Here’s a funny thing: my bedroom has started smelling again. Not a terribly bad smell, but musty and slightly sweet, as if there were apples decaying under the bed. Since I have not eaten an apple since the autumn, I have to rule out that possibility. This is what makes it so disturbing, like Freud’s notion of the uncanny: a thing that smells of decaying apples and yet is not decaying apples. Until recently, my room not only smelled of nothing much but, when it did smell of anything, it smelled of something nice.
After a while, it dawns on me that I have smelled this before: it is the smell of loneliness. It leads me to the remarkable conclusion that women not only smell nice but they make other places smell nice, too, just by being in them. Remove them from the premises and the smell of entropy creeps back again.
As regular readers of this column will wearily know, it was not my decision to remove the Woman of the Hovel. My apologies, incidentally, to Mr Laurence Pollock of Cranfield, Bedfordshire, who wrote in last week under the impression that I had been hired by this magazine to write about “books and ideas”. I was not. I was hired to write – giving anecdotal evidence where necessary – about how a life in one’s middle years can go wrong, the idea being to comfort those similarly afflicted or to let those people unafflicted know what such a life may be like. Sometimes, I even throw in a joke or two.
After an interregnum of quite extraordinary contentment, I can assure you that not only does such a life suck, it sucks hind tit, as they say in Canada. As if things weren’t bad enough, the eldest daughter has gone off to spend four months of her gap year being a chalet girl at an Alpine resort. She is going to earn the fantastic sum of £90 per week, which is really going to make a dent in her student loan. And for that, she is going to be cooking for up to 14 people at a time. She’s happy because she gets to ski all she wants but I think what that really means is: “ski as much as she can, which won’t be very much, after cooking breakfast and dinner for up to 14 people who may – just possibly may (I mean, it is by no means inevitable, but then again it is not entirely beyond all boundaries of credibility) – be a bunch of twats”.
Normally, of course, the conversation in ski lodges tends to be of the highest calibre, revolving around an unusually stimulating selection of books and ideas – one would get all the boring skiing out of the way simply in order to enjoy the conversation of one’s fellow skiers. But every so often, one met someone with too much money and too few brain cells and/or manners and, in the end, it got to the point, as far as I was concerned, that one of the few wholly good things about being broke and separated from the family was that I didn’t have to go f***ing skiing again.
One frets for one’s children and the news of Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident didn’t make me much more delighted about my daughter’s choice of holiday employment. Personally, I think she should be reading Kant. (That way, she could renew her acquaintance with the categorical imperative and ask herself what the world would be like if everyone went off to be a chalet girl for £90 a week, a sum that I have to keep looking at again and again to believe.)
But what’s done is done. And there are other problems at home. There is unwellness in the family about which I suspect they would prefer me to remain silent but it is worrying and depressing. The Beloved sends me a text from Gothenburg so heartbreaking that I spend a sleepless night wondering whether I should fly out there far earlier than intended.
Not for the first time, I reflect on Boethius’s wheel of fortune, which can have you the toppermost of the poppermost at one moment and down among the garbage the next. I wouldn’t say I’m there yet – there are billions of people worse off than I am. It’s just that sometimes, one gets the impression that the threads of the rope that holds you on are unravelling and snapping and it is a long way down and the safety net seems to be getting smaller and smaller.
Nigel Molesworth’s headmaster would bray on about how each life must contain both triumph and disaster, fair weather and foul, “but he do not give the exact proportions”. How true. And also: why apples?