Lost for words with which to express the pain of a freshly empty hovel, I call upon the Clavinova

A home needs a girlfriend, or a Clavinova.

How’s your year shaping up? Better than mine, I hope. Never mind the usual anxieties about work and money. Those are yawnsville. By the time you read this, I will have been left by my girlfriend. One does not normally have a schedule for this kind of thing, but in this case we do. She is not leaving me for another man (or woman; I’ve had that happen and it gives rise to a rather odd mixture of emotions); she’s leaving me for Sweden. For three years. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but forgive me: it’s been preying on my mind.

That we’re getting on as soppily well as we ever have doesn’t help. Had cracks started appearing, then we might have used this as a handy excuse to drift apart. Which would have been a shabby way of going about things, I know, but not without precedent. Then again, that precedent – of the long-distance relationship that is allowed to collapse under the weight of its own unsustainability – tends to arise when Person A goes off to university and Person B goes either to another university or no university at all; and Person A, or it may be Person B, or both, suddenly discover (for they do not exactly have a burden of experience in this area) that other people’s genitals are even more fascinating than they suspected they were going to be, and off they go on a journey of discovery that ends only with . . . well, the realisation that they’re not really interested in seeing any new genitals. (It is best if this realisation coincides exactly with marriage, but we do not live in an ideal world.)

So, the past week has been spent watching the Beloved pack stuff and occasionally helping her move it into a van driven by her sister (who has been clamouring for a mention in this column for some time). I remember when my flatmate Emmanuelle moved out: I didn’t lift a finger to help her, on the grounds that a) I didn’t want her to move out, b) I was not emotionally beholden to her and c) she had a boyfriend to help her anyway. This time, it’s different: I have to help, even if it pains me so much that I have to find an objective correlative to serve as a vessel for the pain I have decided to pick on the Clavinova. For those who do not know what this is, it is an electric piano manufactured by Yamaha whose keys faithfully reproduce the feel and momentum of a real piano’s. This particular instrument, a cast-off from the B’s sister, was one of the more rudimentary models, with a non-functioning sustain pedal, whose lack served only to make the bare threads of my pitiful technique all the more obvious.

But damn it all, I loved that Clavinova. I may know that the only full, recognised song I have in my repertoire is a faltering and hesitant version of “Let it Be” – which more often than not breaks down completely as you get to that bit where Billy Preston joins in on the Hammond organ just before the third verse – but on my own, and (whisper it softly) ever so slightly temulent, I have found much pleasure in bashing away at the keys in such a way that my confidence and ability have increased – enough to make me happy and for the Beloved to give me encouragement, as one would a small child.

And now it’s going back. “You can get them for a song on eBay,” says the sister nonchalantly; and, having checked, I know that I could get one for 99p as long as it doesn’t bother me that it doesn’t work, but I find the whole business of eBay alarming and with the potential for much distress. Also, the keyboard was in her boudoir, there’s no real room anywhere else for it, and now she’s going, someone else is going to have to be slotted into that room, and I doubt very much that this person is going to be thrilled at the idea of a pissed 50-year-old wandering in at midnight and bashing out what sound a little bit like the opening chords of Madness’s “It Must Be Love”.

Et in Arcadia ego: to have known such happiness, to have drunk deep of it, and to have it dashed from your lips . . . for I have come to learn that while a home needs (for example) a cat, it can just about get by without one, but a home without a piano, or acceptable substitute thereof, is rubbish. Almost as bad as a home without a girlfriend, really. 

A view of the 'Let it be' room at the Beatlemania exhibition on 28 May 2009 in Hamburg, Germany. Photo: 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 08 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The God Gap