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21 February 2024

My personal Blue Monday involved mountains of couscous and Shakespeare

Financial lockdown means cooking meals that Lee Anderson would approve of, plus red-hot Bardic action.

By Nicholas Lezard

They say Blue Monday – which this year fell on 15 January – is the most miserable day of the year, but from where I’m sitting Monday 12 February knocked it into a cocked hat. I was bumping along the bottom finance-wise and then EDF took out a huge chunk of what was left of my overdraft. Then the replacement debit card failed to arrive for the seventh day in a row, which meant I had to walk to the bank in the rain to get some cash. OK, it wasn’t raining, but it felt like it. (It’s raining right now, the day afterwards, though, in a particularly dreary way.) I asked at the bank about getting an overdraft extension and they said I had to use the app, so I used the app and it said no. What was quite impressive was that the app didn’t even have to think about it. To continue my theme from last week, progress these days means you can now get turned down for an overdraft at the speed of light. We were promised jet packs and moon bases when I was a kid, not this.

I pause to watch a large red helicopter slowly travelling eastwards through the murk above the sea. I think it’s red, but even through binoculars the gloom makes it hard to be sure. A helicopter flight like this usually means some poor soul is drowning. And if they’re in the sea on a day like today it’s not because they wanted to have a splash about for fun. And now, five minutes after writing those words (five minutes of dark thoughts; it may have been longer), I see it now travelling west, a bit faster. I hope this means good news, but the hospital’s in the other direction. Unless they’re going to a better hospital than the Royal Sussex (which actually has a helipad, but they’re not allowed to use it yet). Send not for whom the helicopter whirrs, etc.

I shall try to perk up and count my blessings. The first one is that my editor will fall off his chair because I have filed a day early. I hope he doesn’t really fall off his chair – I’m fond of him. But this is unprecedented, I think, in the annals of Down and Out. Oh no, wait, it did happen once before: it was Easter, and I was alone in the original Hovel, and I was out of my mind with boredom.

The reason I write this a day early is partly boredom but mainly because I am being bought lunch tomorrow in London and I will have to leave too early in the morning for me to be able to get my brain working. And when I get back from lunch it will be too late. The reason I am being bought lunch is because someone I hadn’t seen in years got in touch and asked me if I wanted to write something for her wellness publication. Something in the way she asked hinted that there wasn’t going to be any money involved and she confirmed my hunch. She was asking for 1,000 words, forsooth.

I said it might be doable if she agreed to my terms and she asked what they were and I replied, “Lunch.” She suggested the Ivy, so she will get her 1,000 words. Jackpot. The words are to be on the subject “How I Found my Purpose” and while 1,000 sarcastic replies jostled frantically for my attention she said, “You know, writing.” Oh, that purpose. Yes, I suppose I can’t grumble about that. It’s the only thing I can do and the only thing I get paid for and that sort of works out.

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However, it doesn’t help with the financial situation. If this were the olden days and my empties were bottles of pop instead of wine I’d be hunky-dory, but it isn’t, and they aren’t. I am on strict financial lockdown and this means no more than one bottle a night, and that’s never enough. Yesterday, my personal Blue Monday, there was only a third of a bottle left, but as I was feeling so wretched it proved to be sufficient. I am now on the fifth day of the couscous regime, which is my way of stretching out the cash on meals. It is impossible to make couscous for less than five meals, as I have said in this column before, and if you’re just buying the veg, it works out at a cost that 30p Lee Anderson would approve of – but I went nuts and added some merguez sausages and those salted capers from Waitrose.

I still haven’t bought more light bulbs or a replacement toaster, but I did snap up a copy of The Norton Shakespeare for £1.99. How could I not? Nearly 3,500 pages of annotated red-hot Bardic action for two quid. The book itself is a thing of beauty with the “Fool’s Cap” map of the world as its front cover. (Look it up. It used to be the wallpaper on my laptop until Windows stopped letting you customise your own screen. If you still can, don’t bother writing in.) I started reading the Sonnets again and realised that I’d forgotten that at least the first 19 of them say, essentially, “Have sex with me before you get too old.” “Too old” is 40, if you take Sonnet 2 at its word. You know, when forty winters shall besiege thy brow and all that.

I was once in bed with a woman on the morning of her birthday and she kept saying “I’m 42” over and over again. Honestly, there are worse things to get upset about.

[See also: Jacob Collier’s internal weather]

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This article appears in the 21 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Fractured Nation

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  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
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