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9 November 2022

I can survive without teaspoons – but find myself thwarted by an unshuttable window

There is a moral to this story, so bear with me.

By Nicholas Lezard

It is the anniversary of a few things over at the Hove-l. I have now lived for two years without a bog brush, bath mat, teaspoons, an egg cup, and a vacuum cleaner that is actually worth a damn. One manages. The place is small enough for a dustpan and brush to do the work of a Hoover, but a couple of months ago I lost the brush so there’s a lot more detritus on the floor than there should be. Why not get another one? Because then I would have two dustpans and one brush, and that would make me feel uneasy.

It is also the anniversary of the storm that blew my kitchen window out while I was in Edinburgh visiting my friend M—, and after a few depressing months where the window was replaced by a sheet of plywood, the landlord fitted a new UPVC window, which did not have the old-world charm of the old one but at least was robust.

All has been well with this window since then; until the storms started again a couple of weeks ago. Currently, this is Storm Claudio, according to the Brighton Argus, and as I look out of my (non-UPVC) living room window, I can see the sea churning and the trees threshing and it is all very atmospheric. Even more so since it is a draughty window. (I have put A—’s heater, which I wrote about last week, on the sill in the hope that the laws of convection or something will warm up the air as I write this – and I have to say it seems to be working.)

Anyway, when the storms were beginning to blow I burned some toast, and left the window open and shut the kitchen door so the smoke alarm didn’t go off. I forgot all about it until much later on, and when I opened the door I was met by a blast of gale and spray; I noticed that the window, whose hinge is at the top of the frame, had blown out so widely that I could not reach out to shut it again, not unless I climbed on to the kitchen worktop and leaned out. And you know what? I’m not going to do that. When I was a child I thought as a child, and was unafraid of heights. In fact, I rather liked them. Now, not so much, and the idea of falling to my death while reaching out to shut a kitchen window does not in any way appeal.

But the window had to be closed: you can’t go on living like this. And in the end, my solution involved pushing at the top of window with a frying pan, the longest thing I could think of in the flat, until centimetre by centimetre, inch by inch, the bottom end of the window came close enough for me to grab the handle and pull it to.

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“Gosh,” I hear you say, “this is fascinating stuff, do go on. Maybe you stubbed your toe on a chair or your glasses fell off while you were looking for a fork that had fallen on to the floor behind your desk. I mean, it’s not as if there’s anything else going on in the world.” Yes, yes, I get it. But there is a moral to this story, bear with me.

You see, two days later, exactly the same thing happened again. I cursed God and humanity and the wet Saturday afternoon of my conception, and (sober this time) contemplated the grim drop from the kitchen window and applied the frying pan again, which is a cheap one, and it started to bend at the joint between handle and body. Now, I can live without a teaspoon, but not having a frying pan would be a disaster. And they don’t grow on trees, frying pans.

And two days after that, it happened again. Freud said there are no accidents, and the only plausible psychological explanation was that I had a death wish. If only I had something long, maybe with a hook at the end.

Had this been a sitcom rather than a depressing slice of real life, the studio audience would have chuckled, as I said those last words aloud, to see the long-handled mop standing behind me in the corner. It even has a hooky bit on the end.

It came to me in a dream, that night, after I had gone to bed, defeated, with the window still open. I have always thought that the idea that your brain can solve problems in your sleep was bullshit: it would appear that it is not, after all.

Operation Close That Effing Window was prosecuted smoothly and swiftly. And for a second I congratulated myself on my intelligence and resourcefulness. And then I stopped. For it had taken the best part of a week, and three occasions, for me to find the solution. Chimpanzees in their cages can do better than this. So, I suspect, can rats, ravens, dolphins, octopuses, and the brainier kind of dog.

Look, people think I’m intelligent. Quietly, I sometimes think so myself. But not any more. I have, as journalists need, a plausible manner, rat-like (ha!) cunning, and a little literary ability, but I cannot use a pole when it is in the same room as me. I should have thrown myself out of the window in the first place and have done with it.

[See also: Thanks to a kind reader, I won’t need to sit through the winter in an electric onesie]

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This article appears in the 09 Nov 2022 issue of the New Statesman, On the brink