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13 March 2024updated 14 Mar 2024 12:47pm

When your friend is stabbed, your own problems become mere annoyances

If I have a superpower it is cheering people up, but N— already has a staggering capacity for honesty, survival and mirth.

By Nicholas Lezard

I left you all on a cliffhanger last week, saying something terrible had happened to a friend of mine and now I can tell you what it was: my friend N— was stabbed. Miraculously, no organs were involved – the knife just passed through flesh in the side, above the hip – but the wound is large and painful. Phone calls from her are punctuated by howls and gasps. But it looks as though she is going to be OK, eventually, although she cannot work. And the kind of work she does has no sick pay. And when you are on Universal Credit, and you have a landlord who is more patient than most but whose patience is not inexhaustible, you will have a surprising amount of admin to perform. I can lend her the odd tenner for meals, but she knows I’m boracic so doesn’t ask for much.

Still, when it comes to putting one’s own problems into perspective, it’s hard to beat Not Being Stabbed. In fact, I can’t recommend Not Being Stabbed highly enough. I can also recommend Not Being Shot and Not Having Your Jaw Broken, the opposite of which have both happened to N— since I’ve known her. That is to say, she has been shot and has had her jaw broken.

My own worries are mere annoyances in comparison; but then, they are happening to me. Today I celebrate a whole month of being without a debit card. A replacement never arrived; a replacement replacement arrived but my old Pin number didn’t work on it; and the same thing happened this morning with the replacement replacement replacement. Having to rely on cash all the time does keep one au courant with one’s spending, though. Last weekend I had tons of cash, I thought, then bought 30g of rolling tobacco and discovered I had no money left, which was a bit embarrassing, as I was meeting my friend Yiannis B— in the pub. Yiannis is at least 20 years younger than me and I don’t like borrowing money off people who are barely old enough to drink, but he insisted and I hardly had to put my hand in my pocket all evening. He also gave me a packet of Karelias rolling tobacco.

“It’s the only good thing about Brexit,” he said. “Whenever I go to Greece, I come back with ten packs of these, duty-free, for £25.” I got an A at O-level in Advanced Maths so I know that this means each packet costs £2.50; his ten packets cost 1p more than the one I had in my pocket. I went into a reverie, just as I had done when I discovered the excellent local wine in Puglia, dispensed from a machine, at €4 a litre.

The other gripe is my phone, whose screen now has large and growing black blobs that render it unusable. I can’t even answer calls any more, let alone read texts or watch old episodes of Star Trek in bed. The black blobs look intensely black, and are themselves unsettlingly sci-fi-ish, like the black blob that killed Lieutenant Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Controversially: there was a rumour that the actress playing Tasha Yar asked for a raise and this is how the producers dealt with it, pour encourager les autres.)

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I went to iSmash, a chain whose publicity strongly suggests that they will fix your broken screen in minutes, but they said they couldn’t and wouldn’t do mine, so I sat waiting in the Vodafone outlet in the shopping centre for 20 minutes before they said their systems were down and they couldn’t do anything about replacing my phone. “We’ll get an update at 2 o’clock,” said the manager, “but that doesn’t mean the system will be working again.”

Anyway, it didn’t bother me too much. I was round the corner from the last branch of NatWest in the country, so popped in to have a moan about my replacement replacement replacement card.

Such is the giddy, carefree life of the Down and Out freelancer who hasn’t been stabbed yet. I suppose if I hadn’t been kicked out by my wife I’d have never met N—. I’d never have met Yiannis either, and that would have been a shame, for we get on very well indeed, even though he has to provide ID whenever he buys a drink.

N— is a little more problematic, for, as you can see, life around her carries with it a certain amount of risk. I am in a way relieved that she lives in a coastal town some way away from Brighton, although that particular town can be described in the same terms James Cleverly was alleged to have used about Stockton.

I stay friends with N— because she is such a manifestly good person. The worst things can happen to her and then she will ask, “But what about you?” with genuine concern. She is a Christian, but unlike quite a few really does walk the walk rather than just talk the talk. She also has a quite staggering capacity for honesty, survival and mirth. Our last phone conversation before technical difficulties intervened started with her rather miserable, but if I have a superpower it is cheering people up temporarily, and our call had to end because I was making her laugh so much. I tried to stop but I find that impossible, so we hung up. At least I can now say I have literally made someone’s sides split with laughter.

[See also: Love’s true test is being cast adrift on a tiny raft in the Pacific]

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This article appears in the 13 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Keir Starmer’s soul