There’s a lot that happens to me, throughout the year, that doesn’t go into this column

2019 began with me in Scotland and in love; I end it in Brighton and… well, how long does it take for the scar tissue to form over the heart again? 

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I have been asked to write, this week, a column with “an end-of-year, reflective theme”. Be careful what you wish for, I say. There you all were, dying to hear what’s been going on with my teeth (see last week’s issue), and now it’s reflection time.

The political round-ups of the absolute shower of shite that was 2019 I leave to the adults who write for this magazine (I write before the result of the general election is known; you, happy reader of the future, if you get the New Statesman delivered on a Friday, will be waking to a new chapter in this benighted country’s history).

The personal is political, they used to say, and in many cases it still is, but in my case the personal is… personal. And I must confess that even though this column is all about me – and sometimes it might look as though barely enough happens to me each week to scribble down on the back of a fag packet – there is quite a lot that goes on that I do not mention.

Not because it’s even more boring than what I normally write about, but because it is very much not boring, or not to me at least, but because other people are involved. And one does not, as Bertie Wooster was often at pains to say, bandy a woman’s name.

That said, 2019 began with me in Scotland and in love; I end it in Brighton and… well, how long does it take for the scar tissue to form over the heart again? I really thought I was over this kind of thing, but it turns out that there is no fool like a 56-year-old fool. I mean, I thought that the 48-year-old fool was dopey enough, and the 54-year-old fool cretinous beyond belief, but I really have to hand it to the 56-year-old one. He went that extra mile.

Still, what is a life without love? Settled, I suppose, but in Scotland, while my arse was half frozen off, my heart was warmed. In Brighton I have central heating but, as the song doesn’t quite have it, baby, it’s cold inside.

Three years ago a friend flew me over to Los Angeles so he could lock me up in a mountain retreat, put two snarling vizslas on guard over me, and make me write a film script based on the first 90-odd “Down and Out” columns over five days. I did so, even though the vizslas turned out to be scaredy-cats, both of them climbing on to my lap and whimpering pathetically while a thunder-snowstorm raged outside. (The vizsla is not a small dog, and it is not easy for two of them to fit on my lap, especially when I’m trying to write.)

I wrote the script, and while my kidnapper/producer was very pleased with the dialogue, he was a bit worried that the story as a whole did not have a proper dramatic arc.

“What you have to answer,” he said to me, “is: what does Nick learn?” (I hadn’t bothered to change the names. Time was too tight to start calling myself “Mick” or something.)

I looked at him levelly.

“OK,” he said. “Maybe this will work better as a sitcom.”

Because Nick does not learn anything.

So what did I fail to learn to do in 2019? I failed to learn how to clean up after myself; I failed to learn how to cancel a contract with British Telecom without being zoomed for a couple of hundred quid; and I failed to learn how not to make a fool of myself over a woman.

Here’s a tip: if you want to go over the year and what it meant to you, don’t scroll back through the thousands of messages that were sent back and forth between you and the person you loved. If cringing could be turned into energy, right now I’d be generating enough electricity to illuminate Brighton Pier for a week.

The problem at my age is that you always think each romantic adventure is going to be the last one. No one, you say to yourself, is going to be interested in me. I am invisible; everyone is taken, happily paired off; and, after all, come on, look at me: who’d want that? Not me, that’s for sure. I’m that old man, sitting in the corner of the pub on his own, with a book.

Not that this is too bad. Last year ended with me fighting for breath in an ambulance, and then in A&E; 2019 ends with me – touch wood – in relatively good health. I’m not going to be running for a bus any time soon, and sometimes I get dizzy when I stand up too quickly, but I can still do push-ups and can occasionally climb the steep hill to my flat without having to stop.

I have alienated neither my children nor the Estranged Wife, and I’ll be going to the family home to cook Christmas dinner for them. But there’s no way 2020 is going to be half as wonderful as two-thirds of 2019 was. Anyway, next week: teeth! 

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 13 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

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