Na-na-na, can't hear you: wife or husband does not always mean the wind beneath my wings. Photo: Getty
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To cheer myself up, I think of other people’s dreadful marriages

When I encounter the words “my wife” or “my husband”, I get, in some dark moods, a choking sensation beneath the breastbone.

Alles in der Welt läßt sich ertragen,/Nür nicht eine Reihe von schönen Tagen“Oh, God, here we go again,” I hear you saying. “He’s started in German this time.” My apologies but I don’t know how to translate this into an English couplet, even though it’s been bobbing about in my head since a German lesson in 1977 or 1978. It’s by Goethe and it means, more or less, “You can put up with anything life throws at you, except for a row of beautiful days.”

I remember being sort of impressed at the time, thinking, “Yes, that’s just the kind of clever-clever thing a poet would say, but give me a row of beautiful days and let’s see how much I mind it, OK?” I also suspected, uneasily, that there may well be some truth in there. A few years later I came across Francesca’s lament in Canto V of Inferno, the one beginning, “Nessun maggior dolore . . .” – “Nothing worse than recalling happy times when you’re in the shit.” (I give you the gist.) This amplifies the signal of Goethe’s lines but at the risk of losing their paradox.

All of which is my tortuous way of saying I had a bloody good time last week and I was sad when it was over. The B arrived from Sweden on Thursday evening for my birthday, which was a couple of days later; the weather in London was perfect; I had a nice dinner with her, my daughter (who had turned up to deliver a card) and a couple of friends; no one mentioned Nigel Farage. Then the B had to leave on Monday and there was a rather poignant scene of us waving goodbye to each other, with her only dimly visible through the heavily smoked glass of the Heathrow Express and me being yelled at by not one but two platform personnel for standing too near the train. “Step back from the train, SIR!” Whether it spoiled the mood or enhanced it I am still not sure but I do remember thinking: “I’m 51 years old. I know how close I can stand to a train by now.” It certainly didn’t stop the eyes from prickling a bit and a few deep breaths being needed to steady the self, on the mile-and-a-half walk back to the Hovel.

Well, one lives and there are worse things. At least I don’t have to go around lying on dating websites about my height and age and teeth and deep misgivings about almost every area of human activity in order to attract a mate. But this living alone business is getting to me. There was an article a few weeks ago in this magazine by a woman who had one of those deeply unsettling falls when getting out of bed; luckily, her husband was there at the time and was able to help. I was deeply affected by this detail. If I had some kind of stroke or heart attack, who would know? You have to get taken to hospital rather quickly in these circumstances and even if I was in a condition to be able to use the phone, there is a good chance it would be in its regular place – that is, nestled somewhere comfy but inscrutable among the books or the bedclothes.

It’s the kind of thought that has me making a nice cup of tea to distract and console myself. Then, when I put on the radio while waiting for the kettle, I find it’s You and Yours – which is bad enough news already – telling us about yet another study that says people who live alone die younger.

Time to pull myself together. I am prey to a degree of grass-is-greenery when it comes to certain concepts and situations, to the point that my own experience is distorted or sometimes flatly ignored. So, for example, when I encounter the words “my wife” or “my husband”, I get, in some dark moods, a choking sensation beneath the breastbone, for what I hear is “my helpmeet, my lover, my lifetime companion and the wind beneath my wings”, when, as I should know, “wife” and “husband” don’t necessarily mean any of these things.

To cheer myself up I think of all the people in dreadful marriages. (One does hear about some shockers.) I make tea (checking to see it’s not time for You and Yours or Money Box Live) and exercise the mind by wondering whether, if I shaved according to the principle of lawn-mowing – one stroke up and one down – I’d end up with an interestingly striped face. I also reflect on a mind-bending piece of information I learned the other day: Nigel Farage is younger than me. So really he has no excuse.

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 28 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The elites vs the people

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.