The open fridge: We've all been there. Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
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Late at night, in my dressing gown, I search the fridge for a piece of cheese and contemplate my fate

"I could be Nick Clegg". Nicholas Lezard sees desperation by the fridge light. 

It’s about 11 o’clock at night, I am deadly sober, and I am searching the fridge for cheese. This is not as easy or even as fun as it sounds. With a full compliment of people in residence in the Hovel, the fridge fills up fairly quickly, and things tend to accumulate. Largely this is my fault. Ever thrifty, or at least careful to economise where I can (that is, without doing anything crazy like giving up wine), I find it hard to throw away carcasses with some meat on the bone, rinds of Parmesan now solid as aeroplane chocks, mugs and jars filled with the fat rendered from roasted joints.

Even the remains of the Christmas goose are still around – admittedly, not in the fridge but double-wrapped in plastic bags on the table on the back terrace. Winter is a kind of fridge but by now this goose must be getting a bit ropey. What am I waiting for? For it to grow wings again and fly away south?

Back to the fridge: I am strangely relieved to note that there is a litre of soya milk that was never mine but has been there since before Christmas. Maybe the other inhabitants each think it belongs to the other. I am fairly sure no one thinks it’s mine. It doesn’t take a great deal of acquaintance for people to work out that I’m not a soya milk kind of person.

I find some Brie that is entering the so-so period of its existence; it would do, but what I want right now is hard cheese. I know I have some Cheddar uneaten in there that cannot have got mouldy yet. Briefly I entertain the suspicion that someone else has scoffed it but immediately dismiss it. If there is one thing life has taught me, it is that when something of mine goes missing, it is not because anyone else has nicked it or thrown it away by mistake, however pleasing to the indignation centre of the brain this is. It is because I have mislaid it.

So I rummage through the fridge’s packed, chaotic shelves, and think: I’m rummaging through a shared fridge in my dressing gown in the middle of the night, and I’m 51. Assuming I peg out around 75 – and with my lifestyle that’s a fairly generous estimate – that means I’m three-quarters of the way through existence. What have I got to show for it? Three great children and a pile of brown envelopes I am too terrified to a) open or b) throw away. That, and a phobia, quite well justified, as it turns out, of answering the phone unless the screen shows it is coming from a number already known to me.

Hard cheese, indeed.

A nearly full tub of Tesco Mascarpone and tomato sauce commits a felo de se by rolling off one of the shelves and landing on the floor. If it had landed on my foot that would have hurt. Also, by some miracle, the top stays on, so I do not have to spend another 20 minutes cleaning up, eating into my schedule.

So: things could be worse. I could be wrapped in sleeping bags and pissy newspapers in the Marylebone Road underpass. I could be looking forward to the next of my 50 lashes courtesy of the “government” of Saudi Arabia, as well as the rest of my life in the nick, just for pointing out a few flaws in the system.

I could be Nick Clegg.

See? There’s always a ray of sunshine when you look for it.

But somehow, in the still watches of the night, these arguments fail to console. My love life has gone quite spectacularly wrong, partly as a result of having made the cardinal mistake of trying to be decent, which, let me tell you, upsets everyone concerned and invariably lands you in the shit. I am writing this, as I mentioned in last week’s column, on a computer held together with Sellotape. Which isn’t even holding it together. I am seeking cheese in the middle of the night because I’ve been feeling peaky all day, and when that happens I always entertain the thought of dying in my room and no one finding out until the smell gets unbearable. And, as I have said, I have at most two and a half decades left to play with, and something tells me that when I look back on tonight, I will say to myself: those were the good days. C’est là ce que nous avons eu de meilleur.

I wonder: is this self-pity, depression, or just a good, hard look at the situation? People say the life unexamined is not worth living but I am beginning to wonder whether the opposite is true. Tomorrow, I vow, trudging up the stairs with a corner of slightly furry Brie, I am going to start drinking at six on the dot and not stop until I conk out.

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 23 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Christianity in the Middle East

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump