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Overslept, frozen and faced with death – all thanks to a little snow

Nicholas Lezard's "Down and Out" column.

Well, we love the snow, but to have snow it must be cold and if it is cold then there must be central heating. But if one is freaking out at the gas bill then there cannot be central heating on all through the day. This is where things get problematic. There is an obvious and easy solution to the problem of a chilly Hovel: one stays in bed.

This is very much an option for the freelance writer – indeed, it is one of the main reasons that one decided to ditch the job at the sock factory and become a freelance writer in the first place. However, it comes at a price.

The thing about staying in bed is that it is cosy and nice. When the place is still relatively warm at 8.30am, it is even cosier. Why, asks the cosy freelance writer, should I bother getting out of bed to start the day with a cup of tea when I could stay in it and just have 40 more winks? I am my own boss and my boss seems intensely relaxed about my staying in bed a bit longer.

So, the cosy freelance writer snuggles back under the covers and has 40 more winks, and what with the wink being a very elastic unit of time, one then wakes up about two hours later, in a complete fug, also driven half-mad by the crazy dreams that happen in late morning sleep, completely unable now to distinguish between them and reality for about half an hour but still perfectly well aware that the temperature has dropped now the heating’s gone off and it is too cold to get out of bed to make a cup of tea; and then the freelance remembers, with a feeling like that of being trapped in a free-falling lift, the almost grotesque bravado with which various editors were assured on Friday afternoon that their copy would be waiting for them in their inboxes by the time they got into work on Monday morning.

It is at times like this that I miss, or almost miss, the discipline forced upon one by living in the same house as one’s children. They are now all perfectly capable of getting their own breakfasts but it is poor form to stay upstairs in bed on a school day while they fight over the Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes. One could, of course, have gone back to bed after they’d been packed off to school and the wife had gone to work, but that involved a level of selfish laziness that even I am incapable of. Most of the time.

So now I feel I am getting flabby, spoiled. I am wasting away to becoming little more than an intelligence, to use the word in its loosest sense, barely encumbered by physical reality.

The philosophical question of whether we are all brains in jars pretending to experience the outside world (you would be astonished at how The Matrix reinvigorated philosophy departments. Every smart kid who saw him or herself as Neo or Trinity got the bug) now becomes more charged: for all practical purposes, and especially on those days when I don’t have to take my mother for her physio at the Royal Free, I have become a brain in a jar, well, a brain in my bed. (I use the word “brain” in its loosest sense.) Only the grosser physical needs can get me out of it. The internet can take some of the blame: I don’t even have to get out of bed to buy and read the Guardian any more.

It is, though, not a morally sound way to live. There is such a thing as toughening oneself up; there is also such a thing as becoming unhealthily detached from reality.

I remember when I was at school we had a – very good – history teacher who would stand up just before we tucked into our meals on Fish Finger Day (the only day the food was in any way pleasant) and remind us of the latest part of Africa to be suffering from appalling famine. We rolled our eyes but managed to soak up the message.

In the same spirit I am now haunted not only by the vastly increased number of Big Issue sellers I see around town but also by the figure of the man in the underpass at Baker Street Tube station – swaddled in blankets against the deep chill, too cold or dispirited or proud to ask for money, just staring ahead as if he were trying to imagine a television on the wall opposite him.

Here is my, and our, memento mori – or not so much a reminder of our death but a reminder of where any of us could end up, should those people in charge of the state decide that it is no longer the state’s job to pick up the pieces. Enjoy the snow.

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 28 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, After Chavez