Tobias Hill

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UK | 2006

Tobias Hill was born in London in 1970. He has published three collections of poetry: Year of the Dog (1995), Midnight in the City of Clocks (1996), influenced by his experiences of living in Japan, and Zoo (1998), which coincided with his tenure as Poet in Residence at London Zoo. His collection of stories Skin won the 1998 PEN / Macmillan Award for Fiction. His novels include Underground (1999), The Love of Stones (2001), and The Cryptographer (2003). Tobias Hill is the Royal Society of Literature Fellow at Sussex University.



Report 2006

Notes for Tower-Top Hermits

The Old Lookout Tower of Beatrice von Rezzori is situated in fabulous Tuscan forests, with a view Rapunzel would have died for. The writer will find in it haven or hermitage, whichever is desired – for myself it has been a hermitage with the added benefits of entertaining company never more than a meal away. However, the upper apartment is not without its oddities, and travellers should take note of the following points.

1. The Bathroom.

The bathroom bears a colourful running design of lotus flowers and small birds. The pattern begins on the divan and extends across bathtub and walls. Occasionally you may be so fortunate as to come across an exotic bird that has freed itself from fabric or mural. The Bathroom Bird is a shy creature, with a distinctively silent and fluttering flight. A bathroom bird that has succeeded in detaching itself will leave its bright plumage behind. In consequence it becomes a silky black – a shadow of its former self. The spectacle of a bathroom bird may cause a new hermit unwarranted alarm. These creatures are inoffensive, and desire nothing more than escape into the Tuscan forests they have always craved. If the window is left open to enable egress, the creature will be gone by morning. These creatures are nocturnal, and will only ever be seen if the bathroom window has been left ajar at dusk. It is occasionally necessary for the local ants to undertake works in the bathroom. In 2006 such plans have included a dual carriageway connecting window and the rich regions of the north-east skirting. Advance warning of ant-work is given by lone myrmidons, who will stake out the route and wave insignificantly. Writerly hermits may choose to live alongside such projects, or to inform the cleaning staff of new developments. The dragon is peacable.

2. The Bedroom.

A pleasant dilemma of the upper tower is the hermit’s choice of writing environments. Will it be Chatwin’s Bedroom or the eyrie above? The bedroom has a comfortable simplicity which the eyrie lacks, though it in turn lacks the marvellous views of the room above. The fauna of the bedroom is also more limited, in general being restricted to houseflies and camels. A phenomenon of the bedroom is that clothes left heaped on the floor will disappear, only to be returned days later clean and folded. In days of yore, learned hermits theorised that this was all down to the camels, a theory long-disproven by modern science. It is now generally accepted that the clothes are laundered by the helpful spirits of past writers. A fortunate hermit may even find that Chatwin himself has taken on a job of work, usually in the form of smallclothes or an especially elegant shirt. Naturally, a suitable tip should be left as payment for services rendered.

3. The Eyrie.

And so to the tower’s highest chamber. Spacious and silent, airy and cool, the eyrie is surrounded with views Botticelli would have eaten his tempera for. Bees nest in the books and starlings in the gutterings. The desk is huge, and incorporates additional leaves for those authors whose notes tend to take up more than seventeen square feet. The eyrie is also home to the Riddle of the Incomparable Object. Somewhere in the chamber (so Beatrice says, anyway) there lies an object of unmatched worth. What is the Object? Where does it reside? Does it hide among the sculptures or the paintings, the ceramics or the animal remains? Alas, dear Hermit-in-Waiting, on this point I can provide no further illumination. This guide has no further guidance to offer. It is time for you yourself to visit the tower. The Riddle of the Incomparable Object will be here waiting for you.

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