Friends say my house is a sitcom, but no puny mortal could dream this up
A Sunday afternoon, and I am listening to Ligeti and wondering whether it was entirely wise of me to have invited the editor of this magazine for dinner. (The Ligeti is relevant because the movement I am listening to is called "Agitato".) I did so a few weeks ago in a spirit of giddy bravado and having drunk two glasses of red wine - only two, I swear, although they were on an empty stomach. (I have a rule about writing after seven o'clock to people who can fire me.) I passed the fait accompli on to my housemate Laurie Penny and she said, with all the fearlessness of youth, that it was a splendid idea. It would be great for him to come to the Hovel, and see that there are still pockets of squalor in this country that would make an Engels howl.
For long I heard nothing and began to assume that my invitation had been construed by a shrewd analyst of middle-class English discourse as meaning precisely "under no circumstances come to dinner", in the way that "I'll bear that in mind" means "I've already forgotten it", or "oh, incidentally" means "what I've been wanting to say all along".
And then an email arrives saying sometime in early to mid-July would be best and I think, shit, he's really coming. I look about me in panic. A friend who hadn't been here for a year came round last week just after the cleaning lady had been and she still gasped at the mess.
Mess? I said indignantly. It was the books, she said. There were many more than there used to be; and I did then realise she had a point. Just as you do not notice the growth of the children you see every day, so you do not notice the encroachment of review copies if you are perpetually on site. And my friend is right - they're everywhere. One of the leaves of the table in the living room has burst its central bracket and is now tilted at about ten degrees to the horizontal, there are so many books piled on top of it. An alien watching the Hovel might conclude that they were an intelligent plant life tended by the grizzled biped picking them up, opening them, sighing and putting them down again.
So: how on earth are we going to accommodate the head honcho? Laurie and Emmanuelle eat off the table in front of the sofa, I eat at the table, there being only room for one to do so. Sometimes, when the books are restless, we eat standing up in the kitchen. When my children come we put all the books on the floor and then, making soothing noises, put them back when we're done, but the kids are acclimatised, having been surrounded by piles of review copies since they were born. ("Yeah," said my mother mordantly on the one occasion I let her in, "it's pretty much how I imagined it.")
Then again he was once a literary editor, so he knows how review copies breed. But now that he is an editor, The Editor, might the trappings of power - the gold-plated helicopter, the phone number for Jemima Khan - have made him lose touch with hoi polloi? (I am uncomfortably reminded of Lord Copper's line in Scoop: "I am as accessible to the humblest book reviewer as I am to my immediate entourage.")
So, all in all, I am bracing myself for the kind of disaster that so many sitcoms of the 1960s and 1970s prepared me for: the disaster that befalls when the boss comes round for dinner. Many people have remarked about how the Hovel is a sitcom, but things have happened in the Hovel that could only have emanated from the cosmic mind, not from the puny imagination of the mortal. What kind of mega-catastrophe might be in the offing?
Please, Lord, let me not insist he play night cricket after dessert. The police always stop us playing night cricket after a bit, but no player of the game has hitherto made the news.
And another worry occurs. Am I going to have to talk politics? Once Ms Penny has had her say, I am left with nothing to contribute, which suits me down to the ground, as thinking about politics these days pushes me either into rage or, increasingly, despair. So I let her do my political thinking and speaking for me. "What she just said," I say, and pour myself another glass. But this isn't going to cut it in the fully charged intellectual hothouse atmosphere that I will have to breathe in early to mid-July.
I wonder if I could persuade Laurie to dress herself up as Margo from The Good Life - or, better still, Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched. At least that way all she has to do to put everything right is twitch her nose. I'd better check with her first to see if that's sexist or not.
And then I think: oh God, no. Twitter. These days, there's sodding Twitter. Bollocks.