Domesticity doesn’t suit me, and nor does wearing trousers

I am wandering around the Hovel, looking for a book. This would be fine if it were a simple matter of finding any old book, just some reading matter in the form of a book to pass the time; but it is not any old book I want, it is a very specific book: the one I agreed to review last week, which I have not yet picked up, and which - because I am old-fashioned like this - I think it would be a good idea to read
before passing judgement on it.

Where does one hide a leaf? In a forest. (Although why anyone would want to hide a leaf in the first place is beyond me. They are of scant value.) And where does one hide a book? In the Hovel.

Despite increasingly frequent clear-outs, the books continue to multiply; indeed, rather as shaving more often is said to increase the vigour and purpose of one's stubble, so hauling off boxes to Oxfam seems to make more of them come through the letter box.

About twice a week, the postman, whose sad eyes carry a message of eloquent rebuke about them, rings the bell and hands over a heaving sack of the things.

Literary salon

So the one I want nestles under any one of about two dozen tottering Matterhorns of books and what I will have to do is ring either the publisher or the newspaper to send me a replacement and then, shortly after it arrives, I will find the original, usually in plain view, in a place I could have sworn I'd searched several times already. This is the kind of thing that makes me suspect that books have finally achieved sentience and can actually hide themselves, snickering quietly like kids playing hide-and-seek, while I thrash around the place in my underpants, going progressively crazy
until I find myself actually calling out for them by name. A Kindle, someone suggests. No: the books would gang up and eat it.

This is what happens when one is left to one's own devices, though. There has been an interregnum since Laurie's departure for New York and during the day I am the Hovel's sole occupant. I am accountable to no one but myself. The key word in the last paragraph, you will have noticed, is "underpants". What is the point, I ask myself, of wear­-ing out a perfectly good pair of trousers when one can saunter freely about the place in one's gunties?

(I could, I suppose, take this to its logical conclusion and go around completely in the nip but I don't put the heating on during the day and there are, after all, neighbours to consider, and one can still get a rather stiff sentence for indecent exposure, even these days.)

I suppose I am, more than four and a half years on from my ejection from the family home, quietly proud that I have not got much worse, in terms of orderliness and hygiene.

There's a minor but interesting character in Antál Szerb's wonderful novel Journey by Moonlight whose study gets so unusably messy that it becomes impossible to tidy, so he simply rents out another room and repeats the process; what happened to me was more or less the same.

My old study became a nightmare of books and papers. I used to have to walk on books to get to my desk. This is not an exaggeration: I used to dream about it being cleared out by the wife and, although in the dream I was alarmed at all sorts of guilty secrets being unearthed, I was in the end relieved that something had been done.

All washed up

Well, that problem has long since resolved itself and things have never got as bad; but there is still the matter of my innate reluctance to tidy things up. I am not made for domestic matters. The washing in the machine, if it is of the boring, non-essential sort such as sheets and tea towels, can sit there for almost a week; I just put it through a quick rinse cycle every day so it doesn't get smelly. (How long, I asked on Facebook the other day, can one go on doing this before it becomes clear that one is insane? About three days, was the general consensus.)

Anyway, in a few days' time, there will be another inhabitant of the Hovel, keeping Laurie's room warm until she returns. An old friend, as it happens. The only problem is that, by virtue of this, she will not put up with any nonsense. I suppose I am going to have to clean up my act and start at least pretending to act like a responsible adult.

The washing will come out of the machine today, I promise. In the meantime, though, where the hell has that sodding book got to? Come to think of it, what on earth has happened to my trousers?

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 19 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The end of socialism