Boredom and despair in W1

I have no money, and no company apart from a plague of insubordinate mice. I would take a bath – onl

God, as Jesus might have said while dangling painfully from the cross, I hate Easter. Mine has not been so physically agonising as the Redeemer’s but it certainly could have done with some improvement. It kicked off beautifully on Thursday night when the bank machine ate my only card. (No credit cards for me. I may be, as my lawyer wrote down in her notes with a sigh, “financially hopeless”, but I’m not that hopeless.)

The last time this happened was a few months ago, at the same cashpoint. Then, I thought no more about it and went to bed, assuming the card was safe in the machine’s innards, but I was called the next day by an anxious bank asking me if I had, by any chance, gone on a wild spending spree among the fleshpots of Leytonstone and Walthamstow (Argos and Asda, mainly). They had detected, in their words, unusual activity in my account: ie, they had the nous to suspect that not only would I not be seen dead in either Argos, Asda, Leytonstone or Walthamstow, I would especially not be seen dead in any of those places early on a Sunday morning.

This time I was more prompt about cancelling the card, but not prompt enough to stop the con artists from removing £250 in cash. Platitudinously, inevitably, one’s attitude to the people responsible for such acts veers, when it happens to one’s own self, from a tolerant liberal-left approach (rehabilitation, education, sympathy) to a more robust policy of slicing their genitals off in public.

OK: so no money. No company, either. The kids are gallivanting on the south coast with their mother and her grateful boyfriend. Razors has pushed off to Canada and then Cuba for three weeks, leaving me entirely to my own devices. This would be bad enough at any time of year but doing so at the beginning of Easter is harsh. Easter is not a festivity that the British do well. Committing to neither the agony of our Lord nor the pagan celebration of life, we just scoff a lot of Creme Eggs and shut everything down when the weather is guaranteed to be rubbish.

But it is a period when you really get a sense of London’s failings. As the superb songwriter John Moore put it in one of his less cheery works, “I’m tired of London, and tired of life;/I’ve got to admit it, Doctor Johnson was right”. He must have written those words during a bleak London Easter, when the accumulation of what are in effect three Sundays in four days turns the city into something that feels as though it has been hit by a neutron bomb.

I’m looking out of the window and I feel like I’m the last man alive. And this, mark you, is in W1. (You may well ask what I am doing calling this column “Down and Out in London” when the main action, if that is the word, takes place off Baker Street. Let’s just say the arrangement is provisional, the flat is structurally unsound to the point where you fear a full bath would make it cave in, it is overrun by insubordinate mice, the beautiful girl in Majestic Wine has vanished off the face of the earth, and the telly only plays DVDs. It’s like La Bohème round here.)

It is at times like this that I wonder how London has the cheek to proclaim itself as a city in any honest sense. I remember noting how Vancouver’s residents, when I once stayed there, kept going on about how beautiful the surrounding countryside was; a city, I thought, that defined itself chiefly by its non-urban aspect may be said to have missed the point of what being a city is all about.

But that’s Vancouver, which is at the periphery of the western world, and is occupied by Canadians, who are pleasingly not known for their boastfulness. London, though, has no such excuses. Even when Paris shuts down for August you can find somewhere within walking distance that’s open after 11pm. (It’s about communal human contact, not drink.) Here the only places open then are either Soho members’ clubs which charge £8 for a glass of house piss or Australian-themed Gehennas thronged with 20-year-old Yahoos. A New York friend visited one Sunday shortly after I moved in and suggested we find a nice bar in the area that would be open after 10.30pm. Worth a try, I thought. Half an hour later she was screaming at me, and at anyone else depraved enough to be awake at that hour, “This isn’t a city! How dare it call itself a city?” Being born and raised here, I could only bow my head and apologise.

But it gets worse now. Even Waitrose is shut for the day as I write. It is, indeed, an indication of my despair that I am writing this two days before my deadline, just to have something to do. And in case I simply don’t make it through Easter Monday. This is so bad. It’s like living in . . . it’s like living in the countryside.

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 20 April 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Who polices our police?