For only the third time in my life I whimper: “No more, no more”

I have only, to my recall, met two people who can outpace me, drink for drink, and they happen to be Hunter S Thompson and Christopher Hitchens.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

It is the day after my birthday. Around various parts of my body, there are murmurs and alarums, as if assorted parts of a large structure were collapsing; like the explosions that tear through a Bond villain’s complex, only more subdued and with a soundtrack of whimpering.

I had thought that hangovers could no longer surprise me; indeed, that they were – given that most of the time I can get up when I please – no longer much of a problem. Sleep is a marvellous cure.

This was before I met K——. Readers with good memories may remember that about a year ago I became host to a becoming young dog named Trude, who regards the Hovel as an olfactory goldmine and, in effect, her second home. “I like it here,” she said with every pant, scampering up and down the steps for the sheer joy of it. K—— is her owner. I met her a month or so before the Dog Column was published. We’d met for lunch on the grounds that she preferred to meet people in real life before she became “friends” with them on a certain social medium.

When she waved at me from the other side of the pub I noted, with some dismay, that she was rather better-looking than her profile picture, which at the time served only to highlight my own age and ugliness. I braced myself for an awkward lunch, laced with pity on one side and shame on the other, to be finished as soon as was consonant with decency and politeness, if I was lucky.

We finally parted company after 48 hours, and that largely because we had separate prearranged appointments. We had, apparently, one or two points in common. Naturally I hoped Something Would Come Of It, and for a while it looked as though something might have been on the cards, but it was not to be. Still, we would meet up from time to time and I would spend the next day staggering from my bed to the kettle at four in the afternoon, holding my hand over my eyes and saying, “Jesus.” One time the offspring came round and found me in, as it were, a distressed state, and I had to say: “Children, I’ve met my match.”

I have only, to my recall, met two people who can outpace me, drink for drink, and they happen to be Hunter S Thompson and Christopher Hitchens. “Who drank all my goddam whisky?” roared the former at about four in the morning at Owl Farm. It was more or less a rhetorical question, because I was the only other person in the room, and also rather nervous, hence my putting the stuff away.

As for Christopher Hitchens, he only excused himself from my kitchen in Shepherd’s Bush at about seven in the morning, as he had to go to the BBC studios to review the Sunday papers on Breakfast With Frost. (Naturally, he looked fresh as a daisy.)

Anyway, I like to think that I am fairly hardened to alcoholic refreshment, and, indeed, some people forget this, suffering when they match me. But with K—— it is I who puts his hand over his glass in the small hours, saying, “No more, sweet heavens, no more.” (My mother calls K—— “Whisky Voice”, not because she slurs her words, but because her voice bears the traces of the many thousands of cigarettes she consumes in the course of an evening.) How does K—— maintain her youthful looks and flawless complexion? Does she bathe in milk, or the blood of virgins? I wouldn’t put it past her.

So the day before my birthday, as I am digesting the official confirmation of the bad news that I have been hinting at for the past week or two, I am officially in a funk and cowering under the bedclothes when I get a call from K——. I do not answer. I get another one. Also, I do not answer. I am in no mood to see anyone, I say in a text, not even you, not even Trude. I just want to be alone and read a book. And I want to see no one on my birthday. Pereat mundus, I think to myself. Let the world perish.

But K—— is a force of nature, as you might have gathered, and as far as she is concerned, the more I say “Don’t come”, the more she decides she must. I give in. What else can I do? She knows where I live. And about half an hour later she is here with pizzas, wine and a dog, who hasn’t been to visit for a while and whose tail is wagging so fast that it is actually a blur.

So, 45 hours later, I type this, shaking slightly and feeling a bit jaundiced, alone again but rather less miserable. It’s nice to know who one’s friends are. 

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 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

Free trial CSS