Back in the late 1980s, I lived in a rollicking house of misfits at 640 Reid Street in Peterborough, Ontario. I’d just finished a year in residence at Trent University, and my friend John, who I knew through Trent Radio invited me to let a room in his house.
It was a heady time.
John ran an interesting house: each of we renters were assigned an evening of the week, and on that evening we were responsible for cooking the evening meal. My first attempt at this — reflecting both my lack of culinary imagination, and a strong gulp of newfound freedom — consisted of hamburgers, potato chips, and ice cream with M&M’s on top. I took me a long time to live that down, as the usual fare was more of the “cashew graced rice noodles with asparagus” kind.
In one of the rooms next door, on the second floor of 640 Reid Street, lived a man named Mark. A Trent graduate, Mark was working as a surveyor (I think — it was something outdoors and involved measurement). Of all of us in the house, Mark was the only one with a real job, the only one with cable television, and the only one with a beard. Mark was very affable, but he liked his space, and mostly kept to himself outside of our communal dining.
On the other side was the room of Simon Shields. Simon’s project at the time was a storefront legal clinic called the Community Information Agency, a place where he offered free or low-cost paralegal advice to all takers. We became good friends, and were roommates several other times over the ensuing years.
One weekend Simon had a visit from his friend Yann. Simon and Yann had met at Trent, I think, and Yann was in Peterborough for a brief sojourn amidst an exciting life as an intellectual traveler. As Mark was away for the weekend, Yann stayed in Mark’s room.
Now, as I said, Mark liked his space, but was also affable, and the combination of the two was an invitation for guests to stay in Mark’s room during his absences as long as there was no evidence of the fact when he returned.
Alas at the end of the weekend there was some evidence of Yann’s residence — the specifics escape me — and this caused a minor brouhaha in the house. As anyone who’s lived in a house of unrelated malcontents knows, such episodes can easily fracture the gentle balances needed for happy cohabitation. If I recall correctly, this episode had echos into the following several weeks, but generally blew over quite quickly.
I recollected Yann this morning, in an email to John, as a “mildly interesting, but also somewhat pompous man with his head in the clouds.”
His official biography says that he now “divides his time between yoga, writing and volunteering in a palliative care unit.” I conclude that these are all probably qualities that are good to have if you want to write Booker Prize-winning novels.
Those were the days.
Hat’s off to Yann on the Booker.