Often when I’m home alone, only the thought of how my dead body might be found helps me act proper

I thought of this while going to the local deli to buy a carrot and a couple of onions.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

I read the headline of an article – as one does these days, without clicking on it – whose drift appeared to be (although it wasn’t put exactly like this) that there were two types of people in the world: those who like having things stuck up their bottom and those who do not. Personally speaking, I am firmly in the second group, although I hasten to add that not only do I think none the worse of a person who belongs in the first group, I wish I were in it myself, for a whole world of pleasure currently denied to me would be opened up.

I thought of this while going to the local deli to buy a carrot and a couple of onions. A long time ago, when I started living by myself, before my wife-to-be and I moved in together, I used to be very careful when I went to the grocer’s for a carrot or a courgette to buy more than one – for who, when cooking for one, ever needs more than one carrot? – in case the grocer thought I had improper designs on the vegetable. I was, you must bear in mind, living in Earls Court at the time, which was then a haven for men who gave every impression that they were very happy indeed with being in the first group, and while I wished them well – envied them, even – I did not want to be thought of as following the crowd.

These days, I do not give a damn. I am too busy palpating my solitude, as the tongue probes a gap in the teeth. “But it has to be said, perhaps with some regret, that the first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone, most fully alive when alone,” said Martin Amis in a Paris Review interview once. “A tolerance for solitude isn’t anywhere near the full description of what really goes on. The most interesting things happen to you when you are alone.” That last bit is not, I think, meant to be taken literally, although I did once see a slice of toast jump from one slot to another when its time for popping up came; it was as if the universe had winked at me. Most disconcerting.

And disconcerting because solitude, once you have had enough of it – solitude as the condition you return to when the day’s business is done, as opposed to the six hours a day of it Amis enjoys when he goes to his office – begets madness. I wondered, after the episode with the toast, whether I had actually seen it do that. “O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven,” I murmured to myself, for one can do that when alone, but I told a certain social medium what happened and no one there impugned my veracity, so that was OK.

Razors came round the other day, in town for a jaunt involving some filming that he’s directing. (“Guns, explosions, angels, lesbians. You know, the usual stuff.” “Are the angels lesbians?” I asked, wearily. “You know me,” he replied.)

His visit also managed to bring the whole picture into sharper relief. Razors, so called because he looks like a gangster’s henchman, used to live together with me in the Hovel. It was perfect, like a sexless marriage that had not gone sour. As is now usual when he comes over, we caroused until the next day was ready for its first coffee break and my hangover that afternoon (and day after that) was so bad that I had to make sure every electrical appliance was turned off when I went to the loo, because I was more than half convinced that I would die while on it. And that there would be no one to discover my corpse.

To return, sort of, to the subject I introduced in the first paragraph, we were reminded of the dangers of solitude a few weeks ago when the story came out about the Argentinian farmer who had been found dead in his house after having dressed up a scarecrow in women’s clothes and given it a strap-on penis. One has to marvel at the sheer level of desperation, if at nothing else. “Neighbours told local papers,” said one report, “Mr Alberto, who had no mobile phone, was something of a loner.”

Well, no shit, Sherlock, as they say, but sometimes being a loner is not a condition that you start out with. It’s a condition that is thrust upon you. And it is often the thought of how one’s body might be discovered that governs one’s propriety and what one gets up to in the privacy of one’s home to relieve the tedium. It’s not just the sleep of reason that produces the Goya-esque monsters. It’s the sense that you don’t give a damn any more and that there is no one around to say, “You know what? That thing you’re about to do with the root vegetable [or the scarecrow] isn’t such a great idea.” 

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 appears in the 06 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Struggle