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15 March 2017

It’s time for drastic action, because I have a Date – Capital D

To clean my squalid bedroom would be tempting fate, I knew that – and then I went ahead and did it.

By Nicholas Lezard

I am downstairs, in the living room, while Martha, my heroic, patient and kind cleaning lady, tackles my bedroom. Occasionally, a sob or a shriek pierces through the Henry’s wail of protest.

Henry vacuum cleaners, as you probably know, arrive from the factory with a smiley face painted on them. This, of course, makes vacuuming so much fun that sometimes I clean for the sheer giddy joy of it. However, right now, Henry and Martha – sounding almost like one of the couples from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – are at it alone, and I am leaving them to it, but I’d bet that if I were to go up there now and look at Henry, that stupid smile of his would have been wiped off his face, and, at the very best, it would be set in a line of grim determination.

And the reason for this? It must be pretty momentous, given that since last November, with regret, I have been barring Martha’s ingress to my bedroom on the grounds that it’s just too ghastly. You know how it is. You lose the last vestiges of your self-respect, you let the place slide a little, and the next thing you know you’re having to walk on books, like stepping stones, just to get out and go to the loo. Underneath is a sea of dirty clothes, empty Frazzles packets, and Lord knows what else.

Then one week turns into the next, and Martha raises a pair of enquiring eyebrows, and I shake my head in mute refusal.

Did I say “the last vestiges”? I meant “almost the last vestiges”. Those last vestiges are what is keeping anyone else from looking at the pigsty.

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However, last week, I finally tackled it. Myself. It was a three-hour job, involving playing lots of motivational music (I find that a pounding beat helps) and two sacks for the recycling and two more for the rubbish. I even got round to taking a look at the carpet and scraping off most of the tiny little hoops of pseudo-pasta that come inside a sachet of Cup a Soup (see a previous column).

And the reason I did that? Go on, I’ll give you three guesses. Yes, you’ve got it. I have a Date. Capital D. Things are at the very early stage yet, but it’s definitely a Date, and although it’s unwise to jump the gun, or jinx things, you never know. The last time anything like this happened, which was in April 2016 – and came as a bit of a surprise, to be honest – I deliberately did not tidy the bedroom, on the grounds that to do so would be to invite the Fates to have a good laugh at me. Well, they were always going to have a good laugh at me, but at least this way I got out of tidying my bedroom.

Meanwhile, the butterflies have arrived and settled in the stomach. They’ve actually been in residence for some time: the first Date was postponed about a week ago. I’d promised to cook a daube of ox cheek but the main ingredient had to go into the freezer, along with my hopes.

Recently I started reading Mick Herron’s series of spy novels: his spies have screwed up, left a classified document on a train or something, and have been sent to a place called Slough House, where they perform tasks so demeaningly useless that they eventually resign, or go mad. Every single one of them lives with a heavy sense of failure, and every one of them lives, emphatically, alone. It didn’t take me long to sniff the aroma of despair and recognise it as one that had become deeply too familiar to me. And here was something that, like romantic Febreze, promised to clear the air. Is that not spring I smell, just around the corner?

Well, it turned out in the end that tidying the bedroom and then having it cleaned professionally did the trick: there was another cancellation. As the circumstances of how the Date arose are so improbable in the first place, far too good to be true, this should have come as no surprise. Good things do not stroll into one’s life like this, or if they do they stroll out again straight away (I’ll show you my file on April 2016 if you like) and besides, Mick Herron’s books have made me suspicious of human motive.

But I refuse to be driven to despair, or to impugn her good intentions. How long can a fool live on hope? How long have you got? Still, this waiting is getting me down, and I’m beginning to know how Vladimir and Estragon felt. I am also beginning to wonder what the feminised version of “Godot” might be. Godotte? Godette? And I think I can hear a noise, just within the limits of my hearing: it’s the Fates, slapping their thighs and telling their mates to come over and watch this, it’s hilarious.

My reference to the website House of Lame was changed, in last week’s column, to House of Lamé. I would like the record to state that I have never had anything to do with lamé, and probably never will.

This article appears in the 08 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The return of al-Qaeda