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7 February 2024

My health scare is over, so now there is space for all my other worries

At the moment I am conducting an experiment as to how long I can go without a toaster. It’s been about a couple of weeks so far.

By Nicholas Lezard

A few people have asked me how I was doing after I hinted that I might be approaching a health crisis. As far as the cancer fears go – for that was what I, and the symptoms, were hinting at – it seems that I don’t have anything to worry about, on that score, in that part of the body, at least for the moment.

But you can understand why I did worry. When doctors ask me “when did you start smoking?” and I say “16”, even that’s not the truth: I started when I was 11. Goaded by the latest revelations about the dangers of smoking, and, encouraged by my mother, who also loved him, I tried to flush some of my father’s unsmoked 80-a-day Rothmans down the loo. As I watched them float back up again, I thought: “There must be a better way to dispose of these.” I worked it out in the end, but had to go behind the garden shed, with only a foot of spider-infested crawl space between it and the fence to the next property. It was all rather too much effort, and I never learned how to inhale properly, until, five years later, I did, and got the whole point of the habit, and better places to smoke. Although I always had the thrill.

The doctors also asked me if cancer was in my family. I said “no” but that was only because to have said “yes, but only my paternal grandfather, who was the only Lezard who has borne that name who never smoked or drank a drop” might have sounded smug. Laughing at the odds is of course no sensible way to conduct oneself, but abstinence, as well as indulgence, flirts with death: it just plays harder to get.

Anyway, I can relax and let my other worries wash over me in a soothing cascade. At the moment I am conducting an experiment as to how long I can go without a toaster. I think it’s about a couple of weeks now. A few of those days were spent in East Finchley looking after my mother and she has one of those fancy Dualits that cost an arm and a leg and only toast one side of the bread at once. You’d think I’d like Dualit toasters because they’re old-school and chunkily mechanical, but no, my heart sinks every time I see one. Anyway, at the moment I have discovered that putting the bread into a very hot frying pan and turning it over occasionally produces something that is enough like toast to stop me from going down the road to Robert Dyas for a new Russell Hobbs. (Have I got enough brand names in there?)

But I’m going to have to go to the store eventually because all the light bulbs in the place have decided to die. These are the fancy bayonet LED kind that cost nuppence an hour to run but are themselves horrifyingly expensive. But if I don’t want to sit in complete darkness I’m going to have to go outside sooner rather than later.

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Another thing I’m running out of: my belt. Let me explain. A few months ago the cheap leather belt I got from Primark wore out so I went back to get another one. This was a long fabric belt without holes but with a clasp, like something a schoolboy might wear, but about 2 metres long. I could almost wrap it around me twice, but it was only £3 so I wasn’t going to grumble. Only, not long after I bought it, the aglet at the business end of the belt fell off, and every time I threaded it through the clasp it got more and more frayed, so I had to snip the end off to tidy it up. This is a process that needs regular repetition and the belt is now considerably shorter, to the point where it will soon no longer wrap around me even once. If there is a more apt metaphor for the passage of time I have yet to discover it.

And meanwhile entropy everywhere does its busy work, especially in the Hove-l. I’d do a big tidy but I did a test for ADHD that my friend D— sent me and I got 74 per cent on that, which is the best exam result I’ve had for ages. (She got 96 per cent shortly before her own official diagnosis, and says the reason we get on so well is because I’m clearly ADHD too. It would explain a lot, I must say.)

Anyway, I have been making hay with my all-clear but I suppose this is only temporary, and that there’ll be another scare sooner or later. And also there have been some counter-intuitive side effects, such as an increase in the general depression. Reprieves are great but they can also be devastating. Just ask Dostoevsky, who collapsed after being pulled away from the firing squad at the last minute. Then again, they can also be productive. Just ask Dostoevsky, who then went on to write Crime and Punishment. I may not have a novel like that in me, but just in case I do I’ve started growing a beard again so I can look the part.

And while we’re on the subject of Russian novelists I think of Tolstoy, who wrote a screed called “Why Do Men Befuddle Themselves?” It’s a very good question. I am now going to the shops to buy loads of wine and find out.

[See also: The reward for looking after my mother? A dose of norovirus]

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This article appears in the 07 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Who runs Labour?

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