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3 March 2021

I’m not sure which I fear more, Legionnaires’ disease or the thought of a stranger in the flat

After me only two people have ever been inside my home, largely because it is rarely in a fit state to be seen. 

By Nicholas Lezard

A  text from someone who has been appointed by the landlord to check my water for the Legionella bacterium: “Will you be in on Weds 24 or if not will it be OK to use our emergency keys?”

This throws me into a mild panic, for a couple of reasons. One is the thought of harbouring Legionnaires’ disease in my water pipes. I thought that this kind of thing only happened if you had a water tank in the attic with a dead pigeon in it, and I thought water tanks in the attic were a thing of the past.

To this day I am wary of using the bathroom tap to drink water from (and if you want to make a joke about the likelihood of my drinking water in the first place, fill your boots). But I did it the other day for the first time in the new flat and now I am worried. My father used to say that drinking the tap water in every other country on Earth bar this one is unsafe, but even drinking it from the bathroom tap in Blighty was a no-no. Perhaps my memories of this have been triggered by the recent news of Texans boiling water in order to survive their cold snap.

Another thing is the fact that there are such things as “emergency keys”. I am in two minds about this. On the one hand, it is good to know that should I ever lose my keys, I can call the landlord and they will, eventually, let me back in. They gave me two sets of keys when I arrived – not quite Banham keys but more substantial than Yales, and looking like the kind of keys you can’t get copied at Timpson. But I am frantically paranoid about the idea of losing my keys. Doubtless the psychoanalysts could make a tidy sum looking into that one, but there it is.

[See also: The working-class boy, the Balliol bar and an encounter with the young Boris Johnson]

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Do I take both sets of keys with me when I go out, or leave one set behind? (I am fully aware that the more I look into this, the more nuts I sound.) In the end I mostly take both sets with me, on the grounds that this reduces by 50 per cent the chances of my being locked out, should I lose one set. On the other, this makes me worry. What if I lose my trousers while I am out? You could point out that I have yet, in a lifetime rich in incident, to lose my trousers while promenading, but then this is Brighton, and funny things happen here. (Which is, of course, one of the reasons I love the place.)

Then there is the very fact that there will be someone else entering my flat. I am extremely choosy about whom I allow inside my dwelling, largely because it is rarely in a fit state to be seen. In at least this respect, the pandemic has been something of a blessing.

Only two people have ever seen the inside of it, apart from me. One is Ben, who saw it on the day I moved in, and that was because he was almost single-handedly carrying my bed and the table up two flights of stairs. The other one was my daughter, who had driven down to pick me up for Christmas. (We checked, it was legal.)

[See also: I never expected to see snow in Brighton but it’s here – aimless and not settling. Sound familiar?]

She had to go for a pee before driving me back and I was worried that she’d be disgusted by the untidiness, what with my not having done anything about it since moving in three months previously. She said nothing about it on the drive back, but at Christmas dinner she pulled out her phone and said, “Guys, I thought you might like to look at this video I shot while going into Dad’s new flat to have a pee.” My other children, having seen the Hovel in full spate, as it were, craned round to have a look. I begged her to delete it and she says she did.

But I am consumed with fear that the guy from Sussex Home and Emergency Inspectors is a narc, and will be reporting back to the landlords with a damning verdict. I am actually a lot tidier in the kitchen these days than I used to be, but there is still an awful lot of paper and cardboard about, much of which dates from the exact day I moved in. I have also survived for five months without a vacuum cleaner and there are a lot of bits of rubbish around the place, mainly leaves from the autumn.

I can’t do this on my own so I go to Robert Dyas and buy a vacuum cleaner, make a small mountain of packaging in the living room, and book my old cleaner, who knows pretty much all there is to know about me anyway and could do with the money. I tell her she won’t be needed for more than an hour. “Is it that small lol,” she replies, and I text back, “It’s f***ing tiny,” and she lols at that, too.

So that’s it. I now have a relatively tidy flat, leaf-free; I even managed to tidy my desk for good measure. Gosh, what a lot of bills I found. The only problem is, I seem to have mislaid a set of keys, so I’m stuck inside forever.

This article appears in the 03 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Humanity vs the virus