I stumble downstairs on a muggy, sultry morning to find, miles from his natural habitat, an adult bull walrus asleep on my sofa. This is unusual, even for the Hovel, which, like the Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is a vortex for weirdness. Then again, it is a very comfy sofa.
On closer inspection, the slumbering form turns out to be the Guvnor, whose pub is only a hundred yards down the road - in other words, a lot closer than the Alaska Peninsula, where walruses abound.
This is still odd, though, a reversal of the natural order of things. As I prepare my morning pot of Assam with shaking hand, I realise that some reconstruction of the previous evening is called for. The situation is, I suspect, rather like that at the beginning of the popular comedy film The Hangover, which I have not seen. Everyone says I should see it. Even my children say I should see it. Why? I cannot imagine.
Gradually, the jigsaw assembles itself. The evening began, I now remember, with the arrival of a friend of my friend Amel. Amel used to be my au pair but, having an enormous brain, turned out to be a much better conversationalist than she was an au pair. So brainy that she has taught at the Sorbonne, she is also the soul of generosity, and once absented herself and her cat from her tiny flat in Paris so that I and the Woman I Love could stay there. She has called to ask if a friend of hers can stay in the Hovel for the night and it would be mean-spirited to refuse.
The friend is a charming Oxford graduate, in London for an interview. I pour her a glass of wine and she warns me that she's a bit of a lightweight - words that, when recalled at 2.30 in the morning, as she accepts a glass of Razors's Lagavulin, ring a little hollow. But I am getting ahead of myself here. The most startling thing about her, it turns out, is that she is having an affaire with the son of a porn and media baron. The young have opportunities denied to the middle-aged, don't they?
Like so many young people these days, she has no trouble conversing with a horrible old ratbag such as me, and if she feels at all awkward,
she conceals it. It is at this point that Razors texts me to say he is bringing a nice girl back, who might be your new flatmate. For some reason, I feel a deep sense of foreboding. Justified, it turns out.
Single nice female
This so-called nice girl is, looked at one way, very nice - in the sense of being outgoing, cheerful and very easy on the eye, but after about three seconds in her company, it becomes quite clear that she is unsuitable flatmate material. After a little bit longer, I reflect that even living in the same city as her makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, and it is well that London is a place you can readily hide in.
I thought that age and experience had inured me to the varieties of female insanity, but Julia (for that is her name, and I'm not going to change it, because of my public service obligations) manages to raise even my eyebrows. In fact, when my new friend and I join her and Razors at the Duke, even the Guvnor looks scared, and he's seen everything.
So I find myself at a bit of a loss when the doorbell goes at about midnight and I find the Guvnor himself at the front door, looking a little sheepish and carrying a fullish bottle of Rioja. He has apparently locked himself out of his own pub. It is, I see, turning into one of those nights. Why
is it that people descend on the Hovel en masse like this?
And I am not accustomed to such nights these days. The previous week had been spent in domestic bliss in Cambridge with the WIL: early bedtimes, early awakenings, with me doing my 2,000 words a day on the book, preparing food and making sure the kitchen was spotless before she got back from work. I loved it. And now I am imprisoned in the small hours, having to contain a demented 30-year-old woman and wondering how long it will be before Razors stumbles on to the terrace with the business end of a pair of scissors buried in his back.
Three years ago, when I arrived in the Hovel, this kind of thing happened all the time, and, for some reason, with increasing frequency once Razors moved in. But I am now older and maybe even a little wiser, and I cannot remember the last time I had an evening like that. I can honestly say that I don't want another one like it for a long time.