Ping! A text appears. It is Razors, my ex-housemate, who is flying over to England to settle some old scores or, as he euphemistically puts it, to “see my family for my birthday”. That old chestnut. I’d completely forgotten he was coming over but it is always a delight to see him, so I put on my pinny and take up my feather duster and give the Hovel a going-over in his honour.
“Jesus Christ,” he says when he sees the place, “it’s looking even more disgustingly Hovelly than it did when I was here.”
“Well, you’ve grown a beard,” I say.
We sit on the terrace, talking of this and that. Razors has become a key player in what I shall loosely describe as the media in New York and I keep trying to steer the subject towards him giving me a job but he manages to evade my skilful moves. Finally, I remember that he has occasionally shown a fondness for alcohol in small doses, so I go to the drinks cabinet and take out the bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream I keep for special occasions. There is about half of it left, which should be plenty. I pour us each a little glass and hope that the poison of drink will mellow him.
That’s always how it starts with Razors. Sherry had a reputation as a civilised drink; maybe they put something in it these days. One thimbleful turns into another and, before we know it, that half-bottle is gone. Razors has turned from a cultivated chap, appalled at the Met Opera’s decision not to simulcast John Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer, to a raging maniac wholly enslaved by booze.
“Shall we get another bottle?” he asks. I know what he can be like when he gets into this kind of mood, so I go to the corner shop and buy a bottle of Blossom Hill rosé (his favourite tipple).
What with one thing and another – and after a few adventures of which we have no memory but that leave us with minor unexplained cuts and bruises on our hands, a court order and, for my part, the sore-throat-like side effects of a choked windpipe – we find ourselves shooting the breeze, back at the Hovel, the debris of countless bottles of wine beside and around us, and it is six o’clock in the morning. The Hovel’s other resident – not the woman who scours the inside of teapots – comes down in his suit to go to work. Normally, he’d be going for his early-morning run at this time, which would have been more than I could take.
However, he is an affable man and if he is appalled at seeing his housemate and a strange man with a beard drinking wine on the terrace at six in the morning, he is good at hiding it. What he doesn’t know is how much worse it could have been. The last time Razors and I tied one on, we came to in the hold of a tramp steamer in the South China Sea and learned we’d enlisted in the Merchant Marine for three years.
It’s funny how one’s faculties and stamina diminish with age. I once drank Hunter S Thompson pretty much under the table many years ago – I always harboured an uneasy suspicion that I may have been slightly culpable in the matter of his early and unwelcome demise – but these days I find that six in the morning is pretty much my cut-off point. Perhaps it is the early-summer dawns that are so tiring.
Anyway, later on in the afternoon, when I have risen again and Razors has tried to push a full English breakfast down me, without a great deal of success, I get a call from the Estranged Wife reminding me of our forthcoming trip to — tomorrow, to take the eldest boy to a university open day. By coincidence, it is the same place I went to with the daughter a couple of years ago and made a bit of a scene with a philosophy lecturer who didn’t know how to pronounce “Descartes”. Relations with the ex are civil to the point of pleasantness these days, as long as we stay off the subject of money, but she tells me to behave better this time. “We’ll have to leave at 8am,” she says.
I contemplate the almost visible springs and coils from my shattered body clock lying about me and remember that Razors wants to watch the England game in a pub that evening. I explain that 8am will be out of the question: Razors is here and I am basically dead. She understands but does not perhaps sympathise. I muster all the dignity at my command; I say, “You’re not the boss of me”; and I relapse into a coma.