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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.