Tintin, Asterix and Sugar Puffs: I’m on a fast track back in time

Time is playing a strange game these days: it's going all circular on me, and little bits of my past keep resurfacing, so, unless I check the date on the newspaper, I find myself wondering which year I'm in.

Take the Sugar Puffs. The other day, a friend of mine, a noted gourmet to whom I like to present myself as a kindred spirit, noticed the Sugar Puffs in the cereal library on top of the kitchen cupboards. He raised an eyebrow both quizzical and stern.

“Not mine," I said. "For the kids."

This is a lie. The children, inexplicably, scorn Sugar Puffs. But the shop over the road is selling them for £1.29 a pack, a price too good to ignore. Left to their own devices, the good people who work there would charge something like a fiver, but the price has been printed on the box in enormous figures by the manufacturer, so they can't duck out of it.

Therefore, Sugar Puffs it is, and every mouthful takes me back to at least 1973. (This Proustian moment recurs a few hours later when going to the loo, for, as you may have forgotten, eating Sugar Puffs makes your wee smell of Sugar Puffs, too.)

Beatle mania

Then the other evening, my great friend A -- came over, and after dinner we got thoroughly smashed and danced to the entire Beatles back catalogue until two. Again, I'm back to my ten-year-old self, when I first started seriously getting into the band. We both know pretty much every word and note of every song on every album, although A -- 's recall is slightly better than mine. Who else, we ask each other, could we do this with? (We both know people who affect to hold the Beatles in disdain, but we consider them to be attention-seeking weirdos who are against Life.)

Answer: my even better friend H -- who, although she knows everything there is to know about opera, has only scant knowledge of the post-Beatles popular music scene. I am slowly building up her knowledge - we're now on Talking Heads, circa Fear of Music - but, for some reason, a couple of nights after having A -- round, we do the whole Beatles thing again, for not only does she, too, know all the words and tunes, but she has a beautiful singing voice and it is a pleasure to listen to it. (This time, though, I do not dance. I am trying to impress her with my suavity.)

And then there's the canal boat. This is really freaky. A -- lives on one, moored off Lisson Grove, but every so often she takes it for a spin up and down the Regent's Canal. I have been pestering her for years to take me and finally she has agreed. Her new boyfriend is coming up from the countryside and she feels like impressing him. Well, I'd be impressed. I have the boys with me that day and, having skippered a similar vessel for a couple of weeks when they were much smaller, I know that they'll love it, too.

But this trip completely unmans me. Literally: I become a child again. My grandmother used to take me on one of the long, multi-passenger barges to while away the time when I was a kid. I find that I still know every inch of the canalside 40 years on. Only when we get to the new Sainsbury's do I find myself in unfamiliar waters. We even pass the barge I used to go on: Jason's Trip, presumably whimsically named in the 1960s.

Give me an R, give me a G

Then there's Asterix. It's the Woman I Loved's little girl's birthday, and I get her Asterix in Britain to add to her collection. The queue at the post office is so long that I get to read the entire book before reaching the guichet. I don't mind the wait, as it is a work of genius and full of great affection for the British. (I later learn that the postman has folded it in half to get it through the letter box, which is quite impressive, as it was the hardback.)

And then, finally, there's Tintin. The first-rate novelist and Tintin expert Tom McCarthy and I are going together to a press screening of the new Spielberg film before writing about it, and so I have been reimmersing myself in Hergé's masterworks - slightly unnecessarily, because
I can remember every panel. But anyway.

All this happens over a period of about a week. It gets so intense that, at one point, halfway through Prisoners of the Sun, I have a little panic and look down the front of my trousers to see if I've grown any pubes yet.

They're there all right, in all their glory, but soon I'm going to have to do something grown up. I'm not sure what, though. Learn to ride a bike? Read a book without pictures in it? Kiss a girl on the lips? With tongues?

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 24 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The art of lying