What does a real self-pitying pseudo-diary look like?

After one particularly cruel reader complaint, we’ll have none of this pseudo-diary malarkey any more. From now on, everything’s going to be properly dated.

November 8, 2013. A letter has been printed in this magazine. “Oh, for God’s sake,” it begins, “spare me the self-pitying pseudo-diaries of Nicholas Lezard . . .” The correspondent, one Sue Bailey via email, goes on to name two of my fellow contributors, but my vision is already too blurred with tears to read them, and I go off to hide in the wardrobe and snivel.

When the Beloved returns from work later that evening she hands me cups of hot sweet tea and fresh handkerchiefs until I pull myself together. I try to learn something positive from the whole affair. Well, I know a shot across my bows when I see one, and obviously what Ms Bailey is most strenuously objecting to is the way these are “pseudo-diaries”. Fair dos. We’ll have none of this pseudo-diary malarkey any more. From now on, everything’s going to be properly dated.

9 November A very official looking letter arrives. Through the little plastic window I can see the words “Warning Notice” in bold, along with the words “Nickolas Lezard” (sic). It is not until the evening, after the first couple of liveners, that I have the nerve to open it. In the interim, my mind has been racing with possibilities, all of them unpleasant and selfpitying in the extreme. When I think of the things I could be nabbed for, I get butterflies in the stomach, and they’re not light, pretty butterflies either. These are dark, horrid ones, the size of bats.

Anyway, it turns out that Westminster Council has taken a dim view of my cleaning lady’s habit of taking out the recycling on the wrong day, and in its view I am in breach of Section 87 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 and “liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (currently £2,500)”. This raises several questions, the most trivial being what kind of an environment they think they’re protecting in the first place – it’s not exactly all red squirrels and rare orchids out there, let me put it that way – and the least trivial being how the hell I am going to find £2,500, considering all my money is gone by the 20th of each month.

The reverse of the letter consists of a photo of the bags of recycling and a sworn statement from the Westminster warden, who is named, but I suspect the dark hand of the Shop That Sells Expensive Wank down the road.

When the Beloved gets back later from work and revives me with a moistened sponge and some smelling salts, she points out that the letter goes on to say I’m not actually being fined, and there is a paragraph that begins “now that the implications have been made known to you . . .”. You can say that again. The toe I bashed two weeks ago still hurts.

10 November My old friend Dave arrives from Rome. My first university friend, Dave was the first of us to pass all the milestones: first to get married, first to have children, first to have a quadruple heart bypass. Half Italian, and a keen epicure, he arrives laden with gifts: a salami the size of a premature baby, a bottle of 2001 Sagrantino di Montefalco, which he assures me is the best in all Italy, and the heart of a three-year-old Parmesan cheese, which comes in a rather unappetising-looking cylinder, but when sliced dissolves in the mouth in a golden crumble of crystalline, cheesy goodness. I am going to have to hide this from the Beloved, who likes cheese even more than I do.

Not much to be self-pitying about. My toe still hurts so badly I can’t put on my Chelsea boots. We run out of wine, but I am not ready to open the good stuff. Dave’s son pops over. He is more of a monoglot than his father but luckily the Beloved can speak Italian so conversation flows. She asks where he lives. I tell you, you have not lived until you have heard an Italian try to say “Willesden Green”.

11 November I have a bath and try to clean between my little toe and the one next to it, as I begin to suspect a large quantity of jam is accumulating there. I move the toe a millimetre and the agony is surpassed only by the blow that caused the injury in the first place. I take to my bed. I think I’m ill, but it is very hard for freelance writers to tell whether they’re ill or not. I see that someone has written “meh” underneath an article of mine. Jesus, the times we live in.

12 November I am now too scared to take the recycling out on any day at all. Blue bags stuffed to bursting now hinder egress and ingress to the Hovel, and are probably now a fire hazard to boot. Toe still hurts. Satisfied, Ms B?

The recycling bins: monsters with ever-changing rules that plague us all. Image: Getty

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 13 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Exodus

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Amber Rudd's report on the benefits of EU immigration is better late than never

The study will strengthen the case for a liberal post-Brexit immigration system. 

More than a year after vowing to restrict EU immigration, the government has belatedly decided to investigate whether that's a good idea. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to report on the costs and benefits of free movement to the British economy.

The study won't conclude until September 2018 - just six months before the current Brexit deadline and after the publication of the government's immigration white paper. But in this instance, late is better than never. If the report reflects previous studies it will show that EU migration has been an unambiguous economic benefit. Immigrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits and sectors such as agriculture, retail and social care depend on a steady flow of newcomers. 

Amber Rudd has today promised businesses and EU nationals that there will be no "cliff edge" when the UK leaves the EU, while immigration minister Brandon Lewis has seemingly contradicted her by baldly stating: "freedom of movement ends in the spring of 2019". The difference, it appears, is explained by whether one is referring to "Free Movement" (the official right Britain enjoys as an EU member) or merely "free movement" (allowing EU migrants to enter the newly sovereign UK). 

More important than such semantics is whether Britain's future immigration system is liberal or protectionist. In recent months, cabinet ministers have been forced to acknowledge an inconvenient truth: Britain needs immigrants. Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. Brexit Secretary David Davis, for instance, recently conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall after the UK leaves the EU. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants." 

In this regard, it's striking that Brandon Lewis could not promise that the "tens of thousands" net migration target would be met by the end of this parliament (2022) and that Rudd's FT article didn't even reference it. As George Osborne helpfully observed earlier this year, no senior cabinet minister (including Rudd) supports the policy. When May departs, whether this year or in 2019, she will likely take the net migration target with her. 

In the meantime, even before the end of free movement, net migration has already fallen to its lowest level since 2014 (248,000), while EU citizens are emigrating at the fastest rate for six years (117,000 left in 2016). The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are among the main deterrents. If the report does its job, it will show why the UK can't afford for that trend to continue. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.