I’m lying in bed with a cold – but at least I have access to limitless toast

Nicholas Lezard’s Down and Out column.  

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And so one struggles on. At the moment, this is not as much fun as usual because I have been bequeathed the kind of cold in which so much mucus is being produced that one fears it has seeped through the nasal cavity into the brain. Not for the first time, I muse on the injustice of being in a line of work where this does not grant one a day off.

Others with regular office jobs may say that my days on look suspiciously like their days off – and that I get to eat toast any time I feel like it, whereas, scandalously, nine out of ten offices don’t even have a toaster. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever seeing an office with a toaster. I can understand why. The moment someone started making toast, the rest of the office would be driven crazy by a newly kindled desire for toast. It is very hard to smell toast being made without thinking: “Toast! I fancy a bit of toast.” Unless you are suffering from a brain tumour or are about to have a stroke. Try typing “smell of toast” into Google and see what it comes up with. You’ll wish you hadn’t.

But at the moment, I am so clogged up that I couldn’t smell toast even if I wanted to. I blame the children. The eldest daughter has been staying with me and she has spent most of it sneezing. The boys joined her a couple of days later; the eldest one had been to Reading Festival and God alone knows what he picked up there, while the youngest one has had a perpetual sniffle since he was about four. So, having not seen them for a while, my guard was down.

I also might have to concede that the unhealthy lifestyle the Hovel tends to encourage might have something to do with this. I seem to have largely given up on cooking vegetables, unless toast is a vegetable, and so the immune system might not be quite as up to speed as it once was. It was very nice to see the children, though, however ill they made me, for seeing Doctor Who without them, on one’s own, is kind of pointless. When Matt Smith, in his cameo in the first episode, complained bitterly about becoming old and grey, every head in the room turned to me. Oh, ha ha.

There’s no getting round it: the body is winding down. It happens. Along with the heavy cold are a wheezing cough, a strong disinclination to climb the stairs and phosphenes that persist for about five minutes after rubbing the eyes. That was kind of entertaining at first but it started getting worrying when it went on and on and on. As for the eyeballs, they don’t feel great and that’s even without worrying about the wheeling constellations of pinpricks of light. They feel oddly weighted, like marbles. Rolling them causes them to protest in a disturbing way.

Then there’s the phlegm. Oh, dear God in heaven, the phlegm . . . There is something about phlegm in a receptacle one is not accustomed to seeing phlegm in that is particularly distressing. As I write, in bed, there is a glass on the bedside table in which the sputum mounts and I can barely even type these words, let alone contemplate rinsing it out. Is it just me, reader, or is there not something truly horrific about it? There must be. I mean, just look at the words “phlegm”, “mucus” and “sputum”. These are not lovely words. “Phlegm” even looks like phlegm. All clogged up.

And this would all have to happen after the children have gone back to the family home. The boys are no use – they can’t be arsed to do anything unless they’re bribed heavily and sometimes not even then – but the daughter is very good at bringing me cups of tea and has even been known to cook the odd meal for me. My mother has always complained that my brother and I are boys and are therefore lacking in any capacity for caring for the aged and infirm and she may well be on to something.

But this . . . this is really nothing. It will pass. It’s the prolepsis that’s bothering me. Which means: what happens if or when something really horrible happens? The thought of getting seriously ill, not the comedy illness I’ve just been describing but something really nasty, when living on my own . . . That’s not a happy thought and it is to keep such thoughts at bay that, paradoxically, I maintain the kind of lifestyle that makes these illnesses all the more likely in the first place.

At least my mind hasn’t gone, unlike Steven Moffat’s. You should have heard what the kids had to say about his script for Doctor Who. It was pretty scathing. 

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 03 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The summer of blood