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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.