I may be reeking and radioless, but to some I am a god

And it just gets better. Two days after getting my laptop back from the mysterious Chinese guy who can fix anything - I imagine him working out of an office that looks something like the creepy android-maker's place in Blade Runner - my friend Lori knocks a large glass of red wine over it and once again I am confined to the teeny-weeny notebook computer, the size of a trade paperback.

This diddy little thing is a lot better than having nothing to write on at all, but the keys are made for more delicate fingers than mine and so the mistakes are tiresomely frequent, or, as I originally typed, trordomely frewrmt.

As if to rub my nose in the ways of fortune's wheel, I brush against my trusty radio (a Sony ICF-404L, small but packs a punch) and knock it off the bookshelf in my bedroom, removing, as it hits the floor, the last remaining stump of aerial. This means, in effect, that my media consumption is now restricted to Radio 4 on medium or long wave.

I can listen to FM if I hold the little metal nub where the aerial once took root, but one feels foolish doing this after barely two minutes, and if one has other chores to perform, such as doing the washing-up, rolling a cigarette or, indeed, writing a column, then it becomes impossible.

The entropy spreads: having a shower in the upstairs bathroom precipitates (the mot juste here, I feel) a deluge in the bathroom below. As neither bath nor shower in the latter bathroom functions, we are obliged to make our own ad hoc arrangements. I tape a note to the bathroom door advising my fellow inmates of the Hovel to wait until the plumber sorts it out.

Unfortunately, because I do this well after closing time, I think it amusing to add a little poem of my own composition, which, with your permission, I will share with you:

It must be said, it is a bummer
Being shafted by the British plumber.
Thank goodness that we now have Poles
To come and plug up all our holes.

I only remember to take the note down after he has, without my knowledge, been and gone. And the shower has not been fixed. (I don't think he read the poem, though. For some reason the handwriting is a trifle wayward.)

So, reeking, radioless and down to the cheapest viable red wine, I return to the conditions I experienced when I was 17 years old, in a chambre de bonne up eight flights of stairs in Paris. Romantic then, not so much now.

Meanwhile, the internal process of decay continues. Never mind the phy­sical. (As Martin Amis says in The Pregnant Widow, after a certain age, "every trip to the mirror will, by definition, confront you with something unprecedentedly awful". I'm not quite at that stage yet, but things aren't getting any better, and the bad times are beginning to herald themselves, particularly in the skin around the eyes.) One becomes harangued by one's conscience. I remember listening with a great, haunting sense of guilt to Matt Johnson's lines from his song "I've Been Waiting for Tomorrow (All of My Life)": "Another year older and what have I done?/All my aspirations have shrivelled in the sun."

That was when I was 21. I'm now pushing 48, and my achievements - three splendid children - can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. And they're not even really my achievements. This was not part of the plan.

Lurking smirk

So, one rolls up one's sleeves and gets to work. Frustrating to do so on a keyboard that only the fingers of a five-year-old could navigate with confidence, but there you go. I am also cheered at the launch party of a magazine to which I am slightly miffed not to have been asked to contribute (the pay is not much, I gather).

I am introduced to the editor, who looks so young, I am astonished. Editors, as far as I am concerned, are meant to be older than me. Or at least somewhere in the same ballpark. He looks astonished, too, on hearing my name.

“I'm in awe of you," he says. "To me, you are a god." I look closely for signs of the lurking smirk. He hides it well, it must be said. After
a while it becomes apparent that I actually am intended to take this statement at face value, which makes me feel rather weird.

Later on at the same event, I run into my old friend Catherine, who knows me rather better than the young editor. I tell her what's just happened. I close on the words "a god".

There is one of those slight pauses that certain women do rather well. "You mean 'a knob'," she says.

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 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Who are the English?