The writer A A Gill's London flat

Tim Clinch

For someone who went to a vegetarian boarding school, writer and illustrator A A Gill has a very meaty flat. The drawing-room chimneypiece is a sort of monkey mortuary: heaped together rather than artfully displayed is a collection of monkey heads liberated from their respective bodies in Edwardian times - more Pol Pot than Damien Hirst. The monkey faces sport a range of expressions from surprised (as well they might be) to sly; A A Gill finds it hard to pick a favourite. He does not see anything macabre in this form of decorative art. 'The odd thing about stuffed animals,' he says, 'is that they have an intrinsic beauty about them that is quite separate from the animal itself. It's exactly like a sausage - it's sensational on its own but it doesn't have anything to do with a pig. The pieces look surprisingly alive and yet they are so utterly dead. It's as if the expression and a set of thoughts are added to them after they are dead,' he muses. Whatever, it is clear the monkeys fulfil his criteria for decorative objects - I wanted to surround myself with interesting things that continue to draw you to them - I don't want stuff that after six months fades into hotel-like anonymity.'

In the bathroom are various anatomical drawings and models which, if A A Gill lived alone with his mother and spent his weekends train-spotting, might give cause for anxiety. But it's clear that he looks at them with the eye of a graphic artist rather than one who is practising his cadaveric skills. It could be the Tube map or the insides of a car, couldn't it?' he remarks dispassionately of a fine display of guts. But, with this as an appetizer, one does become nervous about the origins of the skin floor in the drawing-room. When he bought the flat - conveniently downstairs from the flat he shared with his girlfriend - celebrated in his columns as 'The Blonde' - it was carpeted in a 'nasty seagrass matting'. Much too commonplace. Bill Amberg came to the rescue with just enough ox skins to make a large, fixed rug in the middle of the room. A A Gill is immensely pleased with this acquisition: the skins came from an old Cornish tannery, the last to practise a particular form of tanning with oak liquor. Each originates from the shoulder of the ox, which makes the slight wrinkles interesting rather than something to worry about.

Like converted Catholics, born-again meat-eaters don't do things by halves - 'that's a bunny,' he says, pointing out a furry cushion on the velvet sofa. There is also a Michael Frith painting of a rather cheerful, but nevertheless slaughtered, pig. A A Gill wickedly points out that Frith followed this with a portrait of Robert Maxwell - he practised on the pig first.' But his wholehearted espousal of carnivorousness after nine years of vegetarianism has a convincing philosophy behind it. A A Gill writes about food - The Ivy Cookbook is published this month - and strongly believes that 'the worst thing you can do to an animal is abuse it as an ingredient. Stuffed into a pie in the microwave, that's the real cruelty. No, if you're going to eat meat you have to be able to confront the whole thing - from running around in fields to the plate.' In pursuit of properly raised meat, he even kept two pet pigs - 'at the bottom of runway four at Gatwick'. His ex-wife protested that they couldn't give them names because their two children would grow attached to them - so they called them Lunch and Dinner. A A Gill recounts how they shot and butchered them themselves, with his daughter Flora unsentimentally stirring the blood for black pudding, (Of course, when she writes Daddy Dearest in twenty years' time we may hear a different story...)

By the time we get to the cased beetles on the wall, I am just about desensitized to horror - had he confessed to tearing off their wings as a child and sticking pins into them i would merely have nodded politely. He's right, though - 'If you saw one of these on the floor you would stamp on it - but like this, they are very beautiful.' They're French, too, which always helps, with each specimen labelled in elegant, faded script.

A A Gill has clearly enjoyed designing his flat: he started with clear ideas of what he wanted and arrived with no impediments: 'I don't have bits of granny furniture. All I had was books and pictures. Even when I was incredibly drunk and poor, the one thing I would never sell was my books - there's something talismanic about them.' Although most of the artefacts are antique, the furniture and colour scheme are defiantly modern. He says, 'I didn't want to live somewhere that looked as if it had been designed 150 years ago - I'm so bored with walking into identical drawing-rooms which look like some vicar's room in eighteenth-century Gloucestershire. The whole ethos of this country is living in the past. This necrophilia for the Georgians... I hate it, it's so dispiriting. Wilfully to live in the 1830s, when today is such an exciting period for music, art, design and architecture, is just ghastly.' He also knew that he didn't want a dining-room - a counter in the kitchen is adequate for feeding the children when they stay with him. 'Eating in front of the television,' he states, 'is the greatest thing to happen to table manners in the last seventy years. I can't think of anything worse than having to eke out your day in dinner-party conversations. I will never give another dinner-party again,' he says, with the finality of a man whose girlfriend can cook and who lives upstairs.