1 AUGUST 1987, Page 42

Low life

Penthouse fantasy

Jeffrey Bernard

The business of being homeless and the search for a flat has become an obession and a nightmare. Even if I don't dream about it the anxiety wakes me up and I lie there in the dark chain-smoking and rack- ing the pickled brain for an answer. Last night it occured to me that somewhere there must be a place that is so awful nobody could bear to live in it and so be bursting with empty flats. Basingstoke? Beirut? Belfast? I just don't know. What I do know though is the fact that I have been going on and on about it far too much in these columns recently, but then it is all' I can think about at the moment. There was only one thing I could think about when I was 16, but now I can look straight through a beautiful woman without a flicker or twinge.

I just want to get up in my own place, put the kettle on for tea, light a fag, cough and possibly fart and you can't do those things when somebody, friends, are putting you up for a week at a time. There are all sorts of things you can't do in other people's places, like cook and entertain. I walk about in this house — for only three more days — as though I am walking on eggs, fearful and knowing people are thinking and saying, 'You must have been mad to let Jeff stay. He'll get pissed and burn the place down.'

The truth of the matter is that the worst I have done is to neglect the washing-up for two days. And now, apart from writing to you, I am waiting for a man to come and repair the washing machine. Waiting in for people to repair machines or read meters is awful and I feel shackled but I suppose winos and tramps don't even have that luxury. At least I can squeeze an orange into some vodka. But being homeless is worse than divorce, being left or someone dying which is the same thing. The only thing I can think of which is worse is the pain of pancreatitis. Dear God, I shall have to go and squeeze another orange.

And people like publishers and agents wonder why one can't sit down and write a lousy book. Making one would be more to the point if it wasn't for HM Customs and Excise. Jeffrey Archer must be the luckiest man in England and I believe he writes a bit. I shall leave this house next week holding up a white flag. Apathy has set in. I couldn't even bother to kick Alice and Stanley at the weekend when they ate my Sunday breakfast kipper. I would very much like to go to bed and stay there. Just before he died Sean Kenny advised me to move in to a decent hotel with just a typewriter and some paper and burn up the line to room service with exotic orders for food and drink. His theory was that the anxiety and tension produced by having no money and running up a largish bill would produce a book in a matter of days. It isn't true. Skating on thin ice may enliven and sharpen the wits but it doesn't oil type- writers and get them rattling.

Incidentally, Sean's heart attack must have been connected with his amazing habit of drinking whisky in very hot sauna baths. I prefer Turkish baths and what a pity it is you can no longer spend all night in the one they had at the Great Russell Hotel. That cost all of ten shillings. Any- way, in one hour's time I have to meet an estate agent or manager to talk about a flat and I can hardly be bothered to go. I wonder how optimism died? Probably from fatigue having carried me all the way from school to here. I have spent years in the trenches simply dying to go over the top' every morning but now as dawn breaks I turn over again and fantasise about penthouse flats. Penthouse

flats overlooking a park, Manhattan, the Thames, the Ramblas in Barcelona or citrus trees in France. Meanwhile it's back to the Coach and Horses for me where I can overlook the chewing gum stuck to the carpet and the diamonds stuck to Nor- man's mum's fingers.