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22 August 2016

Things have got so bad, I don’t even want to let the benevolent cleaner in

My bedroom is in a state of such grisliness that I ask myself whether I have now hit A New Low.

By Nicholas Lezard

A tap on the door. “You want me to clean room?” It is Martha, pronounced “martyr”, the cleaning lady. I had forgotten she was coming today. She has come two days early because she’s off to her native Romania for her summer holidays.

I look about the pit I am infesting: technically the bedroom. Such is the level of grisliness that I don’t want anyone in here, not even if they’re going to make it better. It would take a good 20 minutes, half an hour maybe,
for me to make it just acceptable enough to let someone enter it without my expiring of shame. I don’t want to be in it very much, either, but at least if I’m here I can bar ingress to anyone else. Is this what my wife used to refer to as the “rock bottom” I would be reaching soon if I didn’t mend my ways?

“No thanks, Martha. I’m, er . . .” I stick my head out of the door to give her her money and a look that suggests I’m both too busy and too poorly to leave my bed. She knows, of course. She does not need to peer over my shoulder and look into the charnel house of my bedroom to know the score: you don’t clean someone’s Hovel for nine years without getting some purchase on their character and habits. Luckily she is possessed of deep tolerance and forgiveness and so has, I think, a higher opinion of the former than the latter. Even I am ashamed of the latter. Yet I can’t be too complacent about the former, as one’s habits have a bearing on it. Particularly once one goes past a certain level of slovenliness.

“I see you’ve tidied up for us,” says my 19-year-old son when he and his brother come round for the traditional film-and-pizza binge. To be subject to sarcasm about one’s tidiness by a teenage boy represents, it could be argued, A New Low, or it would be, if he hadn’t made similar cracks before. Ever since, as it happens, Martha changed her Augean stables stint at the Hovel from Saturday morning to Wednesday afternoon. I begged her to change because Saturday at 9am is not when you find me at my best, but this now means I have three days to crap the place up before the children come, and given that I can make a room untidy simply by poking my head through the doorway, it can get pretty hairy by the time they arrive.

Help, of a sort, arrives when I look through postings by my friends on a well-known social medium. Today I have learned of a study showing that messiness is linked to high intelligence. This comes hard on the heels of similar studies claiming similar links between brains and laziness, swearing, and staying up late at night. Seeing as I am possessed of an idleness that has made the founder of the (modern-day) Idler whistle in admiration, that my potty mouth has made even Ian Martin, the creator of Malcolm Tucker’s most memorable lines, blush, and that I frequently wait until the breaking of dawn before retiring, this must mean that I am one of the most intelligent people in the country, if not on the planet.

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What makes me resist such self-congratulation is, of course, the large file in the psyche labelled “Stupid Things I Have Done”. One does not like to flick through its pages, but intelligent people do not, for instance, mistake an ounce of weed for tobacco and then try to go through customs with it, or use a copy of Helen Windsor’s biography to prop open a window, and then, when opening the window to retrieve it, allow it to fall two storeys on to the street below; or, indeed, screw up every relationship they have had, even the really good ones. Don’t ask what I’m doing with Helen Windsor’s biography in the first place. All I’ll tell you is that the publisher sent me a copy. I know that, for Carl von Clausewitz, the ideal officer was one who was intelligent and lazy (the intelligent and industrious were a positive menace), yet even he would have thought twice before recommending me for an important command post.

Meanwhile, I now have to worry about how I’m going to cope with Martha’s absence for three weeks. The science of cryogenics is, I gather, still in its infancy. Suicide would be too drastic, I fear, and emigration or staying at someone else’s would only shift the problem elsewhere. (I think of Pig-Pen, the character in Peanuts who carries around with him his own squalor, depicted as a permanent cloud of dust.) I could try staying in my bedroom for the entire time, but then the question arises of how I would ever get out.

Does anyone out there have any plausible suggestions? 

This article appears in the 17 Aug 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s revenge