I. left at five, with an unfeasible number of very badly-packed white shirts, to spend ten days in the Middle East signing a deal, and I feel unreasonably depressed. It isn’t helped by the fact that our houseguest, H, is still staying with us three weeks on, slightly to my disbelief – she can’t move into her new flat until next week, so I’ve felt I couldn’t ask her to leave, and I am fond of her – but I’m baffled as to why she chooses our tiny flat, with its cupboard-sized spare room and creaky floorboards, over repeated invitations from the other friends I mentally dub the Hampstead Lawyers and the South Ken Ballerina/Merchant Banker. I can’t believe someone who wrote a doctorate on French existentialist novels hasn't noticed that her presence has imposed a bit of a strain on two people trying to be hospitable, and retiring to bed early to have fights – or the same fight, really – in an undertone. We now know one another’s lines so well we could swap places – we argued our way through an otherwise marvellous tour of Wren City churches and the Middle Temple on Open House weekend, and went to a Spooks event (I. is a fan) at the ICA last night and managed to argue in virtual silence through Matthew McFayden and Howard Brenton telling funny stories. We nearly came to blows in the green room of Ready Steady Cook (a chef friend was on and gave us tickets) on Friday, which I would probably find funnier if I didn't feel so hopeless about the whole thing..
I can’t in all conscience ask I. not to do this thing he’s been working towards for months, especially in a recession where the alternative is unemployment – and especially as he has dealt cheerfully with me spending termtime a long distance away for years. But I can’t help feeling aggrieved that, having managed to earn this research year in London, and having been so ectstatic about the two of us having an entire year at home together, it is entirely possible I’ll be spending much of it alone, while he sets up the new company in some godforsaken skyscraper city in a desert. I could go with him, of course – this year of all years I am, in theory, flexible – but it simply isn’t possible for me to live somewhere which appears to consist of an unappealing combination of oil-led capitalism and fundamentalist Islam on the one hand, and booze-fuelled expat bad behaviour inside Westerners’ compounds and hotels on the other. (The chief expat social event of the week appears to consist of holing up in a hotel for the entirety of the Friday Sabbath getting rat-arsed on an all-you-can-drink champagne brunch, which strikes me as about as enjoyable as repeatedly shutting my hand in a drawer. There’s also something that calls itself the Bridget Jones Club, which appears dedicated to the task of grooming – an activity suitable only for dogs, to my mind – and thereby bagging yourself a rich chap.) The only thing that appeals, besides I.’s company, would be the prospect of learning some Arabic, and of travelling in Iran or Jordan or India – but I am being paid to write a book, and this is also the year of my novel, and how can I transport all my books and papers halfway across the world and then work without proper libraries?
But I’m also afraid my presence there, however ironic, argumentative and provisional, would seem to legitimise the whole affair. At the moment, I. is determined that his presence out there will be a finite affair, that he will start the company and supervise the start-up and hiring, then, when all is up and running, will only be there for specific reasons, remaining based here. But I’m terribly afraid it may be easier to say than do, and easier to go than return. My being there might help confer a sense of permanence on what I'm determined is a short excursion, and that’s not a risk I want to take.
And with nice, mild-mannered, easily-alarmed H here, I can't even lie on the floor and howl.