I'm sorry that I keep repeating myself, but I am in the grip of an old Freudian demon

It's not good news. On the very day I'm due to lunch with a woman from Routledge who wants me to write a wholly original introduction to semiology, I'm confronted by a letter in the New Statesman pointing out that I'm incapable of sustaining a 600-word column without resorting to crass repetition.

In case you were too preoccupied in last week's NS with the supplement on the achievements of the nuclear industry to have time to scan the letters page, I should tell you that the progenitor of my dismay was a Mr Ron Chatterjee of London. Mr Chatterjee, in rather more generous terms than I might have employed upon discovering similar plagiarism in a first-year paper on Durkheim, wondered why I'd devoted my column of 27 September to the wonders of having my very first office in Soho when exactly the same development (and an identical sense of wonder) had informed my column of 21 January 1994.

Mr Chatterjee wryly speculated that I might be "an office bigamist, with a string of secret premises across London". The truth is rather more profound. My failure to remember my previous office adventure proves that I am now firmly in the grip of that old Freudian demon, repetition compulsion. I foolishly go on believing my life has a progressive and forward- looking character when any competent analyst could show that I am constantly going round in circles.

The metaphor I used to favour in my first-year lectures on Basic Freud was the merry-go-round. Although we may regard each new phase of our lives as another station on the route to material success or spiritual enlightenment, we become suddenly aware that far from having travelled successfully from, say, Peterborough to Grantham, we are back once again in Stevenage. No matter how much we try to persuade ourselves that we are perpetually encountering new situations, a mere twitch of the analytic curtain would reveal that the people waving to us as we sail happily past on our gaily painted rocking-horse are identical to those we encountered on the last turn of the wheel.

To be strictly Freudian, we need to go further and say that these repetitions, these deja vus of scene and situation, these duplications of personal and occupational dilemmas, have their template in childhood and derive their potency from instinctual wishes.

All of which leads as naturally as day follows night to the conclusion that my incapacity to remember my first move into a Soho office back in 1994, even as I recorded an identical move in 1999, is not, as Mr Chatterjee amiably implies, a case of memory failure, but a classic example of unconscious repression.

What is it, then, about a mere office that could prompt such a traumatic turn of events? Well - and here I'd fix my first-year group with a look that firmly cautioned against any foot-shuffling or outright giggling - it all goes back to the uterus. The parallels are so striking that they're hardly worth listing on the blackboard. If you overlook such minor discrepancies as the nine months one typically spends locked in the womb and the absence of anything closely resembling amniotic fluid in the average office, there's a more or less perfect match between the warm, secure, protected, ambience of both environments.

When I rang Geoff to try out this explanation I was frank about its limitations. "There is," I admitted, "still the odd loose end to be tied up."

He was his usual helpful self. "Odd loose end to be tied up? I suppose that will turn out to be the old umbilical cord."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

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