I sympathise with my phone. I can’t recharge myself either

I write this in a precarious state, on a laptop that may conk out any minute. The socket at the back where the power-supply cable goes in has gone wonky: the juice simply isn't getting in.

I have a similar problem with the mobile: recharging it involves about ten minutes of fiddling about with the plug and then, as delicately as if it were filled with nitroglycerine, setting it down on a flat surface while it sucks up its electrons.

I have had prior experience of these problems: an old Acer laptop managed to last for ten years, but the last three of them involved an irremediably compromised battery and a socket that only worked if you jammed a match into it, plus up to 20 minutes of agonised fiddling about before it condescended to start. As for the phone, this is apparently a design flaw in the Sony Ericsson, and also in its owner, who whenever asked, "Which mobile do you want?" replies, "The cheapest one in the shop, please."

But I have sympathy with these gadgets. I, too, feel as though I am suffering from an inability to recharge myself. The metaphor is so apt that it seems forced and ridiculous, but there you go: it's also inescapable. Sleep is troubled and never sufficient, however long I stay in bed. And I can stay in bed for a long, long time if I put my mind to it. The other day I didn't haul myself into the world until about four in the afternoon. I spent a couple of baffled hours trying to work out whether this was sloth, depression or genuine illness. Then when it came for the hour to pour the evening glass of wine, I found I could hardly finish it. And if you can't finish a glass of wine then you must be ill, no?

But there is the fear that something has gone irretrievably awry within the body, that something is trying to kill you. And I am reaching the age when a lot of friends are having terrible things happen to them. E- has suffered a heart attack, which for good measure has been followed by a stroke, immediately robbing him of his stunningly rich vocabulary and all movement down the right side of his body, turning him into a character from late Beckett (the Unnameable, say what you like about him, was at least the chatty type); and there are too many friends who have been diagnosed with cancer to mention them here even obliquely.

The only bright news lately was about my friend the Doctor, who, what with suffering symptoms it wouldn't be nice to repeat even in a magazine that likes to look the truth firmly in the eye, was wandering around gloomily convinced he had bowel cancer. And, truth to tell, his diet - a matter largely of superbly cooked red meats, gallons of booze and, until a few months ago, a packet of Camels a day - didn't make the prognosis any less likely. So when, after a humiliating examination, the details of which it would not be nice to repeat even in a magazine that etc etc, it turned out all he had was IBS and what are vulgarly known as bum grapes, there was much relief and even some light teasing.

But I am beginning to feel as though I am living on borrowed time. A study referred to in the Guardian last week, and skimmed with a horrified eye, seemed to suggest that air pollution in the middle of cities makes it as likely that one might suffer a heart attack as if one were snarfing up a bucket of cocaine every day. (Perhaps I exaggerate but that, roughly, was the gist.) One is always prone to a kind of hysterical, superstitious credence in such matters, even though the evidence of one's eyes - people aren't actually dropping like flies in the street - might suggest otherwise. (Actually, I did see someone drop like a fly on the Central Line the other day. I had a send-not-for-whom-the-bell-tolls moment that might account for my current mood.)

Posy-tinted spectacles

But the most distressing thing happened while I was asleep. Troubled sleep can bring vivid, near-lucid dreams with the texture and cohesion of reality, and the other night I dreamed my life as it would be seen through the eyes of the great cartoonist Posy Simmonds. Let me tell you, if you want to spend the next week feeling like a lowly spotted thing, a creeping beast and a waste of space, try seeing yourself as Posy would see you. In my case I feel exposed: a creature of inordinate and insupportable vanity, idle and degenerate beyond all hope, a self-deceiving wretch who hardly merits the pity, let alone the tolerance, of his friends.

Well, at least this assessment, which doesn't really seem that harsh, does allow for the possibility of self-improvement. But, just as with phone and computer, we live precariously. We never know when, suddenly . . .

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 07 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The great property swindle