I came into London and made my home on sofas various over a year and a half ago. My last two weeks in the city will be spent on a sofa again. As it began, so it ends.
Sofa surfing can be torture – living on the fragile goodwill of others without a square foot of private space to call your own, often without a key to the house that holds your belongings. Not that there are many left of the latter; all of the funky possessions that you’ve carefully chosen to act as your ambassadors of self (the erudite books on your shelf, tasteful hippy throw across the bed) have been put in cold storage. All you have left is what will fit in a backpack. Even my laptop charger is on loan, the minutes left on my battery counting down to zero, slowly, surely, even as I type.
In my case, the lack of a home is amplified, as I am living in a flat that has just been moved into. Perhaps this is for the best – this is in unspoilt world, a protoflat where I can can carve out my own little niche for a fortnight. My backpack squats like an intruder in the corner of the living room, but it is camouflaged with the boxes of electronics, three televisions, deconstructed desks and discarded duvets that are currently its roommates. It can be much harder to come in as an invader to an established domestic space.
Then again, new accommodation has its downsides – we currently have one plate between four (a situation soon to be rectified) and I am reduced to scouring for free broadband from the neighbouring flats (thus far unsuccessfully). Having spent a year and a half with a house and a room to call my own, the transition can be unsettling.
But there is pleasure in reduction as well. Everything becomes simpler. The bookcase filled with unread books that stare down reproachfully has been reduced to the two in my bag (Lolita and The Defence, both by Nabokov). My vast piles of useless clothes is now a slim bundle of the essentials (who needs so many coats and pairs of jeans anyway?), and all the clutter that I’ve accumulated excised to my parents attic. Time, money, space, possessions; all are limited, so life is simple again. As a man who has shown a tendency to wrap himself in loops of life’s complexities until one ends up around his neck, the simplicity is refreshing.
Sofa surfing can be a kind of purgatory, a domestic recreation of Waiting for Godot, a life spent as a ghost without even a natural haunt to call your own. Or it can be a decompression chamber, an airlock to a new world. Beyond the door waits a new life – a bookshop on a Santorini, a cottage in the French countryside, the Edinburgh festival, five months of cramming shorthand, sub-editing press law and news writing techniques into my skull, then who knows? There might even be the beginnings of a book or two to be found in the midst of all that. All things are possible, and fortune favours the brave.