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24 October 2014

I used to chop logs like a man. Now I stay in bed and it’s exhausting

Nicholas Lezard’s Down and Out column. 

By Nicholas Lezard

I appear to have taken to my bed for a week. It seems like the sensible thing to do when life is loused up beyond repair and you’re feeling ill on top of it all. Someone recently suggested crosswords and a spot of baking as a cure for depression and, as I assume the intention was not to help by lightening the gloom, given my flash of rage at the banality of the suggestion, she has now been sacked.

Gosh, you really do get to find out who’s on the ball emotionally and who isn’t when you come clean about this kind of thing. The ones who say it’s the weather are fairly vexing. The weather may well be a factor but if I listed all the other more proximate causes, then it would become quite clear it had only a minor effect. And anyway, I kind of like autumnal weather. It used to betoken a new school or university year, the latter signifying escape; at home, it meant doing things like chopping up logs for the fire.

I bet you can’t quite imagine me chopping up firewood but I assure you I was quite a dab hand at it. It is also pretty much the most satisfying chore involving physical labour a man can perform. There’s something magical about the way the log splits just so when the axe-blade hits it at the right point. Sometimes you feel you just have to tap it. Sadly, I remember one winter’s day, it would have been around February or early March 2007, when I realised, what with the way the marriage was going and everything, that this would be the last time I’d be doing it there. It’s not so easy chopping wood when there are tears in your eyes. Tends to compromise the technique.

But to return to the weather. I have been invited to Rome by my old friend M—, whom I have not seen in ages. She says that the warm weather there persists until the end of November. I quite like the sound of that but I wonder whether seeing M— again would be good for the nerves. Polish and beautiful, yet possessed of all the infectious but insightful craziness that her proud race can muster (I hasten to add that, as I’m half Polish, not only do I know whereof I speak but I can get away with speaking it, too), she once, in Warsaw 20-odd years ago, looked at my hand for the purpose of reading my palm. She foresaw an early death, some time in my mid-fifties was the suggestion, and when I asked if I would at least have led a fulfilled life, she said something in Polish that my friend Pawel later translated as meaning, basically: “Sort of, but.” I am supremely sceptical about stuff like horoscopes and palmistry and whatnot but there was something in the way she said it that gave me the heebie-jeebies. Then again, as I mentioned in an earlier column, I have Cotard’s syndrome so am already dead, so what’s the problem?

The problem is that I didn’t know being dead was quite so exhausting. As I said, I have been bed-bound, pretty much by choice, for the past few days, and there’s something about this that makes you question at a fundamental level whatever impulse it was that made you get out of bed in the first place. At the moment only hunger does that, and I can hold on for ages if I have to. (Making tea is another matter.) Even the arrival of wine o’clock hasn’t been stirring the limbs, and the other day I found myself unable even to finish the first glass of the evening. Which suggests actual illness, and, come to think of it, there does seem to have been some internal rearrangement going on among the organs.

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Meanwhile, I am able to confer and take solace from those of my friends who know what it is to be hounded by the black dog. Of these I have a wide selection to choose from, for some reason, and I sometimes wonder if they ever talk about me and say: “Poor Nick, he really ought to be on medication, or in therapy, or possibly both.”

But they offer sympathy and counsel patience, because from time to time even the black dog gets bored and wanders off for a while. Unfortunately, as Robert Burton so astutely observed, he is less likely to do so when one is both solitary and idle, and I don’t think drinking endless cups of tea and reading Agatha Christies in bed counts as industry.

Perhaps my sacked friend was right. Maybe baking is the answer. An obsession with baking does seem to be the only thing that’s uniting the nation at the moment, after all. But then again: I may be screwed up right now, but I’m not as screwed up as this wretched country. Rome it is. Money permitting.