Even the Estranged Wife can see that my predicament is dire

I suppose it is something, to become part of a New Statesman competition. I once was a New Statesman competition - a high point. But to have a reader decide that "lezard" is a verb that means "to go on at great length about nothing" does not fill one with pride, although I could twist the meaning around ever so slightly and take it as a compliment to my more Beckettian virtues. (The recent decision, whose fruits you can see in front of you, to trim the length of this column may be seen as a direct response to that vexed reader. I hope he is pleased with himself.)

But, as a recent article by my old chum Tom Hodgkinson in the Independent on Sunday reminds us, suffering prevents us from becoming selfish and smug. That's as may be. I would like to think that the past four years have been an experiment in testing such a claim.

Forty-seven months of spectacularly up-and-down emotional rides may seem a tall order to endure in the pursuit of such knowledge, but you can't make any meaningful empirical deductions on the ennobling qualities of suffering by seeing if you become a better person simply by dropping a car battery on your foot. No, you have to undergo lots of experience.

At the moment, I am enjoying plenty of the stuff. The recent discovery that a friend of mine is an unusually violent beater of his girlfriend - of whom I
am also fond - is one of those things that can be categorised under the heading "Stuff You Would Rather Not Know But Unfortunately Have To". It can also be filed under "Stuff That Puts Your Own Frankly Pathetic Problems Into Some Kind of Perspective".

Elephant man

Last night, one of Laurie's nice, floppy-haired friends fainted in the kitchen, sweetly calling out to me as he fell. He only zonked out for a few seconds and the cause seemed to be a combination of overwork and not eating enough, rather than anything sinister, but it still gave us all a mauvais quart d'heure, as the French say.

Yet this is small stuff, as nothing compared to the emotional roller-coaster ride that is the life of the single man in his late forties. This kind of thing is best left to the young, I feel, who have plenty of spring and zip left in the heart.

Mine, if it could be seen, would probably look like the photo of Iggy Pop at the Isle of Wight Festival that the Guardian saw fit to print on page 11 of its Monday edition. One struggles to come up with the right phrase to describe this terrifying picture. Ideally, one wants something devastating, memorable and utterly unimprovable, in the way that Clive James launched the phrase "a condom stuffed with walnuts" when talking about a bulked-out Arnie Schwarzenegger. All I can come up with is that he appears to have the hide of a pink, malnourished elephant, which doesn't quite do justice to the grotesqueness of the image.

Anyway, I am learning that poverty and distress do not necessarily make one a finer person. (The poverty, incidentally, has become so dire that even the Estranged Wife is beginning to see my side of the argument about how much child support I can afford at the moment.) I have been snapping at people whom it is not nice or clever to snap at. It is in the sadistic nature of the universe that the fear and panic one feels at the thought of dying alone leads one into precisely the kind of behaviour that results in one dying alone.

Meanwhile, much time was spent preparing for the state visit of Razors, back from New York for a few days, I supposed, to show off his new hair transplants and his sleek, toned body. (I need not have worried: he is as bald and large as ever. Just a lot wealthier.)

I had feared his meeting Laurie. They are like matter and antimatter; I anticipated that their handshake would cause a huge rip in the space-time continuum or an explosion with the force of 20 million Hiroshimas - but all went well.

Among the small stack of mail that had built up for him over the past six months was his Barclaycard and the pin to go with it. The judicious exploitation of both could have changed my life considerably for the better. l

The Fan returns next week

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia