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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Marvel has moved past the post-credits teaser, and it's all the better for it

Individual stories are suddenly taking precedence over franchise building.

The lasting contribution of 2008’s Iron Man to contemporary cinema comes not from the content of the film itself, but in its Avengers-teasing post-credits scene featuring an eyepatch-sporting Samuel L. Jackson. While post-credits scenes were not invented by Marvel, their widespread adoption in other blockbusters is a testament to Marvel using them to titillate and frustrate.

Fast forward nine years and Marvel’s direction has significantly altered. Having moved to a three-film-a-year structure ahead of next year’s climactic Infinity War, their two releases this summer have featured less explicit connective tissue, using post-credits scenes that are, in typical Marvel fashion, self-reflexive and fun – but this time with no teases for films to come.

Where previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films have trailed characters donning superhero mantles, confrontations to come, or more light-hearted team ups, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decided to lovingly poke fun at Marvel grandmaster Stan Lee, leaving him stranded on a godforsaken space rock in the outer reaches of the stars. Spider-Man: Meanwhile Homecoming targeted filmgoers who had stayed until the end in expectation of a tease, only to receive a Captain America educational video on the virtues of “patience”.

That isn’t to say that connective tissue isn’t there. Marvel seems to be pursuing world building not through post-credits stingers, but through plot and character. In the past, teasing how awful big bad Thanos is ahead of the Avengers battling him in Infinity War would have been done through a menacing post-credits scene, as in both Avengers films to date. Instead Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses character as a tool to explore the world at large.

Nebula’s seething rage is, rather than just a weak excuse for an antagonist’s arc, actually grounded in character, explaining to Sean Gunn’s loveable space pirate Kraglin that Thanos would pit his daughters, her and Gamora, against each other, and replace a part of her body with machine each time she failed – and she failed every time. It’s effective. Thanos’ menace is developed, and you feel sympathy for Nebula, something Marvel has historically failed to do well for its antagnoists. Her parting promise – to kill her father – not only foreshadows the events of Infinity War, but also hints at the conclusion of a fully formed arc for her character.

In the high-school-set Spider-Man: Homecoming, the stakes quite rightly feel smaller. The inexperienced wall-crawler gets his chance to save the day not with the galaxy at risk, but with an equipment shipment owned by Iron Man alter-ego and billionaire inventor Tony Stark hanging in the balance. While such a clear metaphor for widespread change in the MCU might be a little on the nose, the set-up is effective at plaing the film at street level while also hinting at overall changes to the structure of the universe.

Stark gifting Peter a new (and oh so shiny) suit is a key set piece at the end of the film, whereas in 2015's Ant-Man’s Hope Pym inheriting her mother’s own miniaturising suit it is relegated to a teaser. Peter’s decision to turn it down not only completes Peter’s transition past seeking the approval of Stark’s unwitting father figure, but it also leaves the Avengers in an as-yet unknown state, still fragmented and incomplete after the events of 2016’s Civil War. To anticipate Spider-Man joining the Avengers proper is to anticipate the forming of the team as a whole – keeping our collective breath held until we stump up for tickets to Infinity War.

With this happy marriage of the macro and the micro, individual stories are suddenly taking precedence in the MCU, rather than being lost in the rush to signpost the foundations for the next instalment in the franchise. It’s a refreshingly filmic approach, and one which is long overdue. To suggest that Marvel is hesitant to overinflate Infinity War too early is supported by their refusal to share the footage of the film screened to audiences at the D23 and San Diego Comic Con events in recent weeks. Instead, the limelight is staying firmly on this November’s Thor: Ragnarok, and next February’s Black Panther.

Stan Lee, at the end of his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post credits scene, cries, “I’ve got so many more stories to tell!”, a hopeful counterpoint to a weary Captain America asking “How many more of these are there?” at the end of Homecoming. With Disney having planned-out new MCU releases all the way into 2020, entries in the highest-grossing franchise of all time won’t slow any time soon. We can, at least, hope that they continue their recent trend of combining writerly craft with blockbuster bombast. While the resulting lack of gratuitousness in Marvel’s storytelling might frustrate in the short term, fans would do well to bear in mind Captain America’s call for patience.