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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The Brexit elite want to make trade great again – but there’s a catch

The most likely trade partners will want something in return. And it could be awkward. 

Make trade great again! That's an often overlooked priority of Britain's Brexit elite, who believe that by freeing the United Kingdom from the desiccated hand of the European bureaucracy they can strike trade deals with the rest of the world.

That's why Liam Fox, the Trade Secretary, is feeling particularly proud of himself this morning, and has written an article for the Telegraph about all the deals that he is doing the preparatory work for. "Britain embarks on trade crusade" is that paper's splash.

The informal talks involve Norway, New Zealand, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic alliance of Middle Eastern countries, including Kuwait, the UAE and our friends the Saudis.

Elsewhere, much symbolic importance has been added to a quick deal with the United States, with Theresa May saying that we were "front of the queue" with President-Elect Donald Trump in her speech this week. 

As far as Trump is concerned, the incoming administration seems to see it differently: Wilbur Ross, his Commerce Secretary, yesterday told Congress that the first priority is to re-negotiate the Nafta deal with their nearest neighbours, Canada and Mexico.

In terms of judging whether or not Brexit is a success or not, let's be clear: if the metric for success is striking a trade deal with a Trump administration that believes that every trade deal the United States has struck has been too good on the other party to the deal, Brexit will be a failure.

There is much more potential for a genuine post-Brexit deal with the other nations of the English-speaking world. But there's something to watch here, too: there is plenty of scope for trade deals with the emerging powers in the Brics - Brazil, India, etc. etc.

But what there isn't is scope for a deal that won't involve the handing out of many more visas to those countries, particularly India, than we do currently.

Downing Street sees the success of Brexit on hinging on trade and immigration. But political success on the latter may hobble any hope of making a decent go of the former. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.