A long, long time ago, I thought I was brilliant in a crisis. These days, I’m not so sure

My eviction is a bomb with a clearly indicated timer on it, ticking down to 1 October. Now that's a crisis. 

 

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Once, a long, long time ago, I started going out with a woman who was somewhat younger than me. She was great, and earned the acronym BGE, for Best Girlfriend Ever, and the nickname the Beloved, which is, OK, fairly nauseating for you, but accurately expressed how I felt about her.

But that’s not the point. The point is what her best friend asked her as our relationship began. Her best friend, I should add, is not a flake but an award-winning author and academic, and what she asked was not, “What the hell are you doing even thinking of going out with him?” but, instead, “Is he any good in a crisis?” As my girlfriend had yet to see me in a crisis, she couldn’t answer honestly herself, so she put the question to me.

“Are you good in a crisis?” she asked. “— wants to know.”

I remember, at the time, being very pleased with this question. A lot easier to answer than “was he a faithful husband?” or “are his finances in order?” (To which the answers are, “no, but what you have to remember is…” and “are my what in what?”) I thought to myself: “Yeah, I’m brilliant in a crisis.”

The typical crisis, in the mind of a man who spent a portion of his childhood years reading war comics, tends to involve foxholes and overwhelming odds; the sudden assumption of command; both grace and grit under pressure. Basically, anything better than bursting into tears counts as being “good in a crisis”, but there is some scope for varying degrees of heroism. Also, I liked to joke, I am very good in a crisis (from the ancient Greek krísis: choice, decision, judgement, and a few other shades of related nuance) as I have experienced so many of them.

I am not so sure these days. Right now feels like a crisis, and I am not thinking so much of the ancient Greek roots of the word, as that moment in a submarine film where the enemy blows a bloody great hole in the submarine. There’s not a huge amount of deliberation going on, but there is an awful lot of screaming and panic, and even more seawater coming at you in powerful jets and generally disturbing one’s peace of mind.

There is also more than one crisis going on. There is our old friend, the environmental crisis. Any meaningful action on this is really beyond me, however sympathetic and alert I am to what is going on; but I do my bit. I put my empty bottles in the recycling bin, and believe me, that’s almost a full-time job.

Then there is the whole Covid-19 thing, and we all know what we think about that .(I would like to think that there are very few, if any, New Statesman readers who think this is all some kind of government plot, or whatever loony conspiracy theories that MAGA hat-wearers and their kind sign up to.)

In this I bracket the economic disaster about to befall this country, or rather, the one that’s already befalling it; and to this we can add – sorry, I know this is meant to be the happy-go-lucky column that offsets the serious and informed stuff that the rest of this magazine is renowned for – the absolute shitstorm that will be a no-deal Brexit. If you want to get very depressed very quickly, then type “consequences of a no-deal Brexit” into your search engine and have a look at what comes up.

However, there’s nothing I can do about that, except freak myself out, so in a way there’s no point in worrying about it. There are no decisions one can make about it.

No, I have my own very personal crisis going on at the moment, and as regular readers will know, that’s my imminent eviction. If I may return to a kind of martial metaphor, it is a bomb with a very clearly indicated timer on it, ticking down to 1 October. Now that’s a crisis.

I have dealt with this in a way that might not impress the best friend of any putative romantic partner. I have looked at estate agents’ websites, and at rightmove.com, and even, God help me, Facebook Marketplace, and that’s about it. I have noted some of the properties, but on the whole Plan A has been to hide under the duvet and read Sherlock Holmes stories.

Plan B has been to work on a plot for a sitcom with my old friend Razors, who these days actually is a Hollywood film and TV producer, so this isn’t as much of a deluded fantasy as it might be for most of us.

But still, it is not exactly the same as going round properties and wondering where I’ll be putting my chair when I get round to buying one. It’s not even wondering if I’ll be able to get away with sleeping on the floor because I can’t afford a bed. I used not to be like this, I dimly remember. But sorry, BGE’s best friend: my answer has changed.

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 04 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Britain isn't working

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