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On St Patrick’s Day 1965 Jim had taken up residence at 35 Palace Gardens Terrace, parallel with Kensington Church Street; a good address, but not exactly the leapfrog in circumstances it might appear. ‘I think I’ll go and live in a greenhouse in Notting Hill Gate next – for £2 a week’ he had decided, seeing the dramatic potential at a glance, and it made a perfectly proportioned glass case for the threatened species inside: the writer driven to self-sacrifice, careworn but game. Being a solidly built conservatory annexe, however, it was less flimsy than he implied. The structure jutted from the rear of the building, between ground level and first floor, and was entered via the front door and main staircase, through double doors opening off the return. His recent peripatetic existence had worn him down, culminating in temporary digs in a large house in Richmond with a group of Icelanders met in Paris. There the landlady’s daily meditation – ‘the thought of her sitting there on the other side of the wall becomes very discouraging’ – had been compounded by her addiction to ‘The Saint Strikes Back’ at full volume on her television, forcing a second retreat to Garry Arnott in Ridgemount Gardens. I’d carried the luggage of my life just as far as I possibly could. My hands were blistered, my shoulders were aching. Taking possession of his small oblong space on a six-month lease, Jim lit up one of the Schimmelpenninck Dutch cigars he had recently adopted, justified as an investment against English colds, and took back control. The bed was pushed against the long glasspaned wall which faced the opaque, mottled glass panels of the double doors, and the table for the typewriter placed at right angles to it, on the left. The dingy beige curtains offended him in daytime but were a useful screen against the light, as well as the distracting rear windows of the high-terraced houses beyond the dividing wall. 176 CHAPTER TWELVE A Nebulous Desire for Escape 1965–1966 ‘I’m living in a greenhouse’, he announced at the first opportunity, promoting poverty as a natural element, like water or air. Not everybody was impressed. Old friends saw it as a pose – ‘He wants to live in a greenhouse’, it was frequently said, exasperation tinged with concern – and Philip and Jill Davies, who had married since the unhappy episode in Spain, presented him with a secondhand electric heater. ‘You have to have something,’ they explained, missing the point. The effects of the greenhouse were to be on Jim’s imagination, not his health, as an indelible experience rapidly overtook the astute career move. Transmuted, the poky glass-walled box in Palace Gardens Terrace would billow into the immense conservatory of the Majestic Hotel in Troubles, dense with jungle-sized undergrowth inspired by an assortment of small pot plants from the shops in Notting Hill. Long before that, from the start, it would influence his latest – still-indistinct – hero, Count Boris Slattery. [Only] a theatre curtain would have been big enough to cover the vast expanse of glass that surrounded me . . . Perhaps if things had been different I might have done something – rigged up a canopy, perhaps, and broken a few judicious windows for ventilation. [But] a succession of sunny days and cold nights . . . reduced my normally ferrous will to syrup . . . and then the weather changed abruptly . . . The bright knives of sunlight . . . were no longer there. The greenhouse was filled with greyish light. I could hardly believe my luck. A cloudy day at last . . . I had merely exchanged one torment for another . . . the endless shrieking of the wind. Jim, too, swung from discomfort to apathy at the mercy of the weather and was compelled to wear dark glasses unless the sky was overcast, prompting disturbing flashbacks to the iron lung. ‘I thought, this man doesn’t know what living in a greenhouse is like,’ he declared ten years later, trouncing the author of a book with a similar background. ‘I’m living in a greenhouse,’ he duly challenged Jonathan Clowes over the phone, but when Clowes investigated he declared it to be well sheltered and quite reasonable. Russell, on his flying visit, allied himself firmly with Jim. ‘It was a wonderful image of the artist exposed in a glasshouse,’ he wrote. ‘He had a little table for his typewriter and a teapot, not even any cooking facilities. He ate fish and chips with peas every day...


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