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28 November 2019updated 02 Sep 2021 5:45pm

Like the protagonist in the fifth book I’m currently reading, I am a bed-bound boy

It’s perhaps not an ideal routine, and one that may owe something to mild depression. 

By Nicholas Lezard

As I write, it is about half past one in the afternoon, it is twilight outside and rain is lashing the windows of my bedroom. I have just come from the kitchen, where the view is much the same and rain is lashing its windows too, which is quite something, as the kitchen window faces east and the bedroom window faces south. If I had north- and west-facing windows, I have a hunch that they, too, would be being lashed by rain.

Well, you may say, that’s Scotland in November for you, you knew the risks. But hey, I’m not complaining. Because I’ve gone back to bed. I mean, look at it out there. Would you go for a walk in that?

I’ve been spending quite a number of the past few days in bed. I think I’ve given you my schedule before, but it’s been revised. The day now goes like this: noon-ish, wake up. Ablute, make tea, go back to bed. The bed, as ever, contains a small library on one side of it, so there is plenty of reading matter.

I am alternating, right now, at about half-hourly intervals, between the following publications: the London Review of Books; a 1951 book by RSR Fitter, The Home Counties, published to coincide with the Festival of Britain, which is both poignant and thrillingly written (the general editor of the series was Geoffrey Grigson, so this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise); an incredibly scabrous novel about the music industry in the 1990s by John Niven called Kill Your Friends; a collection of our very own Dr Phil Whitaker’s “Health Matters” columns called Chicken Unga Fever; and Adam Mars-Jones’s sadly neglected novel Pilcrow, which is about the size of the Bismarck but incredibly well written.

The Niven was posted to me by my friend the Moose, and I wonder how shredded his delicate sensibilities must be after reading it. It is unspeakably sordid, and I had to read it twice. There’s also a copy of Nicholas Nickleby but pages 5-12 are missing so I’m stalled there.

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This keeps me going for a couple of hours, and maybe I have a little nap, or another cup of tea, or some toast. I then muck about on the internet for a bit (I don’t turn the machine on until lunchtime). At about five o’clock I get up and have some more tea and wonder what I’m doing with my life, and then at six make a fire and open the wine. I then chat with friends and/or family, make a solitary dinner and then, around 1am, curl up on the sofa, the blessed sofa, while the fire burns itself out. I then wake up at 4am and read for another two or three hours in the hope of falling asleep again, which I do, eventually. And that’s why I wake up at noon.

It’s perhaps not an ideal routine, and one that may owe something to mild depression. (The schedule is very different when I have a serious deadline.) The cycle is generally 48 hours long – that is, I alternate between days of interior gloom and days where things seem fine. Trips to London, I have discovered, generate waves of anxiety and inner panic that take days to get over.

During my last trip, I had to cancel, or fail to meet, at least three people I very much wanted to see, and I was only there for three days. At least one of these people has not taken it well, and that doesn’t make things any better at this end, conscience-wise.

At this point I have to acknowledge that I am at least in a position where I can stay in bed as long as I want to or, admittedly, on occasion, longer than I want to. I do not, like so many people with insomnia, wake at 4am and realise with mounting horror that I will be having to get up to go to work in three hours whether I like it or not. For that good fortune I will forever be grateful, and my heart goes out to those who do not share it.

Of course, I have plenty of other things to wake me up at night, and keep me awake. Lately I have been having a run of (relatively) well-paid employment, but the problem is that the payments have not been made yet and, already living on short commons, I was dismayed to learn, in London, halfway through it, that I had £15 and whatever was in my pockets to last me until the end of the month.

Luckily, a cry for help on a social medium resulted in some loans I will, thank goodness, be able to pay back. (Two return tickets in one month to London holed me below the waterline. I am beginning to realise that if I want to go to London again, I’m going to have to find another way than the train, but the idea of spending 12 hours on a coach does not appeal.)

I wonder how many people are in a similar situation, bed-bound because psychically rather than physically nailed to it. I can’t even escape it in fiction: the narrator of Pilcrow is, at the point I’m at, a bed-bound young boy, and reading it is like looking into a hall of mirrors. 

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