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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Broken and The Trial: From Sean Bean playing a priest to real life lawyers

A surprisingly involving depiction of a clergyman provides the saintly contrast to the sinner being judged by a real jury.

I was all set to scoff at Broken, Jimmy McGovern’s new series for BBC1 (30 May, 9pm). A drama about a Catholic priest and his impoverished parish in a “major northern city”, it sounded so hilariously McGovern-by-numbers (“Eh, lad, give us the collection bowl – the leccy wants paying”) that on paper it could pass for a spoof. Even funnier, Sean Bean, late of Game of Thrones, was to play the clergyman in question.

Naturally, I adore Bean, who comes from the major northern city that is Sheffield, as I do, and who is so terribly . . . virile (though when I interviewed him in a car park behind King’s Cross Station a few years ago, and a security guard in a high-vis jacket approached us furiously shouting the odds, he ran and hid in his trailer, leaving yours truly to face the music). But let’s face it: he’s not exactly versatile, is he? The idea of him in a cassock, or even just a mud-coloured cardigan, made me laugh out loud.

Settling down to watch the series, however, I soon realised that no scoffing would be taking place. For one thing, Broken is hugely involving, its Dickensian plot (no spoilers here) as plausible as it is macabre. For another, in the present circumstances, its script seems to be rather daring. Not only is Father Michael Kerrigan shown – cover my eyes with the collected works of Richard Dawkins! – to be a good and conscientious priest, but his faith is depicted as a fine and useful thing. If he brings his besieged parishioners solace, he is sure to be carrying vouchers for the food bank as well.

The flashbacks from which he suffers – in which his mammy can be heard calling him a “dirty, filthy beast” and a spiteful old priest is seen applying a cane to his hand – are undoubtedly clichéd. But they are also a device. Forty years on, he is happy to nurse his dying mother, and his love for God is undimmed: two facts that are not, of course, unrelated. How weirdly bold for a television series to set its face against the consensus that denigrates all things Christian as it never would any other faith.

I don’t for a minute buy Anna Friel as Christina, the gobby, broke single mother Kerrigan is determined to help. Even when covered in bruises – a bust-up at the betting shop – Friel manages to look glossy, and she never, ever quits acting (with a capital A), which is a drag. But Bean is such a revelation, I was able to ignore the voice in my head which kept insisting that a Catholic priest as young as he is – in this realm, “young” is a couple of years shy of 60 – would surely be Polish or African (I’m not a Catholic but I am married to one, for which reason I occasionally go to Mass).

He plays Kerrigan, whose overwhelming desire to be kind sometimes makes him cack-handed, with great gentleness, but also with an uninflected ordinariness that is completely convincing. Part of the problem (my problem, at least) with Communion is the lack of rhetorical passion in most priests’ voices, something he captures perfectly. One other thing: Line of Duty fans need to know that Adrian Dunbar – aka Ted Hastings – can also be seen here wearing a dog collar, and that he looks almost as good in it as he does in police uniform.

On Channel 4 The Trial: A Murder in the Family was an experiment in the shape of a murder trial in which the defendant – a university lecturer accused of strangling his estranged wife – and all the witnesses were actors but the lawyers and “jury” were real. Over five consecutive nights (21-25 May, 9pm), I found it pretty tiresome listening to jury members tell the camera what they made of this or that bit of evidence.

Get on with it, I thought, longing again for the return of Peter Moffat’s Silk. But I adored the lawyers, particularly the lead ­defence barrister, John Ryder, QC. What an actor. Sentences left his mouth fully formed, as smooth as they were savage, his charm only just veiling his mighty ruthlessness. Drooling at this performance – which was not, in one sense, a performance at all – I found myself thinking that if more priests came over like barristers, our dying churches might be standing room only.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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