Another suitcase in another hall? Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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The new lodger moved in and out of the Hovel in a day. Who’d want to live with a middle-aged man?

Unlike others, we have no choice but to live with ourselves - still. A 27 hour residency seems a little brief.

What, ladies and gentlemen, is the shortest you have ever lived in a place? That is, moved in somewhere, with your stuff, and then moved out again? The Hovel can boast a new record: 27 hours, for its latest occupant.

The previous one, whom I’ve written about before as the country girl who seemed more used to giving horses sugar lumps than negotiating London traffic, got streetwise very quickly and we rubbed along together fine for months, but in the end found a place more to her liking. Her replacement, who was invited round to check the place out, declared herself satisfied, and early last Sunday evening she moved in with a couple of big suitcases and a brand-new Marks and Sparks duvet.

I introduced her to my boys, who were, along with me, digesting Sunday lunch, and they were civil and handsome. She went out for dinner and came back with a man she introduced as her “friend”.

Uh-oh, I thought, because, as I may have said before, the wall separating our bedrooms is so thin that the occupant of one can hear what the occupant of the other is thinking about having for dinner. But they were quiet as mice in the end – quieter, in fact. (I can sometimes hear Mousey as he rummages inside the blue recycling sack that sits open on the kitchen floor; what he hopes to find in there is beyond me, unless mice can digest cardboard. I have recurring dreams of vanquishing Mousey with the heel of my boot, but I’d hesitate to do so again, especially after the abuse I got on Twitter the last time.)

And then on the Monday evening at about half past seven she popped her head round the living-room door and announced she was leaving.

Now, it is rarely given to us to see how the outside world perceives us. “O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!” as Burns put it, but what many people forget was that it was looking at a louse crawling on a fine lady’s bonnet in church that prompted him to make such a plea. What are the vermin that crawl upon us without our knowledge? What could I have done that would make someone up sticks and away before little more than a day had passed?

My friend K—— lasted a fortnight and that was bad enough, leading to a long period of fruitless introspection; but that was when Razors was living here with me, and we were perhaps too tightly knit for a third party to join. Also, we were probably insufferable.

One thing my conscience can be clear about is my propriety. No one who has lived here will ever be able to claim that I acted in a creepy way towards them – not even my worst enemies would accuse me of that. (And as my worst enemies include [name redacted at insistent legal request] and [ditto], they would be wise not to bring such a charge in the first place.)

But there must be something. F——, the occupant of 27 hours, said that the place she’d originally wanted to live in came up again – that’s her story and she’s sticking to it. And living in the Hovel is like being the Ringbearer: even if you were there for only the briefest of times, you will be able to claim the title of Hovel-dweller until your last breath.

I wonder if she could smell the failure and the desperation. I have been noticing, for the past few years, how it is men in their mid-forties to mid-fifties who seem to be bringing the most woe upon themselves, and on others. They are the ones most likely to kill themselves, or to run amok. The mid-life crisis is no longer the comedy business with the sports car and the secretary; it means the grim march to the jobcentre with the concealed kitchen knife, the family home that’s no longer his burned to the ground from the outside. It is a reaction to redundancy, in the broadest sense of the word – the all-pervading sense of uselessness in the face of a world that has decided to dispense with you.

This is not generally how I see myself, and readers know me as the happy-go-lucky scamp who whistles at misfortune. However, there are some misfortunes looming, which I will not go into, which would desiccate the most insouciant of lips, and I wonder whether it was some sense of these that made F—— decide that maybe it would be best if she took her chances south of the river. So the hunt is on for another lodger; but would I want to live with me? Would I really? Unlike others, I have no choice.

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 19 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, British politics is broken

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5 scenarios that will definitely happen in Ukip Britain

The Ukip general election 2017 manifesto is out. 

On 8 June 2017, Ukip defied expectations and pulled off a 392 majority in the general election. Prime Minister Paul Nuttall swiftly enacted his manifesto pledges – all 63 pages of them.

Now, thanks to Ukip, Britons no longer have to worry about silly things like the EU and multiculturalism. But not everyone has managed to adjust immediately to the Brexit paradise.

1. The beekeeper

Tommy knew right away his bees weren’t happy. They were swarming all over him, buzzing like a razor on a rampage, ready to sting. It was just as well he was wearing his beekeeping suit.

Except, wait a minute? Hadn’t the new Ukip government banned face coverings? Tommy was proud of being a law-abiding citizen. As he slowly removed his protective helmet, he shouted a parting message to his wife: “Enjoy our British honey when I’m gone.”

2. The job

“Thanks for coming,” Martin said to the three job applicants sitting in the glass-walled office. “I’m looking for someone who will be able to monitor the world’s FX markets, and identify any kind of insider trading.”

“I did my PhD in fraudulent FX and spent the last ten years tracking white collar criminals down,” said Gretchen.

“I’m a former trader who worked at three different central banks and makes my own beer on the side,” said Pierre.

“I’m young, unemployed, have no real qualifications to speak of and am under the age of 25,” said Stu. “I’m British.”

Martin shook Stu’s hand. “Welcome aboard,” he said.

3. The rescue

Stanley dodged the falling buildings as he made his way to the harbour, where a red-faced man in khaki was standing looking confused.

“Have you brought vital supplies?” Stanley shouted over the rumble of the earthquake.

“I’m from Britain and I’ve got nosh,” the man said.

“Nosh?” Stanley repeated. “What kind of country sends snacks to an impoverished country in the middle of an earthquake?”

“It’s the Naval Ocean-Going Surgical Hospital,” the man said. “We scrapped our foreign aid target.”

“Oh fuck off,” said Stanley.

4. The family

Helen knew something was different as soon as she stepped inside her parents’ house. “What have you changed this time?” she asked her octogenarian mother. “Is it the cushions? Did you give the door a fresh coat of paint?”

“No, darling,” her father said. “We just installed a sauna and hot tub complex along with an outdoor pool.”

Helen scratched her head. “I know Ukip has kept the triple lock pension guarantee,” she said. “But how can you possibly afford it?”

Her parents giggled so hard Helen began to worry they were having seizures. “Haven’t you heard of inheritable mortgages?” her mother managed to say. “One day, all this debt will be yours.”

5. The clouds

Ronald rubbed his eyes, and peered through the window again. No, he wasn’t seeing things. There was no sun. He stepped out of the house and stared at the sky. Where the bloody hell was it?

Then he remembered the referendum the month before. It had asked Gibraltarians if they wanted to be truly British, and he had ticked yes.

It began to rain.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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