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5 November 2023

When my baseball cap blew off I lost much more than a hat

My experiences in storms suggest that I was put here for a purpose. If so, what is it?

By Nicholas Lezard

Another week, another storm. Yesterday I went out in it to buy a replacement keyboard, my laptop’s built-in keyboard having suddenly decided to suspend the activities of the T, S, Esc and backspace keys. (The space key had disappeared long ago, but I had learned how to cope without that.)

This involved a mile walk to the second-hand tech shop which turned out to be closed. I will spare you the further details of how far and by which routes I had to go in order to score one; it was boring enough doing it without having to recount the whole miserable saga. In the end I got it from the nearest possible gadget shop and, for space reasons, it is now sitting on top of the original keyboard. All is working fine although every so often it presses down on one of the functioning keys beneath and we3r4d charactw4ersw suddenly appear, which is not optimal but it is an improvement on the status quo ante.

[See also: The internet man is coming and I am anxious]

The main problem right now is that during the course of my odyssey my hat blew off. This is not the first time this has happened – it catches the wind very easily. This time it sailed into the road and a bus ran over it, and after that I really didn’t feel like retrieving it. I mean I didn’t know where that bus had been. Actually, I did – it was the No 5 and had been to Hangleton and back – but you know what I mean. The spectacle of a man in the autumn of his life picking up a flattened black Primark baseball cap is the kind of thing that can cause mirth among observant passers-by.

The loss of the cap is a problem right now even though I am indoors. I bought it in the first place because it solved the problem of the sun’s rays blinding me while I write. I like to look out to sea in between sentences for inspiration, and when I look down to the screen again I am temporarily blinded. There is currently a lull in the storm and a gap in the clouds and the sun is shining off the sea and the wet roofs. Mine eyes dazzle. With my £4 Primark cap, all I have to do is pull the brim down and I’m good to go. There, a little peek into the mystery of the writer’s life. Or peak, ha ha. But I can’t nip out to buy a replacement because I am already a little late with my copy and I can hear the drumming of my editor’s fingers from 60 miles away. He has strong drumming fingers.

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Actually, I shouldn’t even be here at all. I should be in London, holding N—’s hand while she has her jaw re-broken so that it can be fixed. But there was a change of plan and now all that she needs to have done is have her jaw dislocated, or relocated, and that can be done in the Bleak Seaside Town where she currently lives. That’s bad enough, but Bleak Seaside Town is three and a half hours away and I can’t really spare the time. I do not mention the BST by name because she is hiding from the scumbag who broke her jaw in the first place and, amazingly, he has been let out on bail.

Anyway, back to the storm. I always trot out the same old stories when there’s a big storm, either about being unmanned by the lyrics of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” (“And found myself alone, alone/Alone above a raging sea”) or the time I escaped death in the Great Storm of 1987. It is a great story, but I told it at great length in 2020 in these very pages and I am not shameless enough to repeat it. Suffice to say that it was the kind of escape from death that makes you wonder if you have been put here for a Purpose. As far as I can tell, I haven’t achieved anything yet and the possibility seems remote that God, in 1987, said: “The New Statesman is getting rather boring these days. What it needs is an amusing columnist in its back pages decades from now.”

I chatted to Ben (the friend who took me to the Brighton Mod Weekender in September) about this last night; surprisingly, I had not told him the story. He had a similar one about his father: he was going to be on the plane that was bombed over Lockerbie but, as Ben put it, “he got pissed up the night before and missed his flight”. That is quite remarkable. Ben doesn’t like it when people who have narrow escapes like this say that they have been spared for a reason; it ignores or demeans the fates of all the others who were not so fortunate.

I am not sure what the lesson is, or even if there is one. Carpe diem, I suppose. I shall now seize the day by going out before Storm Ciarán breaks and buying another baseball cap. Of course, it will blow off and the whole sorry business will begin again.

[See also: To Puglia, somehow, for sun, wine and a fairy-tale palazzo]

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This article appears in the 08 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Age of Fury