Going cold turkey

It is a chilly evening, the first really cold one of the winter, but the sixth frame of the snooker final between Higgins and Ding seems to have been taking all year. (There is nothing else on the telly except The X Factor and its spin-offs, whose mystifying popularity is one of the outrages of the 21st century.) Razors and I appreciate the subtleties of the Safety Game, but this is taking the mickey out of the audience. The Hovel might be warm and cosy, but the sense of stasis engendered by the snooker drives us to exasperation. We wrap up and head for the Duke.

The Guvnor, no doubt buoyed by Arsenal's victory over Liverpool, is pleased to see us. We have not been to the Duke for a while, because a) it's been raining too hard and b) we have no money. Christmas is bleeding us dry already, although how Razors can claim to have no money when
he produces a bankroll the size of a baby's head is a source of some bewilderment.

We have also been c) in a somewhat melancholy mood. Love has been mucking us about recently, and this can get quite dispiriting. Let us propose, I say, a comparison between love and the pharmacopoeia. Imagine if some cunning scientist managed to concoct a drug that mimicked exactly the effects of love. The hapless user would experience, at first, a huge, giddying rush, beside which the highs of cocaine or crystal meth would be nugatory. There would be a sense of omnipotence and hyperinflated self-esteem that would render one a menace on public transport, let alone behind the wheel of a car. Against all evidence to the contrary, the world would suddenly start to look like a place of boundless delight and possibility. You would, in short, go kind of nuts. The problem with this phase is that it is of entirely unpredictable duration.

At least with conventional illegal stimulants you tend to know how long you've got before it all comes crashing down. With love, you never know whether it's going to last days, weeks, months, or even longer. The hope, indeed the idea, is that it should last until you and the beloved turn up your toes and die of old age, but, sadly, this is largely a fiction imposed upon us by a combination of vested interests (such as the advertising industry, which goes into overdrive to push the notion of happy families around at this time of year) and our own wishful gullibility. In reality, you can end up having your heart broken in a matter of hours if you play your cards right. And then heaven help you. For if the highs of love can make you feel a euphoria comparable only to that of Soma in the Rig Veda, the lows are correspondingly abysmal. Let us not dwell on them too much. If you are human, you are probably familiar with them. You enter a kind of depression in which every aspect of life becomes unendurably repellent. You neglect your personal hygiene. You forget to eat. You no longer do your exercises and you are too exhausted to offer your seat to ladies on the Tube. You try to sleep for 23 hours a day and spend the intervening hour drinking more than is good for you. You also become something of a bore on the subject, and, on the whole, Good For Nothing.

Just say no

In short, I add, warming to my theme, anyone who pushed a drug with these kinds of side effects would become a pariah even within the drug community. The forces of law and order would hunt down the dealers and the manufacturers with a zeal unmatched since the Crusades, and even I, with my libertarian approach to matters of intoxication, would give them all the help at my disposal. Outside the courts, I would be leading the lynch mob, waving my home-made noose and shouty placard until my arms ached.

Razors and I become quite eloquent in our denunciation. Stefan the barman, who has had his share of knocks in this department, despite looking like a Greek god, sympathises. The Guvnor, although seemingly immune to this kind of thing, is moved enough to let us buy large Lagavulins at cost price (a significant saving, for which we are tearfully grateful). Eventually, though, I slope off home. Basta cosí.

And then I get a rather interesting phone call.

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 21 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special