The local branch of Majestic has closed. Not for good. If that had been the case, this column would have appeared with a black border around it and the words “Nicholas Lezard, 1963-2016” at the bottom. No, it has just shut for refurbishment. For six weeks.
Six weeks! There are animals with lifespans shorter than that. OK, there are other places to buy wine but they are not the same. The staff at other establishments do not know me so well, do not silently thank me for keeping their branch of the store afloat during the lean months of Dry January or Sober October, when idiots stop drinking. They do not burst into cheers as I walk past their table at the local Italian restaurant because I have, in effect, paid for their evening out. They do not keep my Special Cheap Wine That Is Actually Drinkable away from other, prying eyes. They very often do not even have any SCW That Is Actually D in the first place. It may surprise you to learn that I will not pour any old muck down my throat. Indeed, I would rather not drink than plough on through something nasty. Well, drink much, much more slowly. (Also, for some reason, I have never found a Rioja I liked, even a fancy one.)
And what is it that the shop is doing? There was no need to refurbish in the first place. It made unopened boxes of the wine that it was selling on top of them serve as shelves. When you ran out of unboxed wine, you opened the box beneath. It was an elegantly simple idea. Now, I gather, it is going to put actual shelves in. “Why?” I howled, grabbing the assistant deputy manager by the lapels of his green Majestic polo shirt. “WHY?”
So I suffer. It is not as bad as heartbreak but it is getting there. I now see no reason to leave the Hovel except to buy milk and, when it is not raining, I lie down outside the door of the shop and whimper like a faithful old dog at his master’s grave. This has attracted local comment and a video of me doing this has gone viral on YouTube.
Apart from these excursions, I have retreated into my shell. The condition is akin to hikikomori, the syndrome that afflicts a growing number of Japanese men who go to their bedroom and simply do not leave. This is apparently a serious problem for Japanese society, as these men (they are almost always men) barely contribute to the economy, and I bet it’s no coincidence that the Bank of Japan is now experimenting with negative interest rates, just to get these people off their behinds and into the shops.
The only puzzle is that it is presented by commentators as a puzzle. “Why should people want to do this?” they ask. That, I would say, is a question that can be posed only by those who have not been paying attention. It’s a horrible world out there and even if the local Majestic has not closed, or it isn’t raining, it is probably a good idea not to go out if you can possibly help it. Why not plump up the cushions and stay in bed with a good book?
All this can be mistaken for depression, or a morbid dissatisfaction with the way the world is. Do not define yourself by your past, I was told recently by a friend who thought that she was giving me good advice. I considered this a somewhat impertinent remark. For a start, I do no such thing. As temporal places to live go, the present is the only show in town. You just have to learn how to manage it.
There is a telling moment – a crux in P G Wodehouse’s entire corpus of work – when Sir Roderick Glossop tells Bertie Wooster, after a particularly trying series of events, “My earnest hope is that the entire remainder of my existence will be one round of unruffled monotony.” I put a firm line in the margin next to that when I first read it.
In a similar vein, that other great British philosopher, Nigel Molesworth, generously gives his younger brother the best line in the history of all literature, of all time, and of all cultures, even better than the line given to Job’s wife (“Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God, and die”): “‘Reality,’ sa molesworth 2, ‘is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder.’”
Except for those shocks of crisis that can occur in even the best-regulated households, the moment is not usually the problem. It is the frail boat we ride on the wave that bears us from regret for the past to terror of the future.
My advice would be to live in the moment and make that moment as genial as possible. Pass the cushions.
This article appears in the 24 Feb 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Boris Backlash