Never mind the wasp sting and the poverty, I am up, in, and off the market

In news that will have pretty much the same devastating effect on the female readership of this magazine as Paul McCartney’s marriage to Linda Eastman had on millions of Beatles fans, I have to say that the search for the next (in effect) Mrs Lezard has come to a shuddering but very welcome halt. No further applications for the post will be accepted, but I would like to thank all those who put themselves forward. Standards were consistently high. (Surprisingly high, when you consider the gruesome photograph that accompanies this column.)

‘‘So how can you be Down and Out, now that you’re so Up and In?” asks my friend Stephanie, with a nicely judged sense of innuendo. Oh, that’s easy-peasy. One can always find flies in the ointment without even bothering to look. For a start, there is the depressing inevitability of redundant advice on public transport, in which we are told to carry a bottle of water with us at all times. Never mind that this is unnecessary; you get the feeling that a population which has to be reminded to avoid thirst in hot weather has reached such a level of stupidity that a natural cull of the dimmer elements might be in the interests of the gene pool.

On a more personal level, I had a very mauvais quart d’heure last week when I got a phone call from the Child Support Agency. What made matters worse was that, as I was driving, I asked my son to answer the phone. “Who is it?” I asked. Like many children, he becomes tongue-tied and nervous on the phone, and I had to repeat the question many times, with increasing volume and impatience, so the CSA got to hear me shouting, “Jesus Christ, WHO IS IT?”, which must have made a marvellous impression. “Hmm, not only stingy but abusive too. And takes the name of the Redeemer in vain.”

The guvnor of the Duke sympathised. “The CSA? What’s that, a posh Asbo?” Precisely. He then advised his staff not to give me further credit until the matter had been resolved. Luckily, the matter has been resolved. Thanks to my technique of bluster, threats and humiliating climbdown, the ex called off the hounds, for which I am happy to express gratitude. You do not want the CSA after you. They are as humourless, inflexible and relentless as the Spanish Inquisition. (And, in this instance, quite as unexpected.)

Nor do they look kindly on one’s consumption of wine, even though I was once told by a doctor not to stop because my system would go into shock.

The only other fly in the ointment, apart from the continuous, humiliating poverty (for reasons which should not take too much thought to work out, I entertain a reverie of spotting John Mullin, editor of the Independent on Sunday, as he begs for small change, and kicking him up the arse), is in fact a wasp, which stung me on the knuckle as I picnicked with the love of my life last Sunday. My right hand is now the size of a football and throbbing painfully as I type; every stroke of the keyboard to the right of the Y is accompanied by a howl of agony. It could have been worse: a few years ago I got stung on the eyelid and the next day, when I looked in the mirror, I saw William Leith, in one of his podgier phases, staring back at me. (This is not to speak ill of the admirable Mr Leith’s looks. It’s just that they’re his, not mine, and I was unaccustomed to seeing them in the glass.)

The only even vaguely interesting thing about being stung on the hand, apart from making me recollect the Schmidt Sting Pain Index (a yellowjacket sting rates only two out of a possible four and is described as “hot, smoky, almost irreverent”, like “WC Fields stubbing a cigar out on your tongue”, which seems a little understated to me), was that this was the one to which I had moved my wedding rings, items of little monetary and (now) even less sentimental value. (They look nice and I like fiddling with them in non-smoking environments.) I had to shift them before they cut into the quickly swelling flesh. But where the hell was I going to put them? It dawned on me that the best place was where they had been originally – on the ring finger of the left hand. In other words, I was going to have to go around looking as though I was married again – only without the hunched and defeated manner of those who are unhappily so. Most men neither look at nor care whether women wear wedding rings, but, believe me, women notice these things. So as I am happily off the market, they may as well stay there.

By Nicholas Lezard

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 HOWZAT!

2009-07-06