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25 October 2023

The internet man is coming and I am anxious

I woke at nine with a feeling of impending doom but thought, well, at least I have four hours to tidy. So I went back to sleep.

By Nicholas Lezard

Tuesday was a big day. The broadband guy from A Far Better Company Than Virgin, Who Are Useless was due to come round between 1pm and 5pm to do something with the phone socket, and this is in the bedroom, and fewer people have seen that than have walked on the moon. This means that in the three years I have been living here the detritus has piled up. It is not organic waste – I’m not an animal. But there are about a thousand copies of the New Statesman, Viz, Private Eye and the London Review of Books strewn about the floor, along with God alone knows how many books and a fair few empty packets of biscuits, crisps and Tangfastics. A path from the door to the socket had to be cleared.

Hitherto, the only necessary path was from the door to the bed. The space between the bed and the closet is a midden of books, periodicals and at least one set of spectacles, but there is nothing to be done about that except throw the bedspread over it. They say untidiness is a sign of depression, but what have I got to be depressed about?

The thought of tidying always causes me severe anxiety, more than the tidying itself. I woke up at nine with a feeling of impending doom but thought, well, at least I have four hours or more to sort this out. So I went back to sleep. At 10.30 the engineer rang to say he was running early, could he come round in 15 minutes? I said: no I’m terribly busy, in fact I’m not even here. So I went back to sleep again.

At noon I woke up and embarked on a frenzy of tidying which actually only took about 45 minutes, even including the time spent using the dustpan and brush. (The vacuum cleaner, a Beldray that I got from Robert Dyas for something like £30, has never been even remotely fit for purpose and now itself needs vacuuming.) You have not lived until you have tried to clean a carpeted floor with a dustpan and brush.

[See also: Where do we belong now?]

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As it happened, I saw the van park opposite my building at around 2.45. (After another restorative nap.) I had a good long time to observe it, and its driver. First he had a nice vape. Then he fiddled about with his phone for a bit. Then he just stared into space for a while. He was there for about 25 minutes. I want to make it very clear that I do not disapprove of his behaviour at all. In his shoes, I would have done almost exactly the same. Minus the vaping – my lungs cannot handle a vape. We all need a little me-time, and, as pretty much 90 per cent of my time is me-time, I felt as though I was handing him some of my share. It felt good.

Eventually, he rang the bell and I showed him to the socket and he said it was the wrong socket, is there another one? With a sinking heart, I led him into the living room, which was not as messy as the bedroom had been but still looked like the room of a man on the brink of despair. “Sorry about the mess,” I said. Someone had told me that the company he was working for was renowned for its customer service, but I could sense the pity and disgust coming off him in waves. Maybe I was imagining it. But then again, he was a subcontractor. Or subcontractee?

“All you have to now is plug your router in and you’re ready to go,” he said.

“Where’s my router?” I asked.

“Probably with the Post Office,” said the nice lady at Better Than Virgin Media by a Country Mile when I rang them. Nothing is ever straightforward, I thought, and went off to the depot with the card they’d posted through the letter box last week.

The depot was shut. A sign said that its opening hours had been revised, drastically, downwards. It was now only open twice during the day, for fleeting periods of time. I trudged back to the Hove-l. Well, it was a nice day. When I got back the GP rang me with the results of my blood test.

“Your cholesterol levels are elevated,” he said. This was no surprise: I mainly live on butter and cheese – and wine, of course. “You have a 10 per cent chance of having a stroke or heart attack in the next ten years.” Yikes, I thought. After a lecture on diet and exercise, I reflected. This means there is a 90 per cent chance of my not having a stroke or heart attack in the next ten years. I liked the sound of those odds much better. But I walked back to the depot anyway. I needed the exercise. When I got there, there was a shiny new Aston Martin parked on the double yellows outside, with a personalised number plate ending in the letters “BRO”. My, I thought, how the other half live.

[See also: Three years on from lockdowns, I have finally tested positive for Covid]

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This article appears in the 25 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Fog of War