Razors traded in for younger models

By the time you read this, Razors will have gone. How long he will last in New York is anyone's guess - Americans are not the tolerant, easygoing people they once were - but I wish him well. This means, though, that he needs a replacement.

How do you replace a 47-year-old border­-line alcoholic who makes groaning noises at Samantha Janus on EastEnders and understands the rules of night cricket? Not easy. In the end, I have decided to replace him with two girls barely into their twenties.

This is not, I hasten to add, the dream situation you may lazily think I think it is. One of them is the daughter of the Woman I Love, who is also going to start work at the Duke. The other is the woman I wrote about a month or so ago: the Oxford graduate who says she can't drink much - the terrible liar - and is involved with the son of a well-known porn baron and terrestrial TV channel-owner whose name escapes me.

There has been a bit of an overlap between her and Razors, which has been most diverting to behold. Razors, for reasons too complex and private to air in these pages, has lately been suffering from a period of celibacy. So when he rummaged through the DVD collection and picked out Buñuel's Belle de Jour as a film we could all watch ­together, I wondered whether he was thinking things through properly.

As those of you who have seen this film will recall, it is a masterpiece of eroticism that says disturbing things about male and female desire. It also spoke deeply to Razors, who kept glancing furtively at our new housemate, curled up as demurely as Catherine Deneuve on the sofa. After a while the atmosphere in the room thickened, and I could see that Razors was suffering profound inner turbulence, like a kettle about to boil. I could actually see beads of sweat forming on his pate, which he had to wipe off every few minutes.

When our flatmate (who, to make matters worse, glories in the name Emmanuelle) left the room, he shoved his fist into his mouth and bit his knuckles until they bled. When she came back and casually mentioned that a man in the street had tapped her on the shoulder and said, "You have amazing legs; can I have your phone number?", Razors left the room, saying something about having a shower, in a strangled voice.

The old eye-over

Being properly in love with someone else, and therefore blind to the charms of all other women, I can take a detached and amused attitude to all this. And it is nice to fall into the role of avuncular elder statesman. "What's the Groucho Club?" she asks. "What does 'on the game' mean?" (Cue more knuckle-biting from Razors. I do hope his self-control, rudimentary at the best of times, holds out until his departure.)

But when the daughter of the WIL arrives in a few days, we enter uncharted waters. Maybe readers out there will be able to help me. Is there any precedent to this situation in art, literature, history or folk memory? The story of two disreputable men separated from their wives and living together is one as old as time, but one separated man and two 20-year-old women?

I am reminded, eventually, of an episode from my own past. I am 22, and very anxious indeed to leave the family home, having finally got a job a year after graduating. A friend of a friend, Jenny Beerbohm, related by marriage to Max, no less, has a spare living room and sofa in a mansion block in Earl's Court. Would I like to stay with her? At the time, Jenny, an ex-model, is in her mid-forties, beautiful but shy, charming and kind. "Is £30 a week too much?" she asks, as we sip our drinks in the Coach and Horses, Jeffrey Bernard giving her the eye over my shoulder. Even on my salary, and in 1985, £30 is practically nothing, and I say yes, barely believing my own good fortune.

I was meant to stay for only a couple of months, but I ended up living there for over two years; I couldn't go until I'd read every book in the apartment, and besides, I was waiting for my landlady to take advantage of me. She never did, but I did learn something about the dynamics of living with someone twice your age who isn't related to you. The day after I left, the 1987 hurricane swept over south-east England and the flat above my room collapsed on to my sofa. If I had stayed another night, I would have been killed.

Jenny, now, is cruelly dead, as is her best friend, Deirdre, whom I introduced to Jeffrey Bernard, who in his turn immortalised her as "she who would drown in my eyes". I mourn their loss often, and miss their batty wisdom, their tolerance and good humour. And how they would laugh if they could see me now.

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 04 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Licence to cut