Love is in the air

My advice for people in new relationships: you might be all smoochy now, but in 20 years you’ll be f

The spring has sprung, the sap is rising. The sight of a male pigeon chasing after a female one, his tail feathers brushing the ground, her gait all look-I-really-don’t-need-this-right-now, fills me with melancholy. Why this stupid dance of pursuit and flight? Why does the woman simply not say, “Come and get it, big boy”? I have been on this earth for nearly half a century and yet still never seen the male pigeon do its business successfully.

Not that I am sure what such success would look like. I am not at all up on avian biology. What’s the deal with eggs? Do birds actually need to have sex? Why didn’t little chicks pop out of my breakfast eggs when I was in Devon? There was a cockerel there, and he looked pretty healthy. If this was covered in biology, I must have been ill or asleep that week. Come to think of it, biology of all species is a bit of a blind spot for me, and for a long time I used to believe that anal sex was how lawyers were conceived.

The radio critic of this magazine emails me. “Write about boobs,” she advises. “That way you will actually get to see some boobs.” Hmm. This is obviously kindly meant, but I wonder if she has not misunderstood the nature of this magazine’s demographic. And anyway, what can I say about boobs that has not been said before? Besides, I have better things to think about. A finely turned ankle, for instance.

I know a woman who, upon leaving me and a male friend, said: “I’ll leave you two to talk about women’s breasts or whatever it is men talk about when they’re together.” We put our heads in our hands. I’ll tell you what men talk about when they’re alone: we talk about how is it that women think we talk about their breasts the moment their backs are turned? I was about to say the conversation turned to Schopenhauer, but I’ve just remembered that even he wrote about women’s breasts – although in a most unpleasant fashion. You do not believe me? Look it up in his Aphorisms.

At least such melancholy as I suffer from is not of a serious kind. Burton would not have included it in his Anatomy. It is the type thatmy friend N– describes as “nothing a good bonk, a sunny day, and a satisfying dump can’t fix”. (Such a mixture of the sexual and the cloacal will remind you, automatically, of Earl Butz, Nixon’s and then Ford’s secretary of agriculture, obliged to resign in 1976 when he joked to Pat Boone that all “the coloureds” – his term – wanted was “a tight pussy, loose shoes and a warm place to shit”. This is indeed an offensive generalisation, so serve him right, but I do remember once, when I was getting to the unhappy stage of being married, sitting in my bathroom through which the winter wind whistled, wearing new boots which were taking an absolute age to break in, and miserably reflecting that I had failed to score on all three counts.)

I am in Regent’s Park when I see the pigeons, and walking with my friend A– , who has come from Paris on the spur of the moment. A– used to entertain a tendresse for me of which I was completely unaware; luckily, nothing came of it, which is why we are still friends. “The man wants the pursuit,” she says, apropos the pigeons. Being French, this is just the kind of thing she would say, but she is also in the throes of a new relationship. Obviously spring arrived earlier in Paris.

One should be wary, though. Earlier that day I’d been listening to Composer of the Week on Radio 3 and learned that Frescobaldi’s teacher Luzzasco Luzzaschi wrote a lyric, “O dolcezz’ amarissime d’amore”, which warns against the dangers of love: “Love is no friend, don’t be fooled by appearances, though he seems gentle, he is sharp and cruel.” The day before, A– had taken me to the Globe to see Romeo and Juliet, and it struck me that Luzzaschi was, in this instance, more on the money than Shakespeare in that play, what with all the uplift associated with love; Romeo and Juliet do not stay together nearly long enough to see their love go sour. As I always advise people who are embarking on new relationships: you might be all smoochy now, but mark my words, in 20 years’ time you’re going to be fighting like rats in a sack. It is, I reflect, a long time since I have been asked to be someone’s Best Man.

But it is well that I am not feeling as emotionally labile as I have done in the two years since my separation; otherwise R&J would have been unbearable. Instead, I find that my mind, when it wanders, asks: “What do they do at the Globe when it rains?” – and, after seeing another pair of birds mucking about on the thatch: “Why do you never see any baby pigeons?”

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 04 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Flu: Everything you need to know