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

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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt