Angry young(ish) man

The important thing for that most absurd of creatures, the separated man in his forties, is to contrive as much luxury as possible for himself in order to mitigate the pain of his circumstances. I learned this in a hurry after queuing up a couple of times at the Tesco Express in Baker Street. It is a pitifully inadequate shop even if you are fond of Tesco, and I am not; its shelves are for nomads who have lost all hope.

But there is, as Alan Coren once said, one good thing about Tesco: it keeps the riff-raff out of Waitrose. Mine, in Marylebone High Street, is pricier and further away, but it does have a certain elegance. That is, as long as you avoid the section around the herbs and garlic. Some idiot in the marketing department decided that you couldn't buy basil leaves tout court: it has to be "Majestic Basil", as if no one would buy the stuff unless it is preceded by an effusive adjective.

"Glorious Garlic", it says on the string bag enclosing two or three heads of what should be called, if the idiot was being truly honest, "Mediocre Garlic", or, if he wasn't determined to infantilise the customers, "garlic". There are similar adjectives arbitrarily applied to tarragon, coriander, rosemary and the rest of them, but I will not list them. You get the idea. Oh all right, here's one: rosemary is considered "Romantic". Gah! (It is not. It is for remembrance, as Ophelia reminded us.)

In the days when I was both separated and without hope, I would have simply shaken my head in dull despair and moved on with shuffling gait, as if I were wearing slippers, to the dairy section. Nowadays, two and a half years on and full of beans, I find myself boiling with righteous anger. There is something soothing about it. "So angry," murmurs Razors, as he glowers at some inane advert on the telly. (He used to work in the business and bad, stupid ads, which are the only kind that seem to be around these days, pain him dreadfully.) It is an infectious habit. Try it some time. It helps if you live in London, which offers so many opportunities for outrage.

Look at the Tube map, which now, with a contempt for veracity that would make Orwell's Ministry of Truth whistle with admiration, insists that the Q of the Circle + Hammersmith and City Lines is still a circle. "So angry." (Lower the voice and the brow, as if you are a coiled spring about to release a terrible vengeance on the world.) Waiting in the freezing cold for a bus outside King's Cross because the "Circle" line has been closed for the weekend? Repeat the mantra, softly: "So angry." Your fellow passengers (strictly speaking, those hoping to become passengers before they die of cold) will treat you with respect and edge away from you in order to give you more room.

The poets understood rage, the need to vent the pent. How do those lines from Geoffrey Hill's "Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy" go? "Rage and regret are tireless to explain/Stratagems of the outmanoeuvred man . . ." Or there are Donald Davie's lines comparing rancour to the indignant-sounding hoopoe. (I cannot look up the quotations and reproduce them with accuracy, as the books they are from are in the increasingly entropic chaos of my study in the marital home. So angry.) Anger is aesthetic and therapeutic. And, it is important to remember in a left-wing magazine, revolutions can't happen without it.

Canine able

The trouble is, you find yourself wondering where to draw the line. What you might once have accepted with resignation or even complacency - an unusually cold winter, say - now becomes another stick of fuel beneath the simmering cauldron. It is the opposite of the hackneyed prayer to have the patience to accept what you cannot change.

I wonder if it is doing me harm, this new-found technique for resisting the idiocies of the age. Does not anger give you cancer, or something? Au contraire, I find. I feel and look younger than my years. If I was a dog, my coat would be glossy, my tail would be wagging and my nose would be cold. But I really wish Waitrose would do something about the sodding packaging on its herbs. It makes me so angry.

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 08 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Nightmare on Cameron Street