And it is only when I have shut the bedroom door for the third or fourth time on my husband and children in order to find out how Vanessa Bell’s life was better than my own that I work it out. It is the act of reading itself I miss, the opportunity to retreat further and further from the world until I have found some space, some air that isn’t stale, that hasn’t been breathed by my family a thousand of times already. Janet’s bedsit seemed enormous when I moved into it, enormous and quiet, but this book is so much bigger than that. And when I’ve finished it I will start another one, and that might be even bigger, and then another, and I will be able to keep extending my house until it becomes a mansion, full of rooms where they can’t find me. And it’s not just reading,either, but listening, hearing something other than my children’s TV programmes and my husband’s pious drone and the chatter chatter in my head.
What happened to me? However did I get into my head that I was too busy for all this stuff? Maybe I can’t live a rich and beautiful life, but there are rich and beautiful things for sale all around me, even on the Holloway Road, and they are not an extravagance because if I buy some of them then I might be able to get by, and if I don’t then I think I might go under. I need a Discman and some CDs and half-a-dozen novels urgently, total cost maybe three hundred pounds. Three hundred pounds for a mansion! Imagine asking a building society manager for thee hundred pounds! He’d give you cash out of his own pocket (…)… but I need the Discman. I don’t want anyone else to hear what I am hearing, and I want to be able to block out very last trace of the world I inhabit, even if it is just for half-an-hour a day. And yes, yes: just think how many cataract operations or bags of rice could be bought for three hundred pounds. And just think how long it would take a twelve-year-old Asian girl to earn that in her sweatshop. Can I be a good person and spend that much money on overpriced consumer goods? I don’t know. But I do know this: I’d be no good without them.