A few weeks ago, a mystery parcel arrived at the New Statesman office, addressed for me. Before forwarding, they did a check – which I hope was not too cursory – to determine that it didn’t contain explosives, anthrax or dog shit. I have yet to receive any of those, especially from readers of this magazine, who are generous and thoughtful and kind and good, which is as one would expect. At the time of writing, however, this parcel has yet to arrive and this makes me sad. I imagine the sender can’t be very happy to learn this either, if he or she is reading now.
For a while, I wondered if it was trousers. I once got sent a shirt, now lost in the various upheavals since I got thrown out of the original Hovel. It was red, so I only wore it for the special occasions when I wanted to make a political point. (I normally only wear white or pale blue shirts, which for a while I thought was just being tasteful and discreet, and then I remembered that these were the only colour shirts we were allowed to wear at school, and I realised my time there had screwed me up even more than I thought it had.)
Let me say, without sounding too needy, that I love it when readers send me stuff. I know I am in countless ways better off than most people on Earth, but as this column makes relentlessly clear, I have no stuff, and it is nice when readers take this on board.
The reason I wondered if it was trousers is because I have a perennial trouser problem. I think lots of men do, but they just don’t admit it. In winter it’s black 501s, and in summer, something pale, like a chino. God, this is fascinating stuff. But the problem with trousers today is that the cut is designed to look horrible. Skinny jeans, at my age? Give me a break. But my pair of 501s is developing a hole in the crotch, and also when I wash them they still don’t look like they’ve been cleaned.
A girlfriend once bought me a used pair off Ebay. She asked me my measurements and I said 30 inch waist, 30 leg. She looked a bit doubtful but bought them anyway. When I tried them on, the closest I could get the waist button to its corresponding hole was about 4 inches away. So that didn’t end well. Levi’s 501s cost more than £60 so I’m going to have to save up. I tried a pair of £10 black jeans in Primark, and although I found that I could still squeeze into a 30 inch waist, they hung off the bum terribly and squeezed my calves disconcertingly. One does not want to be reminded every second of the day that one is wearing trousers.
So I have three working pairs of trousers. Hoping for another pair was an act of mild insanity, like a cargo cultist building an airstrip, and seriously, I think it would be unwise for any reader to send me a pair. I am fussy about my trousers. Please do not think harshly of me.
This got me to thinking about all the stuff I don’t have. Chief among lacks is a sofa. I am not for a second suggesting that someone send me one, but I do sometimes entertain a reverie about how my life would change if I did have a sofa. I think the first major difference in what I shall loosely and, for the sake of argument, call my “lifestyle” would be that I would get out of bed a lot earlier. I would still be lying down, but I would have a nicer view and I could at least feel I was achieving something.
I could also have people to stay. At the moment, anyone who stays overnight is either going to have to share the bed or be happy with my sleeping on the floor, but as no one wants to visit anyway this isn’t a huge problem. I wonder: is the Hovel shameful because it does not have a sofa, or do I not have a sofa because the Hovel is itself inherently shameful? It’s a bit of both.
Meanwhile, I am haunted by what was in that parcel. I forgot to ask my editor whether it was squishy or hard; whether it rattled or not, or whether it made a ticking noise. I didn’t even ask how large it was. I suppose if it had been enormous he would have said so. As it is, I can barely even speculate.
If I were describing it in Finnish I would have to use the abessive tense, which is used to denote something that is not there. It occurs to me that if I were a native Finnish speaker I would be using the abessive tense rather a lot. There is so much that is lacking. Financial security, happiness, pictures on the walls, space, love, a window in the bathroom (it’s been four years since I’ve lived with a bathroom window). Not to mention sofas. And trousers.
This article appears in the 25 Aug 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Retreat