Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis hasn’t left the building yet. But he’s on his way.
Hanna and I have been in a frenzy of spring cleaning since we came home from Amsterdam last week. Usually we’re glad to see the back of even the most luxurious hotels when a series is over — it’s great to be in a real house again.
But Amsterdam was different. The TV company rented a canal-side apartment for us, so that the sight which greeted us every morning when we turned back the wooden shutters was the barges and the bicycles and the herons on the bridges.
There was no room service, but there were also no noisy guests, or chambermaids with vacuum cleaners, or dining room odours. The place became so much like a home to us that we talked of buying it and popping over for weekend breaks. The airiness and simplicity were right.
We kept it clear of clutter. Instead of stacking up the newspapers and magazines, we chucked them out. Instead of filling the rooms with new suitcases, we used the wardrobes. And instead of buying mountains of clothes that would cost as much again in airline baggage excess, we dressed simply.
That’s nothing new. It’s decades since I shopped like a professional. Paris Hilton probably blows more in one outing than I do in a year.
But in Amsterdam, I experienced the pleasure of living in an apartment that, for a few weeks at least, was a real home — and enjoying a minimalist lifestyle.
Our real home, beside the Thames, has been our spiritual base for 24 years. We love it more than anywhere on earth. But no one could call it minimalist. And when we walked into the family room, with its cushions, its crystals, its clutter and that lifesize wooden figure of Elvis, Hanna and I knew without saying a word: there’d be some changes made.
We hired a skip. Into it went everything we didn’t need. At first I started small — in the bathroom. All the creams, lotions and shampoos that hadn’t been opened for years went out. Most were long past their use-by date... and though some of the products had cost me a walletful of dollars in New York or LA, I didn’t like the thought of rubbing Nineties chemicals into my skin.
Then I tackled the mountains of papers. I’d been ruthless in Amsterdam and I could do it again here — if I really want to find some article from a three-year-old Sunday Times, I’ll Google it. And my shelves were stacked three deep in books, which meant I could never see what I was looking for: now 80 per cent of my reference library has been packed into boxes in the shed.
As Shipi and I carted the books down the garden steps, I said a prayer of gratitude that I hadn’t let my old friend Marcello Truzzi talk me into buying his library of parascientific research before he died. That collection comprised 15,000 volumes.
Four or five exercise machines went into the skip, with tables, chairs and a pile of bric-a-brac. It was time to order a new skip. Some of the debris might have been salvaged, some of it could even have been worth a tenner on eBay — but who wants to pay the postage on a rowing machine?
My heart ached when we reached the rooms that had been my mother’s. I picked up her glasses and realised they were lying where she had placed them for the last time, almost four years ago.
Hanna put her arms around me. “Muti is in your heart,” she said, “not in this room.” She was right — we cannot keep it as a shrine. It’s strange to touch her clothes, her ornaments, her letters, and realise they are nothing but a cast-off skin, left behind when the spirit goes to a better life.
We took the clothes to Oxfam, because I could not bear to throw her possessions in a skip. But I am relieved to have begun the clear-out, because I don’t want to carry the past around with me in a furniture van.
So I packaged up his collection of model planes, all 150 of them, delighted that I’d had the foresight to keep the boxes. Diecast models like these are worth so much more in their original packaging.
While I have been busy with my live TV shows around the world, my children have both moved to California. It was easier to clear out their rooms, especially after I called Dan to ask if there were any books or toys from his childhood that he would like freighted out. “No way, Aba!” he exclaimed.
All my soft toys had to go as well — about 200 of them. I plan to give these away to poorly children when they visit my home, but for now they’re in five wheelie bins, parked in the shed.
We’re not clutter-free yet, and we’re a long way from minimalism. I think there’s another five weeks of clearing out before I can even think of repainting. But we’re getting there.
“It’s starting to look like home,” I said to Hanna. “Our new home.”