27 APRIL 2002, Page 49

Low life

Fragile harmony

Jeremy Clarke

For a home multip.,,m 1 use a scaffolding pole filled with concrete. Doing bicepcurls with it one day. I accidentally knocked a hole in the living-room wall with the end. Later on. I broke an Ikea glass lampshade with my hand while pulling on a sweater. Apart from that, in the threemonth period I rented my last house there were no other breakages. I was careful. I didn't have any parties. I wore slippers indoors so as not to dirty the carpets. I wanted the owners — practising Buddhists — to come home and find the place the same as they'd left it. They had trusted me with their lovely home for three months and I aimed to repay that trust with my consideration.

I devoted the last day of my tenancy to sweeping, scrubbing, hoovering and polishing. I glued the lampshade and filled the hole in the wall. I beat the rugs. I washed the sofa covers and put clean linen on the beds. By the evening the place was spotless. I put my few remaining belongings in the boot of the car and went to the King Bill for one last session. After that I was going to doss down in the house in my sleepingbag and vacate the house first thing in the morning.

I spent a convivial evening in the pub. So convivial, in fact, that I invited Don and Brenda, a couple of the friendly alcoholic losers who drink in the King Bill, back to the house for a nightcap. We were joined on the way home by a bald Irishman, who they thought was with me, and I thought was with them, but was known to none of us.

I'd not previously invited anyone back to the house for a social event. As a Buddhists' home, the house had a sort of sacrosanct atmosphere that I was loth to violate. Everywhere you looked in the house was a Buddha looking reproachfully at his feet. And feng shui had been involved in the arrangement of the Ikea furniture as well, I believe, which added to the sense of fragile spiritual harmony. As we barged in through the front door after the pub I had a momentary pang of having betrayed someone or something.

We stood and drank and danced in the kitchen on the stripped-pine floor till God knows when. Every time I glanced up at the pine kitchen-clock it said something completely unexpected — improbable even. And I had the odd and depressing sensation that we were the only four people left in the universe.

The bald Irishman said he had some cannabis on him, but no tobacco or papers. I was able to supply a packet of super kingsize reefer papers manufactured in Scotland, with a two-stanza poem by Robert Burns on the back cover. The poem was about close friends sharing a communal pipe and not caring a fig for either church or state. An apposite poem, I remember thinking. Unfortunately, the papers were so long none of us had the manual dexterity to roll a joint successfully with one, and the project was eventually abandoned.

Then there was a fight. I'd nipped out to the car to get another tape and when came back the Irishman's pate was covered with blood. Closer inspection revealed a single tooth lodged precariously in his forehead. The tooth was one of Don's. While I was out, the Irishman had nutted Don in the mouth. It was hard to say who'd come off worse, but Don was doing all the apologising. Brenda solicitously picked the tooth out of the Irishman's head and gave it back to Don. Don dropped it in the chromiumplated pedal-bin, which I'd emptied and carefully polished earlier.

I'm happy to say that there were no lasting hard feelings on either side. It had all been a silly misunderstanding, apparently. Don and the Irishman shook hands. We took it in turns to throw our glasses across the room at the nifty little art-deco fireplace, then we carried on dancing. I was doing some pretty acrobatic stuff by now and cut my hand on a shard of broken glass. More blood everywhere. All over the stripped-pine floor, all over me, and all up the front of the spin-dryer. After that 1 had to hold my hand over the draining-board while I danced, which severely limited my dancing repertoire.

The last thing I remember is Brenda painting a stylised tropical landscape on the kitchen worktop using my blood and blue washing-up liquid as a medium. It really was very effective. A talented lady. While she worked I hummed in her ear that tune from the children's programme Vision On — the one when they played when they showed us the gallery. She thoroughly ruined it though, in my opinion, by writing across the sky this amazingly trite poem about having 'a dream'.