Almost part of the furniture

Visitors to the Hovel are always amused - or appalled - by its eccentric features. Freed from the conventionalities, or the proprieties, of living in a home with a strong matriarchal organising presence, Razors and I put up with things that the married man would not be allowed to experience.

What do we appreciate most? Is it the sloping floors, caused by the removal of a supporting beam some time in the 1960s, which makes the house as crazily tilted as the leaning house in the Italian town of Bomarzo, so that every egg fried in the kitchen comes out in the shape of a croissant?

Is it the bedroom window frames stuffed with newspapers to keep out the winter draughts? The teetering piles of review copies, dating back to September 2007? Or the irreparably fused light fitting in the downstairs bathroom, which, along with its repulsive 1970s tiling scheme, invariably brings to mind the energy-saving slogan of those distant days, "Brush your teeth in the dark"?

Well, visitors to the Hovel now have a new conversation piece, should they ever find themselves needing something to talk about - a very ugly fold-out sofa, wedged immovably in the doorway of said downstairs bathroom. If you want to brush your teeth, or indeed do anything else except have a bath there (I was warned not to use this bath, on the grounds that a leak has rendered the floor beneath it porous, and stepping into it will result in its falling into the kitchen below), you now have to climb over this cumbersome object. As is so often the case, it is all the fault of good intentions. This is the sofa I've been sleeping on since moving in here.

At first I was too depressed even to open it out. It's not a fold-out sofa bed; that would be too comfy. The back just folds down, leaving you with a crease running down its length. I have got used to this, as well as its hardness, having always assumed that this was good for your back. The cleaning lady has occasionally wondered why I don't swap it with the nice proper bed in the spare room next door, but that room is so tiny that it would be cruel to remove the only civilised amenity it possesses and replace it with this excuse for a piece of furniture.

Now, I can ignore a suggestion from the cleaning lady, much as I can ignore a request from the ex-wife, but I cannot ignore one from the Woman I Love, who has wearied of this sofa contraption and is living proof that sleeping on unyielding surfaces is not, actually, any good for your back at all.

“You'll have moved the bed in here by the next time I come round, won't you?" she says. So one evening, about an hour before she is due to arrive,
I announce to Razors that we have become removal men. Moving the bed out of the spare room is easy. I can even do it on my own. For the sofa, though, I need help. But as we move it out of my door and into the bathroom so we can turn it slightly and move it into the spare room, it opens out again and becomes stuck.

So near and yet sofa

Razors and I have our talents, let there be no false modesty there, but three-dimensional spatial geometry is not really one of them. Yet even we know enough to realise that we are in trouble.

We stand at either end of the sofa, taking in the gravity of the situation. The WIL is coming in half an hour, and all the books and other unmentionables that were living under the sofa are now strewn across my bedroom floor. Which do we resemble more closely? Laurel and Hardy, or the chimps in the PG Tips advert? I ask Razors if he minds if I cry for a bit.

In the end, I decide to cut my losses. The sofa stays where it is, the room gets tidied up. Thanks to the power of love, a job that would normally take me half a day gets done in 25 minutes, the WIL is impressed that I even moved it in the first place ("You were either going to do it at the last minute, or not at all"; how well she knows me), and she is even tolerantly amused at the Buñuelesque sofa, though I have a feeling it had better not still be there the next time she visits.

Later, my teenage daughter comes to stay for the week. "Is it always like this?" she asks. Good question.

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 01 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Unforgiven