Your columnist receives the Prix du Goncourt/Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup for fecklessness

What shall I do with the money? At the moment, I am typing this on a laptop that is perched on a chair by the side of my bed.

 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Ping! An email arrives. (Actually, “ping!” is the noise a message makes when it arrives on Facebook Messenger; allow me, though, to stretch a point. This is a figurative, not a literal, ping.)

“Dear Mr Lezard,” it begins, “we are pleased to inform you that . . .”

My eyes glaze over. No one is ever pleased to inform me anything. Emails, indeed all communications, beginning with the words “Dear Mr Lezard” carry on with such formulations as “We regret to inform you”, or “It has come to our attention that”, or “We are disturbed to note”, or “According to our records”.

Things usually go downhill from there, the result being that by the end of the email or letter I start to think about leaving the country for a few months, if not for good. I can use my US passport to get to America, after which it should be a doddle to get to Mexico. In my experience, the border people are very hot on scrutinising passports from Mexico into the US; in the other direction, not so much. Is there an extradition treaty between the UK and Mexico? Get over there, keep my head down for a few years, live like a king with my devalued pesos, and as long as I don’t end up like Geoffrey Firmin in Under the Volcano I should be OK. I’ll miss the kids like hell but I think they’d rather not see me in prison.

Such is the rich inner life of your correspondent.

Anyway, I carry on reading the email, just so I can see what the nature of the scam is. Because it can only be a scam, to start so cheerily. And, skidding across the paragraph, I have noticed that the communication ends in a request for my address.

“We are pleased to inform you that, unanimously, this year’s judges for the Prix du Goncourt/Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup have awarded you the prize as the writer best qualified to accept the terms of the prize: that the money be spent in less than two weeks and that the recipient shall have nothing to show for it.”

Hang on a minute. Although something funny is going on here – that “Goncourt” doesn’t fool me, I saw the du in front of it – it would appear that the joke is not at my expense. I read on, and absorb, slowly, the news that Michael Moorcock, the Michael Moorcock, and a panel of fellow judges have decided that I could do with a cheque for $1,000. And not only that, but be trusted to piss it away within two weeks. It is, in other words, a prize for fecklessness. (This is an accusation that has haunted me since schooldays. At university, during one class, our teacher Dr Adrian Poole, as then was, asked a bunch of first-year undergraduates to evaluate the difference between “but” and “yet” by asking us to compare the clauses “the intelligent but feckless Lezard” and “the intelligent yet feckless Lezard”. That was over 30 years ago, and Dr Poole, who has not let the grass grow under his feet, is now a professor, whereas I am still swimming around in my own muck.

Well, $1,000 is $1,000 and it will come in damn handy. What shall I do with the money? At the moment, I am typing this on a laptop that is perched on a chair by the side of my bed. I do not wish to move the chair because that might ruin the delicate arrangement the adapter plug has with the socket at the back of the machine, which, being about nine years old, has developed a catalogue of interesting faults but is still working, unlike its five-year-old younger brother, which does not work at all. I am writing this on my side, propped up by one elbow, like a guest at dinner in ancient Rome.

I might also splash out on a new pair of glasses. The newest pair, about ten years old, got trodden on a few months ago and I am relying on their predecessors, whose chewed-off earpiece scrapes against my flesh every time I put them on. I could even buy a ticket to Gothenburg. I could, I suggest to my wife, follow the example set by my lord Sewel, who certainly knows how to have a good time, and the fact that he is in his seventieth year gives us all hope, however much we may disapprove of his actions. My wife does not laugh as much as I hoped she would.

Or I could . . . then another email (ping!) arrives, this time from my brother. “Ahem,” it says, in its entirety. This would be a reminder that I owe him a certain sum of money; a sum that will, at today’s exchange rate, be covered neatly by my prize money. “Nothing to show for it”, indeed, and I haven’t even received the cheque yet.

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 13 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Battle for Calais