The original London diary: Samuel Pepys's journal. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.