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11 July 2018

After a month away from London, with chickens for company, I’m starting to go a bit nuts

By an amazing coincidence, the chickens have exactly the same names as Jacob Rees-Mogg’s children.

By Nicholas Lezard

Has it really been a month? By the time you read this it will have been. A month in the country, and me a born and bred Londoner, 450 miles from the place.

I am, perhaps, beginning to go a little nuts. This is hardly surprising when, in my echoing quarters, the noise my chair makes is as startling in its way as the sound the chair makes in Keir Dullea’s room as he eats, aged and alone, at the end of 2001: a Space Odyssey. I lack, though, his gravitas, and the deep wisdom that going through the Stargate has given him, and have taken to burping extravagantly after swigs of the Lucozade that keeps me going during the working day.

We Lezards are talented eructators, and my brother can scare cats from three doors down with his burps, which sound like something between a chair being scraped along a wooden floor and a shotgun going off. I rebuke him when he does this in company, but I have none, so who cares?

My eldest son also has this gift, and I tell him off, too, when I catch him at it. Otherwise, how will he find a mate with whom he can make other, better Lezards?

Meanwhile, there are my friends, the chickens. One cockerel called, as I have mentioned, Enkidu, after Gilgamesh’s great friend, and six lady chickens. The hens are difficult to individuate but long association with them has taught me how to do this – the trick is to look carefully at their combs – and their names are Peter Theodore Alphege, Mary Anne Charlotte Emma, Thomas Wentworth Somerset Dunstan, Anselm Charles Fitzwilliam, Alfred Wulfric Leyson Pius, and Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher – which by an amazing coincidence are exactly the same names that comedy MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has given his children. I throw bits of bread out of my window at them, and one of them crapped on my windowsill in excitement. The chickens, that is, not Rees-Mogg’s children.

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Meanwhile, I bask in the warm feeling engendered by England’s football match against Sweden. By the time you read this, England could be out. This will, at least, be good for my liver. I have not been feeling the same since a somewhat crapulent evening watching us squeak past a nasty Colombian side (I demolished two and a half bottles of wine during the course of the evening, which is a lot, even for me), but after seeing that Sweden were next, I was in the mood for murder. Not literal murder, but I craved vengeance against the nation that took the Best Girlfriend Ever from me for five years. During the course of those years I came to look at our Swedish neighbours with great suspicion. What I wanted to happen was for the Swedish team to be crushed like bedbugs, and for the very word “England” to make every Swede born and as yet unborn sob with shame until the end of time… 2-0 isn’t exactly like that, but I settled for it.

I loathe ugly nationalism, and it should have no place in this magazine in particular. But as I say, with Sweden, it’s personal, which is why whenever I run into a Norwegian I buy him or her a drink, and when I tell them it’s because they’re not Swedish they laugh and say they know exactly what I mean.

Ah, here come the chickens again. One of the interesting things about chickens – some would say the only interesting thing about them, but not me – is that they eat pretty much anything with some kind of food value, including – and this is where it gets weird – eggshells; which here are the shells of the very eggs they have laid themselves. When I mention this to some people they think I am pulling their legs, but I swear, on the lives of Peter, Mary, Thomas, Anselm, Alfred, Sixtus and Enkidu, that I am not. It is a disconcerting sight the first time you see it. But once one has got over the shock of what can almost be called cannibalism, they are soothing things to have around, with a surprisingly wide vocal register, and especially comical when seen running, from behind.

However, I am uncertain as to the length of my stay. The rent has been fixed at a rate which seems suspiciously low: I can just about afford it, but whether this is a temporary arrangement or a permanent one I do not know. I think the idea is that I am to stay here until I have written a novel, or a TV script, or a collection of short stories, but given past form this could mean I will be here for as long as Keir Dullea was in his room, and with about as much to show for it.

Then again, once one has driven to the Co-op, played with the chickens, thought dark thoughts about Sweden, and practised one’s burping, there is little to do here except write. I have, though, noticed a harmonica in my luggage. I have never learned to play the harmonica. Maybe now, with all the wild acres of Perthshire in which to practise, is the time to start. 

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This article appears in the 11 Jul 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit farce