Show Hide image

Razors returns, sherry is drunk and Virgil is quoted at length

Could you all please be a little quieter? Razors has been here and I am feeling a bit delicate this morning. Thank you. The Aymara people of Peru and Bolivia have a very good word to describe the condition of a hangover: umjayanipxitütuwa – “they must have made me drink”. (I love that: it encapsulates the feeling of helplessness, of compromised personal agency and memory blanks.)

Happy days

For those who have come in late to this column, Razors was my old housemate as well as being a friend of old. Our marriages effectively terminated, we found ourselves together in the Hovel and had many a pleasant evening, playing mahjong, comparing needlepoint techniques and composing elegiac verse in Latin.

Once every so often – say, every six months or so – we would open a bottle of sherry and, in the course of about four or five evenings, work our way through its contents. Happy days! Luckily, my work does not involve arrival at an office at a predetermined time of day, so I could recover from these bacchanalia in bed, at a gentle pace.

Poor Razors, though, would have to drudge off to commute to a Well Known Broadcasting Organisation, muttering curses as he went. I was always shocked and disgusted by his language on these occasions. One day he took the pledge and flew to the US to earn an obscene sum of money and since then life has never been quite the same.

Still, every six months or so he comes back to taunt me and throw things around the Hovel after one or two of his teeny-weeny sherries. In days gone by he favoured the empty wine bottles that multiplied unaccountably around the place (do they breed? Do the mice have an account at Majestic?); yesterday evening, he was much taken by the cricket ball and kept throwing it at the wall until I confiscated it. (“Why isn’t it bouncing properly?” “It’s a sodding cricket ball, you maniac.”)

This morning I awoke to . . . sorry, I’ll start that again. This afternoon, I awoke to find a can of Ronson Universal Gas Lighter Refill hiding in the lining of my coat pocket. What the hell was that doing there? Had we, crazed by sherry and in the grip of the kind of feral social behaviour that so excites columnists on the Daily Mail, taken to solvent abuse to add to all our other crimes? I’m not given to carrying cans of lighter fluid about my person and have never really cared for the stuff except insofar as it is really useful when it comes to filling up lighters.

It then occurred to me that Razors had decided, after maybe another incy-wincy little amontillado, to play with this. “Look at this, this great,” I have a dim memory of him saying, before squirting a pool of the stuff all over the table and then setting light to it. He then tried it on a door, covered with a weird papery Artex that looks like one of the most flammable substances ever invented, and I had to grab the can off him before he did some serious damage. I soothe him with some Virgil. “Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi . . .” I begin encouragingly, with hand gestures. Eventually the next line comes to him – “silvestrum tenui Musam meditaris avena,” he murmurs, sleepily (it’s actually “sylvestrem” but I let it go, as he has done so well considering his state) – and he allows me gently to prise the cylinder from his hand, while he starts reminiscing about a sordid encounter with a girl on the top deck of a Routemaster bus when he was 20. (“But only after we’d finished did we notice the mirror, which the driver uses to see everything.”)

Morning after

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur. We synchronise our watches and agree to see how we’re doing at around noon the next day to see if we want to go to, or can face, our traditional post-Saturnalian full English breakfast. At around 1pm, as I try to fulfil one of the three horrible deadlines looming over me, I start worrying about the fact that I have heard nothing from him. Is he dead? This is a real fear, for we are both getting on and I barely feel in the land of the living. I’m getting on a plane the next morning, and if his corpse, rather than his inert yet still living body, is what awaits me on the sofa, then this is really going to screw up my plans. Of course I will miss him and all that but I still have my own pain to deal with.

Luckily for both of us, he lives, and we stagger along for our full English. Generously, I place him in a seat opposite a pretty woman, so he can play with his sausages and upset her dining experience. It’s hard on her but sometimes you have to do the right thing for an old friend.

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 08 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Conservative conference special