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Dear diary, please tell me why no one’s had a party since 2008

Nicholas Lezard's "Down and Out in London" column.

I always find this time of year particularly fraught. It is the season of cold and damp, the three-year-old grime on the windows of the Hovel so effectively blocking the light that even during the day people without the sharp eyesight of youth are obliged to carry torches, and the realisation that that’s really it – there isn’t going to be any sunny warmth for five months at the very least.

As I might have remarked here before, my favourite Hungarian novelist, Antál Szerb, once noted that November in London wasn’t a month, it was a state of mind; he wrote that before the Second World War and it’s still true. But November is also a month of profound personal disorganisation. “What am I doing?” is no longer an existential question, but a practical one.

Moldova and out

Like many people, I start the year with the good intention of keeping a diary. I don’t mean a Dear-Diary-today-Binkie-was-beastly-to-meat- lunch-and-no-one-understands-me kind of diary, I mean one that says things like “2.30pm dentist” on a given date, in my own handwriting, so that I can turn up to the dentist with a clean conscience and that inner confidence which comes from having remembered something arranged a long time ago.

In this case, that of buying a diary I mean, my incompetence works in my favour because by the time I remember to get one it is February and even though most of the decent ones have gone, you can still pick one up at a considerable discount. The next few days are spent in a frenzy of putting dates in the diary and marvelling at how organised one is being.

No they’re not. They’re spent waiting to find something to put in the diary, but no one’s inviting anyone to anything, either because it’s February and too cold, or it is in a year after 2008 and no one has any money to hold a party.

After a couple of weeks of this you get an email from the Moldovan chargé d’affaires inviting you to a reading and reception in celebration of Mihail Pushofscu’s searing new novel, The Landlocked Seagull, and you think, what the heck, this beats staying at the Hovel for the 150th night in a row, maybe they’ll be handing out glasses of splrtz, the famous Moldovan firewater. So you hunt for the diary to put in the date and either (a) you can’t find it and have to go out to Ryman’s to buy another, even nastier, discounted diary, and the only ones they’ve got left have bunnies on them, or perhaps cats if you’re lucky, or (b) you contemplate the pages and pages of blank space on either side of the orgy at the Moldovan embassy and think: Is this it?

By the spring things pick up again, except by this time you’ve given up buying diaries altogether and I don’t know about you – you probably have one of those phones with an “i” in front of them that does everything for you except blow your nose – but what I do is give up on the whole idea of planned socialising and rely on a system of hunches, bells being faintly rung and chance remarks by friends about parties they’re going to that I have a vague memory of having been invited to myself. Hardly anyone sends out proper invitations any more, and in my inbox they just fester away along with all the other invitations to ogle schoolgirls, lose my belly fat and get a degree from the University of Pinner.

I have now taken to telling the Beloved when I’m doing things; she puts them in her phone beginning with a lower-case I, and then tells me when something is happening. If I remember to tell her in the first place. Except by the end of November people start thinking: we haven’t had a party/book launch/excruciating literary event for ages now, let’s fit about 80 of them into the last six weeks of the year – and it gets very hard to keep track.

Catalogue of lie-ins

So it was nice to see, last week, that it is not only freelance writers like myself (by the way, 21 November was National Freelancers Day: I plan to have celebrated it by staying in bed till four, as usual) who are rushed and disorganised: accountants are, too.

I received a fascinating peek inside the mind of one the other day when I asked an editor if it could be possible to chase up payment. (I hasten to point out that the editor is a kindly one and that the magazine is most certainly not this one.) The accountant replied, and accidentally copied me into the mailing list, with the immortal line: “I just dont [*sic*] have time to go around making payments”. Well, as I now know his name and the company he works for, I know what I can get this person for Christmas. A lovely new diary!

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 26 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, What is Israel thinking?

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.