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

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.