I need help. It is now one year, four months and ten days (at time of writing) since I moved into the Hove-l, my current address. This also means it is now one year, etc, since I have failed to tell the subscription department of the London Review of Books that this is where they should now be delivering their learned magazine. It is also far longer than one year etc that I have failed to invoice a certain publisher £100 for a piece I wrote for one of their literary guides.
On the other hand, it is only three months since I failed to invoice Bloomsbury for a project of theirs and a week since I have failed to invoice Perspective Magazine £300 for a piece I wrote about the BBC. And last night was yet another night when I realised I didn’t have any booze in the house and couldn’t be bothered to go out and get any.
To put this into context: I pay my rent pretty much on the nose every month. My council tax, now being handled, admittedly, by a debt collection agency, involves a just manageable monthly payment that gets delivered when it ought to. This is because I imagine debt collection agencies are all manned by people like the Ben Kingsley character in Sexy Beast, and you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of people like that.
But seriously – I have asked this before – has this condition been named and defined? Is it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition? In these pages recently, the ever-excellent resident NS cartoonist Becky Barnicoat listed “a few of [her] very specific conditions and disorders”, such as “panesia”, the inability to remember when the egg went in, or “xzema”, the compulsion to sign all messages off with a kiss. I, too, suffer from these. Not so much panesia, ever since I once put an egg in the pan and forgot about it completely until I heard a loud BANG and the Hovel (the original one) started smelling of sulphur and burned protein. Ever since then, I stand over the boiling water like a hawk, stopwatch running. It’s the only way.
I would say, not that I have any other qualifications than a degree of self-insight, that the inability to do things that are not only beneficial but essential to my well-being (£700: that’s nearly a month’s rent, or, holy crap, a hundred bottles of drinkable wine) suggests a certain degree of self-loathing. And why should I not hate myself, at least a little bit? On the positive side I am pleasant enough company on a good day, and I love my children, and I think they know it. That’s about it. The bar is set pretty low, I think you’ll agree.
On the negative side I am an idler, a drone, a waste of space in a functioning society. If I didn’t have a certain way with words to the extent that I get paid for using them (oh, and Lord, how hard it is to get me to do even this, as my editor, who has seen me deliver my copy late for five out of the last six weeks, can attest), I would probably be in prison for sheer laziness. This is not actually a crime yet, as far as I know, but the time is coming when it will be.
A recent edition of this magazine fell open at a certain page in the Spotlight supplement and my attention was arrested by a headline which ran “Jobseekers to be pushed into working in any sector”. I felt as though someone had walked over my grave. The article was illustrated by a photograph of Thérèse Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, leaving Downing Street; on the left side of the picture was the imperturbable No 10 cat, Larry, and I thought, even he has a job. My only hope is that one day, a little Christian charity is brought back to the public realm. Specifically, Luke 12: 27-29: Consider the lilies of the field, who toil not, neither do they spin, etc.
Perhaps this self-loathing is allied to, or a consequence of, a sense of despair. Since ejection from the Hovel four and a half years ago, I have been extremely aware of the temporary, contingent and fragile nature of existence. We are all a heartbeat away from death, but there’s nothing like being kicked out of your home to, well, bring it home to you. It took me years before I tempted fate by putting up any pictures on the walls of the new Hovel, and even then, they were not valuable; charming but largely worthless framed prints from 19th-century magazines, bought for a song from the framer next door; then his landlord trebled his rent, and off he had to go. Send not for whom the bells tolls, it tolls for thee.
But compared to others, I have nothing to grumble about. Amazingly, I have my health, touch wood. The little lumps or nodules I could feel below the surface of my armpits, which had absolutely been freaking me out for the last two months, seem to have disappeared. The plague of boils on my back has returned but as I’m never going to be in a relationship again unless a miracle happens this isn’t much of a problem. Like Don Marquis’s Mehitabel, I am toujours gai, toujours gai. X
This article appears in the 23 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Darkness Falls