“But Jesus, when you don’t have any money, the problem is food. When you have money, it’s sex. When you have both it’s health, you worry about getting ruptured or something. If everything is simply jake then you’re frightened of death.”
J P Donleavy, The Ginger Man
I remember reading those words when I was 16 or 17. I was taking a well-earned break from Ulysses but didn’t want to go too far from the Irish mood, and this seemed like an acceptable compromise. The words above impressed me deeply, as you can see from the fact that I remember enough of them, 89 years on, to look them up on the internet.
Well, I have money, I suppose – enough not to have to worry about food, for three weeks of each month. So I start to worry about sex. When I picked up my old copy of The Ginger Man from the shelves in the parental home during a visit, I read a chapter or two and was struck by how simply impossible it was to have sex – even if you were married, it seems – in Dublin in the late 1940s. I can’t imagine the early 1940s, or the 1950s, being much better either. How enlightened we are now, and how grateful we should be to live in an age where sexual opportunity is bountiful.
I suppose you can guess where I’m going with this. That was a few months ago, and I have long since given up poking my sex life with a stick to see if it moves. This can have strange side effects. The other week, while looking for another DVD, I found a cache of loose disks of classic episodes from Star Trek. When low, one returns to the things that consoled one as a child, and the original Trek, with its broad optimism, its breezy characterisation and its striking and iconic colour palette, seemed like just the ticket. But the episode that I picked on, Amok Time, in which Spock goes bananas because he isn’t Getting Any, suddenly struck me as the wrong thing to be watching. For a Vulcan, not Getting Any is more than just the occasion for a pronounced fit of the sulks and a sense of tempus fugit. It’s rather more serious than that. In fact, Dr “Bones” McCoy, after giving the pointy-eared one a check-up, tells Captain Kirk that if Spock doesn’t Get Any soon, he’ll die.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is the case with your correspondent. It does, however, seem to rub in the fact that my time on Earth is diminishing. A summer without anyone to share it with is passing, and that is an awful thought. And I have always thought, from the age of about 12, that a night in bed without company is a night wasted.
Is it ignoble to think such thoughts, though? And is it ignoble to share them with the readership of a venerable political magazine? I think the answers are No, and It Depends. This being a column that deals with the messy side of life, I could argue that it would be a dereliction of my remit if I were not to mention it. And I am not sure the question is addressed enough in the mainstream media. One does not, for example, read a thoughtful column by Andrew Rawnsley about Brexit only to stumble across the words, three-quarters of the way through, “And on top of this all, I’m not even Getting Any.”
However, events have since overtaken even these pressing considerations. As I write, I am experiencing the most excruciating pain I think I have ever suffered over a period of time. My left shoulder, for reasons utterly mysterious to me, has become so painful that I cannot move it. I cannot even cough without a spasm that induces a rictus or an oath. Even to find a position in bed that alleviates the pain causes pain. I rang the GP for an emergency appointment and they said the doctor would ring up later today for a phone consultation, and if she thought I needed to be seen, then an appointment would be made. The receptionist then read out the family home landline number. How they have that, as I only registered with this GP when I was kicked out of that home, is beyond me. So I said, “No, make an appointment.” They cut me off but I was persistent, and I’m going there in an hour. Having looked up the symptoms online, I now know an aching shoulder can mean lung cancer.
So, this is great. It seems that Donleavy was not telling the whole truth. Under the right circumstances, you can be worried about sex, death, money, and food, all at the same time. The jackpot line-up of the worst fruit machine ever. I wonder what the payout is.
This article appears in the 13 Jul 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit PM