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12 February 2014

You wouldn’t believe how much more objectionable I’d be if I wasn’t a socialist

That I have lived pretty much entirely self-sufficiently for six and a half years is a matter of some astonishment.

By Nicholas Lezard

Someone comes round to look at the Hovel with a view to moving into the newly vacated room for six months. I am not wild about this, for it means more sharing of space, but it has to be done.

I reflect that I think about people in the same way I think about dogs: I despise them in theory and consider them, as the Semitic religions do, basically unclean; but once I meet them and I look into their large, liquid eyes, I cannot help but want to scratch them behind the ears and give them treats. They might make me come out in a rash and sneeze – and heaven help me if I stroke them and then rub my eyes – but damn it, there’s something adorable about them.

Is this a sound basis for my socialism, I wonder? I think it could be and it’s all the more sincere for being hard-won, against my ungenerous inclinations. I am reminded, by a roundabout process of association, of the response that Evelyn Waugh gave to Nancy Mitford (I think), who asked what the hell he was doing being a Catholic, as he was such a shit. His rather convincing reply went: you wouldn’t believe how much more of a shit I’d be if I wasn’t a Catholic.

Anyway, this person declined to take the room, giving the reason that the communal living areas were too messy. Considering that these communal areas comprise 1) a bathroom with lots of books in the bidet and bath, neither of which work; 2) a living room filled with books; 3) a kitchen, with lots of jars and bottles of stuff about the place, admittedly, but with only a well-mannered shelf of cookbooks (which, as a confident, self-sufficient cook, I never have to use); and 4) a terrace, an entirely book-free zone but, what with the weather and all that, not somewhere you’d want to hang out on right now, I only dimly understand the nature of the objection.

So I have been placed under orders, politely, to do something about this. Fair enough. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse. That I have lived pretty much entirely self-sufficiently for six and a half years without drowning in a sea of my own detritus and indolence, both physical and psychical, is a matter of some astonishment to people who have known me for a while and something of an astonishment to me, now that I come to think of it.

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I think about this after coming back from a dinner with a friend who pities me from time to time and takes me to the restaurant Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden. I first met her not long after being kicked out by the wife and thought, when I clapped eyes on her, “Golly” – but our friendship has, thank goodness, proceeded along entirely platonic lines.

She’s also married and I realised pretty quickly that, even though I was by no means a choirboy when I was married, I have no desire at all to screw up anyone else’s arrangements. The discovery of a latent sense of morality in the autumn of one’s life was something I was unprepared for. I had assumed that leopards did not change their spots, after enduring many long and bitter lectures to this effect. Perhaps I’m not a leopard. Who knew?

My friend mentions that she knows many women roughly my age who are divorced and, to use a rather less weighted adjective than she does, keen to enter another relationship. I head her off at the pass before she can proceed. Even if I were on the market, I say (and I am most definitely not), the idea of entering a relationship with a divorcee would not appeal, on the grounds that such women are at least as set in their ways as I am – and my ways, laissez-faire in the extreme on the personal level, do not appeal to many these days.

I have learned that everyone, after a point, only likes things when they are done just so and any deviation is intolerable. I wonder how many marriages break up because one partner has decided that the other simply isn’t “doing things right”.

Also, there is that inbuilt dissatisfaction so many people cultivate. Marx’s prediction that one of the bad things about late capitalism would be “a contriving and ever calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites” suggests, to me, not only pointlessly craving the latest iPhone but being the kind of person who feels the need to redecorate a room whether it needs it or not. Why, in the end, bother?

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