Grumpy cat at the Friskies 2013. Such pets can serve a useful purpose post-owner death. Photo: Getty
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A dicky ligament, an infection of the soul – and I don’t even have a cat to eat my corpse

I just woke up with my leg like this.

Here’s a joke for you. What goes, “Ow, thump, ow, thump, ow, thump”? Answer: me, trying to get up the stairs, one at a time. Not very funny, is it? Well, you can all go and wee in your hats, because I have the hump, and I don’t care. You try going upstairs when even lying down in bed, unless you are very, very careful, is agony.

The intriguing thing is I have no idea how my leg, specifically the iliofemoral ligament, got this way. I just woke up with it like that. (It’s the bit where the leg joins the pelvis, and does a lot of load-bearing.) It may be a punishment; it certainly feels like the cherry on the cake. This has been a shit week and the pain is not making things any better.

It’s an ordure that has been slowly building up rather than one that has descended en masse, which is one thing; an unforeseen side effect of a long-distance relationship. There are people who prefer to sleep alone every night but I am not one of them and so the reluctance to go to bed has made me keep increasingly antisocial hours, to the point where I have actually gone all the way round the clock to reset matters, and this can have no good effect on one’s mental or physical health.

The only consolation is that at least I have not been given the boot and there is someone not related to me who cares very much whether I live or die. That she is 650 miles away as the Boeing flies doesn’t help, though. Last week, even before my leg decided to become my penance, I suffered one of those illnesses that leaves one unable to do anything except lie under the covers shivering and aching everywhere and listening to Debussy; that lasted two days, and I began to wonder how my body would be found if I died in my sleep. I do not even have a pussy cat that would be able to feed on my corpse should the worst happen. But I recovered, or all of me did with the exception of my upper left leg. However, I am left open to minor infections of the soul.

One of the things about being given the boot is that you are at least spared the accumulation of smaller irritations. You have only one, and it is rather all-consuming. You are too busy howling with your own grief to get depressed at Mr Grayling’s decision to stop people sending prisoners books. You certainly don’t make the mistake, as I did, of reading Allan Massie’s excellent piece for the Telegraph on why this is a mean and nasty policy, and then going on to check out the comments below the line. OK, I should hardly be surprised that these were composed by the kind of people who, as children, pulled the wings off butterflies and, as adults, think Nigel Farage Talks a Lot of Sense. The subset of what we loosely call humanity who wrote to that newspaper even before the days of online abusive anonymity weren’t exactly all sweetness, light and charity either. But this is a new order of vindictiveness manifesting itself here.

And there is plenty to be getting on with. That hump is keeping itself well stocked with bile. A quick look at the Sun while enjoying a plate of egg and chips in the local caff was an even worse idea than usual: it contained a petition, which you could sign, if you would, and send to Downing Street, urging Mr Cameron to start fracking as soon as possible. The Labour lead in the polls is vanishing. The gang of crooks and scumbags who run this country is going to be doing it for another five years. Scotland will be leaving the Union. I can’t say I blame them but I can’t pretend I’m happy about it. I can’t get to the shops and there’s nothing left to eat in the Hovel but pasta and a ten-day-old heel of wholemeal. I haven’t had the energy to go upstairs even for a shower for the past three days.

What I really need is a long hot soak in a bath, maybe with mustard in it, but even if I made it up the stairs I don’t see how I’d be able to get out of the bath once I’d sat down in it. One good friend has lost her job and another is struggling in hers, through no fault of her own, to the point of tears. You know that delight in other people’s troubles the Germans have a word for? After a while you don’t get it any more. Other people’s troubles start bothering you as much as your own. Oh, if only I were a Telegraph reader. But I’m not. Ow, thump. Ow, thump. Ow, thump.

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 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images
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Tsipras' resignation has left Syriza in deep trouble

Splinter group Popular Unity’s stated aim is to take Greece out of the deal Syriza struck with its creditors.

The resignation of Alexis Tsipras on 20 August was the start of a new chapter in the havoc affecting all sections of Greek political life. “We haven’t yet lived our best days,” the 41-year-old prime minister said as he stood down, though there is little cause for optimism.

Tsipras’s capitulation to the indebted state’s lenders by signing up to more austerity measures has split his party and demoralised further a people resigned to their fate.

Polls show that no party commands an absolute majority at present. It seems as though we are heading for years of grand coalitions made up of uneasy partnerships that can only hope to manage austerity, with little room for social reform. The main parties from across the political spectrum have lost legitimacy and the anti-austerity campaign is more marginal than ever. Many fear the rise of extremists, such as members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Thankfully, that is unlikely to happen: the party’s leadership is facing a number of grave accusations, including forming a criminal organisation, and its general secretary, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, is going out of his way to appear more moderate than ever.

It is to the left of Syriza that most activity is taking place. The former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis has defected to co-found a new party, Popular Unity (an ironic name in the circumstances), joined by MPs from the radical Left Platform and, according to the latest information, Zoi Konstantopoulou – the current speaker of the Hellenic
Parliament, who had considered starting her own party but lacked time and support in the run-up to the general election, scheduled for 20 September.

Popular Unity’s stated aim is to take Greece out of the deal struck with its creditors, to end austerity (even if that means leaving the euro) and to rebuild the country. It is likely that the party will work with the far-left coalition Antarsya, which campaigned hard to guarantee the Oxi referendum victory in July and increasingly looks like Syriza in 2009, when it won 4.6 per cent of the vote in the Greek legislative election under Tsipras.

Yet it is dispiriting that few on the left seem to understand that more splits, new parties and weak, opportunistic alliances will contribute to the weakening of parliamentary democracy. It is perhaps a sign that the idea of a left-wing government may become toxic for a generation after the six months that took the economy to the edge and failed to produce meaningful change.

Despite this fragmentation on the left, the largest right-wing opposition party, New Democracy, has been unable to force a surge in the polls. Its new leader, Vangelis Meimarakis, enjoys the respect of both the parliament and the public but has few committed supporters. The apolitical alliance To Potami (“the river”) appears to have stalled on 6-8 per cent, while the once-dominant Pasok is unlikely to enter parliament without forming a coalition on the centre left, postponing its predicted collapse for a few more years.

The winner amid all of this is apathy. Many believe that a large number of Greeks won’t vote in the September election – the fifth in six years (or the sixth, if you include the referendum in July). The situation in Greece should serve as an example of what could happen to democracies across Europe that lack political unity: parties with clear ideological positions end up serving as managers of diktats from Brussels, while more extreme forces become the de facto opposition. In this harsh climate, many citizens will either abandon their politicians or, in a bleaker scenario, reject the democratic system that elected them. 

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism