Festive tiffs are peanuts compared to breaking my Snoopy mug

A catastrophe: I have broken my Snoopy mug. Those of you who imagine me to be a hard-headed misanthrope with stern aesthetic standards might be surprised to learn that I possess such a thing, let alone consider it, along with a penknife - about which more later - and my red 12-string semi-acoustic 1967 Baldwin guitar, my most cherished possession. But it is, and I am proud to say so.

A Christmas gift from my then 12-year-old daughter, it betokened not only our mutual esteem for the work of Charles M Schulz (our favourite Snoopy line: "my head reels with sarcastic replies!", a remark that can be applicable in an extraordinary number of circumstances), but also this: that while I may be forever banished from the marital bed, we still had a bond. Basically, for four years, that mug has kept me sane, and long-term visitors to the Hovel are told of only one house rule: don't touch the Snoopy mug. On top of everything else, it also holds more tea than any of the others in the place.

Cooking up a storm

Like all rationalists, I am, deep down, absurdly sentimental and superstitious, and cannot help but read portents and patterns into random events. So the mug-breaking incident seemed to suggest that something profound and irreparable was going to happen on the domestic front. (I hold in similar esteem the Swiss Army knife my boys clubbed together to get me at the same time: but Swiss Army knives are, deliberately, more robust than Snoopy mugs and suffer more from outright loss rather than breakage. I have, of course, lost the toothpick, but then one is required by law to lose the toothpick of a Swiss Army knife within two weeks of acquiring it.) But it is beginning - touch wood - to look as though I am wrong. The bad thing that has happened to me is, and only is, the loss of the Snoopy mug.

It could have been worse. Disaster was looming. I had been invited by the estranged Mrs Lezard to come and cook for the family on Christmas Day. I rather like cooking Christmas lunch, because it means I can eat goose, and the only downside of this is that goose is buttock-clenchingly expensive. But still. When I first heard that you didn't actually have to have turkey for Christmas I thought . . . well, I thought it was Christmas. Genetically speaking, if not culturally, I am half Polish and if there's one thing central and eastern Europeans can't get enough of, it's goose. (A close reading of Tibor Fischer's first-rate novel Under the Frog will inform you that in Hungary they sell bags of fried goose skin, which is my idea of snack paradise.) I also like cooking: it's an arena where the selfish can actually do something useful, be the centre of attention, and, all being well, soak up some gratitude when all is done.

The remarkable thing was this: there were no arguments. I did nearly have an embolism when it turned out that the estranged Mrs L had not got any brown bread or lemon for the smoked salmon I'd brought, but in the larger scheme of things, all was sweetness and light. The children were a little apprehensive, to put it mildly, that there would be, so to speak, the mother and father of all ding-dongs, but I was too privately upset about my Snoopy mug to worry about trifling concerns like post-marital tiffs. It takes proper disasters to put other matters into perspective. It even, for a few seconds, took my mind off the death of Christopher Hitchens, which, even though it wasn't exactly a surprise, managed to upset me more than the death of any other public figure, John Peel excepted. (The last time I met Hitchens, he put his arm round me and said "Nick, don't ever change," which as it turned out was not the best advice in the world and a little two-edged to boot.)

Christmas break-ups

Meanwhile the post-Christmas period has followed its traditional pattern: being incredibly broke and taking phone calls from women who are in or close to tears because of exceptionally fraught festive seasons. Four split-ups, one near-split-up and the odd family row of soap-opera intensity. That's so far. I write a couple of days before New Year's Eve. Who knows what the next 48 hours will bring.

As it is, I am extremely touched that I am considered a good shoulder to cry on. But I, too, am bereft, and find myself murmuring the lyrics of "Gretchen am Spinnrade" to myself: "Mein' Ruh ist hin/Mein Herz ist schwer/Ich find' sie nimmer/und nimmermehr." I know it is absurd to invest so much importance in a mug with a cartoon dog on it (and which holds a hugely satisfying amount of tea), but material objects are where we store our feelings, and show us that they, too, have shape and weight.

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 09 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Forget Obama