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9 February 2022

With my new glasses, I can see what the woman inspecting my flat can see

“Any problems in the bedroom?” she asked. At this point, I had to fight really hard to suppress my inner Kenneth Williams.

By Nicholas Lezard

It’s been a momentous week for me, and for the Hove-l. The momentous event for me is that I have radically changed my glasses. I have gone from ones that are rectangular to ones that are oval. The last time I had frames that were round, Margaret Thatcher was still in power. By a stroke of good fortune, the glasses I chose from the selection at Vision Express also happened to be the cheapest, at £39 a pair, and £19.50 for a second pair. A bargain. I was extremely anxious to show them off. So, at — and J—’s for dinner, I asked:

“Do you notice anything different about me?”

B— scrutinised me for a few seconds.

“New bins,” he said.

“I’m impressed,” I said.

Since then, the only person to have seen me in my new bins is the person who came round half an hour ago to inspect the flat for the landlord. She didn’t notice my new bins, but as she’d never seen the old ones, I didn’t expect her to.

This visit had been looming over me for a week, and to tell you the truth, I was dreading it. I am not the tidiest of people. Also, my vacuum cleaner is broken. The mess largely consisted of Haribo and Mars Duo wrappers and cardboard packaging from wine boxes and from books sent to me by various publishers. There was an awful lot of cardboard. So I spent a few hours sobbing on my knees sorting things out, and cleaning the kitchen. In the end I achieved a state of affairs that an ordinary human being would probably think still needed a lot of work, but to my eyes looked like an interior version of Eden before the Fall.

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[See also: I’m not drinking and I can’t sleep. I wonder: am I living my best life?]

But I was still nervous. After a point I realised there was nothing more I could do, and I would have to throw myself upon the inspector’s mercy. To keep with the biblical imagery, I imagined her with the same degree of trepidation as WB Yeats imagined the Beast in “The Second Coming”: “A vast image out of Spiritus Mundi… a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun”. Or, to use non-biblical but still apocalyptic imagery… well, do you remember the classic Star Trek episode, “The Doomsday Machine”? It involved a huge, ancient and seemingly unstoppable machine that went about the galaxy destroying everything. It gave the crew of the Enterprise the severe willies, as indeed the episode did me the first time I saw it as a child. I kept putting the tidying up off. But, like the Doomsday Machine in the late Sixties, the inspector haunted my dreams.

When the inspector arrived, I noticed that her face and eyes looked very much like those of C—, one of my oldest and dearest friends. This was encouraging. She was wearing a mask, which pleased me. I offered to put mine on, but she said, “No, it’s just what I do.” (I had considered putting her off looking round by saying I had tested positive for Covid; or that I had norovirus; or, I don’t know, that I’d been conscripted or something.)

I directed her towards the patches of mould on the kitchen walls, in the hope that this would be enough, and would also put any other shabbiness into perspective. The mould, as I have explained in a previous column, is not my fault, but that of a window boarded up for nearly five months. I was terrified she’d have a real, deep nose around. What she’d discover that could possibly be incriminating I don’t know, but you don’t want people looking in your drawers, do you?

[See also: As I walk from Brighton into Hove I seem to pass through an invisible portal]

The inspection, as it turned out, was not too intrusive. I said that apart from the mould I was very happy with the place. She looked around. This doesn’t take long.

“Any problems in the bedroom?” she asked. At this point, I had to fight really hard to suppress my inner Kenneth Williams, but I couldn’t stop a snort of laughter bursting out. For context: no woman has seen, for saucy purposes, my bedroom since I moved in here the October before last. My mind reeled with humorous replies, especially because she looked like C—, who loves that kind of joke, but there’s a time and a place.

“Do you intend to carry on living here?” she asked, once she’d returned to the kitchen, which is a full two-second schlep from the bedroom.

“Come on,” I said, gesturing towards the window. “Look at the view.” (You can see the sea.) “Are you going to recommend that the landlords throw me out?”

“It’s not for me to recommend,” she said. “Just to report.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m a straight, single man living on my own. Of course it’s going to be, well, you know.” This got a laugh, which I must say really, really helped my peace of mind. She added that if it was all getting too much for me, she could get the landlords to send round a cleaner every month or two. Which I’d have to pay for, of course, but fair enough.

So I think I have survived. And maybe the place is now tidy enough for me to invite a woman round. She might not notice my new bins, but she might spot the new kitchen bin I bought specially for today.

[See also: Now I have had my ears syringed I am waiting for an upswing in my quality of life]

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This article appears in the 09 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Sunak's Game