The original London diary: Samuel Pepys's journal. Photo: Getty
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If only I had a diary, I’d be able to figure out what happened to the past seven years

Over the years, I have begun to see the attraction of going out less and less. I sit, like Mycroft Holmes in the Diogenes Club, daring anyone to talk to me.

People should be a bit more guarded when making personal observations. They often make their own way back to their referents, as if on their own wings, or those lent them by fate. “Did you think he’d end up like that?” was the remark from someone you could say was fairly close to me which trickled into my ear the other day. Sauce. I wouldn’t say I have “ended up” here, in the Hovel. Then again, I do seem to have entered a period of stasis.

The wheels may be spinning, but not at any great speed, and there isn’t any traction. I think of my university years. Three of them, and each seemed an age of incident and wonder. The second year, what with one thing and another, is a bit hazy, but there’s a definite impression, a flavour, as it were, of experience gained, nodes added to the brain and the heart. The point is that those three years seemed like a lifetime: I extracted as much juice from them as I could. And that is less than half the time I have spent in the Hovel.

I should have seven years of memory, but it feels like one long today. Yet the women I met when I cautiously stepped into my first post-marriage relationships are up to seven years older than when I first met them. Seven! All of my children are seven years older than when I left the family home, but somehow that’s easier to comprehend. That I am seven years nearer my grave, I don’t like one little bit. I may tend towards depression because life has depressing bits in it, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about its approaching end. (And if you say, “Nonsense, you’ve got at least another 30 years,” then you have no concept of a) the capriciousness of fate and b) my lifestyle, which is frowned upon by all members of the medical establishment except the most laissez-faire.)

Anyway, the whole business of handling time is something that maybe I ought to take a good look at. I used to have a diary. It was one of those Moleskines with the days of that week on one side of the spine and a page of lined paper on the other, so you could both manage your life and Take Important Notes For Your Novel at the same time. And for a while, with no wife on hand to remind me of things I had to do, I found this diary pretty handy, although it has to be said that the Important Notes For My Novel have not, at time of going to press, produced anything useful. But at least it helped me with the social whirl, which I engaged in because I now could, and because staying in the Hovel made me want to kill myself.

Over the years, I have begun to see the attraction of going out less and less. I sit, like Mycroft Holmes in the Diogenes Club, daring anyone to talk to me and solving crimes from the comfort of my sofa.

My great friend John Moore, who I used to think was even lazier than I am, rang up one evening and suggested a pint. He lives on the Finchley Road and named a pub roughly equidistant: the Lord’s Tavern.

No, that’s horrible, I said; there’s the — on Lisson Grove, but we might get beaten up there. We kept throwing out suggestions, of pubs that were getting closer and closer to the Hovel. “Oh, fuck it, I’ll just come round to yours,” he said after a while, which was what I’d wanted him to say all along. This was terribly exciting, as he was the first guest I’d had in about three months who wasn’t actually one of my offspring. I’d been expecting a visit from B—, whom I’m very fond of indeed but whom I also owe a boxed set of Star Trek DVDs (long story), since early April. Around the middle of the month I asked if we could postpone. (One or two DVDs were AWOL.)

Since then, there have been four further postponements, all from B—’s end. I find myself in the unusual position of being better organised than someone else. The email announcing the third cancellation began with the words “This is getting beyond a joke”, but there was more to come, and that one began, “You’re not going to believe this . . .” There comes a point when you realise that the other person actually doesn’t want to see you ever again, but I don’t think this is so with B—, and besides, I have his DVDs. No, this is simply providence using its tickling stick on us, and the big joke is, B— actually has a proper diary all of his own.

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 21 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Peak Ukip

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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