invited in to that library and being paid to read it all, book-by-book. It seemed glorious, but then so did the notion of writing for a living before I started doing it, whereupon it swiftly became usual; and, besides, if I were employed by the eccentric elderly gentleman who (in my fantasy) owned that library, I would be working away from home all the time. My hotel, on my arrival, had apparently been aggressively acquired by its neighbour, so I checked in there, and was directed out of the building and down the street to one of its exclaves. I never saw more than the sign on the door of The Grapevine Hotel, which sign instructed me to go to Sheriff Hotel, whose concierge, when he finally arrived, was perfectly polite and helpful. The room in Sheriff Hotel’s annex/exclave was great. The bed was comfortable. I slept like a king; but a king with a legitimate claim to the throne, and the support of the majority of his barons, and numerous healthy heirs. By this time I had a new book to read on the train and in the pubs, and was devouring (not literally) Norman Davies’s “The Isles: A History”. At 1,000+ pages in length, it put paid to any daydreams I’d had about beginning the writing of a new (or indeed an old) novel during my commute. But it was very enjoyable, so I didn’t much care. I even did a bit of reading in the hotel room, although soon defaulted to the usual televisual banquet of Grand Designs, Masterchef, Fleabag, and the new series of Alan Partridge. The work was quite enjoyable by this point, although occasionally frustrating. I had taken (since my days were often ten hours or longer) to having brisk walks around Parliament Square after my (Huel) lunch. There were protests every day. Pro-Brexit, Anti-Brexit, Bangladeshi, Ambazonian, and other domestic. The breakfast was very good at Sheriff, although not quite as good, or as early, as that at Enrico Hotel, which remains the gold standard in that particular department. On Monday evening I met Steve and Paul, the former before the latter, and we went to Yalla Yalla because Paul won the coin toss. I had suggested Wahaca, but was very happy with the standard of food (and wine) in the Lebanese restaurant Paul chose. I also had some money, because Victoria had been paid. (Although, I had not yet been paid, so the money very swiftly ran out.) I had my first taste of babaganoush, which was something of a revelation. I was beginning to run out of Huel, but still exclusively lunching on it, and rather looking forward to not having any left; although simultaneously aware that without Huel or money I might end up going hungry.
Week 6: 2 nights, Hotel Romano
The sixth week of my contract saw me return, only semi-willingly, to Hotel Romano. The first place I’d stayed, which had seemed a dismal spot on my first visit, was actually perfectly adequate once I got over the pain of being separated from my beloved homeland, and my fellow Landskerian fauna. But repeating a booking did not sit well with my spirit of adventure. So I was pleased to be directed to a different room this time – and pleased when the thoroughly glum concierge recognized me from my previous visit, and even twitched a little at the corner of his lip as if tempted to smile. (I don’t suppose many people come back to Hotel Romano.) But having enjoyed my second visit, and the novelty of a new room (this time with an en-suite entirely encapsulated within a plastic cube, sort of resembling part of a spaceship on a mid-twentieth-century TV show) I did wonder whether I should keep re-booking with a view to eventually sampling every type of room on offer at the hotel and thus becoming the world’s foremost independent expert on Hotel Romano, Pimlico. But, I reasoned with myself, it would not do to abandon the criteria which had thus far guided my choices – the cheapest single, private room available at several days’ notice, within a reasonable (1-2 mile) walking distance from the office. I slept well in Hotel Romano this time. Although I was by now so poor that I had to survive almost exclusively on Huel for the duration of my stay (and biscuits nabbed at the end of meetings); so I arranged no dinners, and after I’d watched a papillon win Crufts on Monday night, I went to bed at about 8 o’clock. The breakfast at Romano’s was good again; although still not as good as that I had at Enrico Hotel. If only the breakfast from Enrico Hotel could be combined with the great location (and superior key-card system) at Hotel Romano, maybe with the price of Park Hotel, at its cheapest, and the comfortable bed at the Hotel Sheriff exclave falsely advertised as part of The Grapevine Hotel – between them, these budget Pimlico hotels could create one perfect budget hotel experience. But no single one of them had everything quite right. Be it possessing an abundance of coat-hangers but nowhere to hang them (Enrico), or ample hanging space but insufficient hangers (Romano), or a TV that was completely incapable of emitting sound or being angled to afford a satisfactory picture (Sheriff/Grapevine), or not actually being a hotel and having unexpected French people in it (Gustavo’s, Vauxhall), or simply the presence of an incredibly filthy and foul-smelling carpet (Park), it seemed every hotel had at least some room for improvement. But, in its way, each hotel was also a welcome refuge from the buzz and stink of the streets of Westminster; even those hotels which had their own buzzes and stinks did at the very least provide variation on the sounds and smells of the outside world; and, invariably, an overwhelmingly hot radiator which was impossible to exert any control over.
Week 7: home
On the seventh week I rested; or rather, I finally worked for an entire week from home. I promptly came down with a stinking cold and had a pretty awful week of it. The weather was also dreadful (close and muggy and damp) although it became glorious on the Sunday afternoon as I packed my case to return for another 3-day half-week in London. Nearly halfway through the contract now, and thus nearly halfway through the project. (At least, I think I am.) My eighth week on the job, in which I will stay, once again (or possibly for the first time?) in The Grapevine Hotel. I look forward to discovering whether I’m really staying there this time, or whether Hotel Sheriff have once more appropriated my booking. One day I’d like to stay at Hotel Vegas, which sounds really classy; but I’ll just have to see where the market takes me…
Yours, in the spirit of adventure.
Joint First Minister in Exile of the Stateless Nation of Landskeria,
The abovementioned poem:
Villanelle for Pimlico
Working in Westminster and wearing shoes.
No headspace for headlines. So why pretend?
No time for me to think about the news:
I have a book to read about the Jews
in medieval Norwich. Met a friend
who works in Westminster (while wearing shoes);
at dinner we went easy on the booze:
talked family, work, the past, and how ways wend.
No time for us to talk much about news.
A decade’s past since last I walked this mews.
Could twenty-five-year-old me comprehend
working in Westminster? (Or wearing shoes?)
The routes we take to work are all we choose.
And time makes tools of us all in the end.
Working in Westminster and wearing shoes;
no time for me to think about the news.
I am now, while copying this blogpost, written on the train, into WordPress, in The Grapevine Hotel (not the Sheriff Hotel). There is a shower right next to my bed, but my toilet is in a completely different part of the building, next to someone else’s room. The TV works and there is adequate hangerage. There are vivid stains beneath the superficially clean bedding.