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9 March 2022

I’m grappling with ageing. It means I’m alive at least, but I don’t have to like it

A spot has sprung up on my forehead, and reminded me of the grim advance of time.

By Nicholas Lezard

I have a spot on my head. At least, it started out as a spot. A week of trying to remove it by squeezing and then, when this didn’t work, picking at the scab that eventually formed, has meant that it now exists as before – only bigger. In time, I expect it to annex the entire area between my hairline and my eyebrows.

I use the word “hairline” in its loosest possible sense, and even then it’s a centimetre or so, more or less, beneath the last wisps of hair putting up resistance against the grim advance of time. I should be more stoical about the ageing process, I know. The ageing process is great because if you’re not ageing, then that’s it, it’s all over.

But it doesn’t mean I have to like ageing. And this spot doesn’t make me like it any more. The spot may, superficially, recall the days of adolescence but that’s just one of its little jokes. I saw a couple of my children the other day, along with my mother, and none of them had any spots. The only times they had them was when my daughter had chicken pox, and I have a vague recollection that my sons had one or two rogue ones in adolescence, but nothing even remotely disfiguring. If my mother has ever had any spots in her long life, I never saw any. The boys’ spots left without any trace, and the only mark borne by my daughter after her spectacular illness – she was more spot than skin, but took it in incredibly good humour – is a small scar beneath her eyebrow, which, funnily enough, is exactly where I have a scar from a childhood accident.

Boils, and therefore by extension – or the opposite of extension – spots, are biblically resonant. Job was afflicted with them, but he didn’t suffer from them because he’d done anything wrong: if we are to take scripture at its word, he suffered them precisely because he had not done anything wrong.

I wonder if the mark of Cain looked something like a boil. And yet I have not killed my brother. As it happens I am extremely fond of him. I wasn’t when I was five and he was born, and it certainly took a while for that misplaced sense of outrage to evaporate, but is it fair that I should suffer for it now?

[see also: I have discovered the hard way why Groundhog Day is set in February]

If you want biblical, however, you should look at my back. Or rather, don’t. I won’t go into any detail because you might be eating breakfast, and the last time I went on about my back in any detail was the only time – apart from the week when Tracey Thorn and I wrote about exactly the same subject – that this column has been sent back for a major rewrite. If you still want a mental picture, I suggest you look up some photographs of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, which Nasa describes as “the most volcanically active world in the solar system”. I once whimsically tried to pass off the scars as the result of a shotgun blast from a lover’s aggrieved husband, but I wasn’t fooling anyone, not even myself.

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About the only good thing about them is that I can now call off the search for the next Mrs Lezard. Even in the extremely unlikely event of my being propositioned for carnal purposes, I would feel obliged to turn the offer down. So at last I’m liberated from fleshly desires. This is proper at my age. The kind of thing I should be thinking about is hot water bottles, and by a bizarre coincidence I learned last week that a reader who had seen me complaining about the cold actually sent me one, via the New Statesman’s offices, before Christmas. Apparently she’d even tied a bow round it, which I think is rather a lovely touch, but I never received the bottle or the bow. I hope it is now warming the bed of one of the New Statesman’s interns, assuming that they have any.

But I have enough in rage and bed coverings to keep me warm enough in even the wildest of British winters, and now the weather seems to be turning I don’t really need one. Anyway, I always thought that hot water bottles were something only the elderly used, although if there is one thing life has taught me it’s that a hell of a lot more young people use them than you’d think. Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks this.

I might well have used my theoretical hotty, though, when it was really perishing. Ever since I accidentally opened my gas and electricity bill, I have been afflicted with a kind of sick fear and put the heating on only when I have to get out of bed for longer than it takes to make a cup of tea or put something in the oven. I called my energy supplier to beg for a payment plan, and they agreed and asked how much I owed them. I replied that I didn’t know, I had passed out when I saw the bill and hit my head on the way down and all memories of that day have been erased.

Since then I have been in some kind of infernal loop within the system, the latest development being that there is nothing to be paid on that account, which is something I know to be far from the truth, but even when I say so they are obdurate. It’s enough to give me stress-induced boils.

[see also: Laziness is not yet a crime, as far as I know, but when it is, I’ll be locked up for it]

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This article appears in the 09 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's War of Terror