Like the seafarers of Santa Cruz, I’m gauging the swell of the tide with the swing of my testicles

The patterns of history can feel, at times, like the movement of the sea: you can feel it in your balls.

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It’s half past three in the afternoon as I write these words. That means, with only brief intervals, I’ve been in bed for thirteen and a half hours. Yes, our old friend hypersomnia is back, the very sensible reaction of the human body to external and internal pressures, that feeling that one is not good company, even to oneself. Any fool can stay in bed all day. But it takes real dedication to spend the large portion of that time asleep.

So, you ask, how does one achieve this state of grace? Well, the usual method is heartbreak, or, in my case, a condition of extreme anxiety about a personal matter I am not at liberty to go into in any detail whatsoever. But for the real, the copper-bottomed “I am only getting out of bed to go to the bog” deal, what you want is not just this but the knowledge that your country is in the hands of an unprincipled maniac, supported by a gang of toadying maniacs just as unprincipled as he is.

I always knew this would happen. According to Lyall Watson in his superb Heaven’s Breath: a Natural History of the Wind, the seafarers of the Santa Cruz islands of Melanesia can tell, from the swells of the ocean their boats ride on, exactly where they are and what course they are taking. Some navigators lie on their backs in their canoes to feel this swell; but most stand up, with their legs slightly apart, “plumbing the swell, feeling its effect in subtle shifts from the vertical, detected largely by the pendulum swing of their own testicles”.

And the patterns of history can feel, at times, like the movement of the sea: you can feel it in your balls. (This pretty analogy or metaphor breaks down, of course, if you don’t have balls, but let’s not worry about that right now.)

In the current political climate you don’t need to be an expert in historical currents to be aware of a sense of impending doom; and I don’t think there are many readers of this magazine who are not in despair right now. I’m writing this a week before publication. If a miracle has happened, and Boris Johnson has been flattened by a meteor, or (for some reason I like the sound of this one) a rogue elephant, then let this column stand as a historical curio, while all around it, a nation rejoices.

But I’m not getting my hopes up. I can’t think, offhand, of any occasion when a lying charlatan in high office has been hit, let alone killed, by space debris or crazed pachyderms, so I’m not going to put my shirt on it. I’m just going to have to assume that when the next issue comes out, he will still be there, still stinking up the place and still driving the country to ruin. 

Meanwhile, and this is rather pleasing as it continues our nautical theme, I get a nice card from a Ms Catriona Illegible from Edinburgh. It’s an answer to the question I posed a Brexiteer a few weeks ago, viz can you name a single EU law or regulation that has inconvenienced you in any way? Ms Illegible begins by saying some very nice things about my writing, and I graciously accept her compliments. She then goes on to point out that she has been inconvenienced by EU maritime laws.

“Briefly,” she writes, “the same rules apply to the subsidy (if required) of inter-island ferries in Greece in the non-tidal Med as applied to the ocean-going ferries providing the lifeline service to the Shetland Isles. I know, I was one of the civil servants tasked with delivering the lifeline ferry service and steering a course through the maritime state aid rules. Will this do?”

Yes, this will do, up to a point, and I can just picture a concerned civil servant tearing her hair out at the injustice of it all, and having to wade through all the red tape to boot. It is not quite the kind of thing I was looking for, but as this is the first proper answer I’ve had to my question for three years, it will have to suffice.

And her card did send me off on a reverie, in which I was the skipper of a sturdy vessel crashing through the gales of the North Sea, busy delivering Marmite to the noble people of Shetland. A reverie that crashes once I realise that unless Boris Johnson is stopped, there will be no Marmite, no oil to power the ferry, and Shetland and everywhere north of the Tweed will be independent anyway.

So it’s back to bed for me. The more one sleeps during the day, the more crazed the dreams become, and the more muddy and disoriented the thoughts on waking. Which means you just go back to sleep again.

Which is fine, because right now, from where I’m sitting, absolutely anything is better than being awake.

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 appears in the 06 September 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The new civil war