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26 September 2018

As my anxiety-induced boils resurface, I wonder if so much travelling is good for one man

Scotland to London; London to Brighton; Brighton to Salisbury; Salisbury to London; and tomorrow, assuming the trains are running, London to Scotland.

By Nicholas Lezard

Over the last few days one of those anxiety-induced boils that have not been plaguing me for months started brewing again. I will not go into any further physical details because my editors have gently let it be known that going on about them is a bit ick, a point of view I quite understand. However, the question arises as to why I have it in the first place. My love life has taken a marked turn for the better, I have somewhere to live until December – possibly April – and I am picking up work, touch wood (to all three).

Then I realised: it’s the travel. I have been doing rather a lot of it over the last week. Scotland to London; London to Brighton; Brighton to Salisbury; Salisbury to London; and tomorrow, assuming the trains are running (on the day of writing this column, they are not), London to Scotland.

These have been for essential things such as important family meetings, a literary prize panel I’m on (the Goldsmiths Prize; I am this magazine’s representative on it, and deeply honoured), taking the Youngest to Sussex University with his mother, and seeing the Welsh Enchantress. I list in increasing order of pleasure, with a very small gap between the last two, as seeing the Y is always a pleasure, and his mother and I didn’t fight, not even a little bit. (Although she’s a nervous passenger, and in the small stretch of road she let me take the wheel for, I made her scream about five times, but then nervous passengers always make one’s driving worse, don’t you find?)

But I’m really getting fed up with this travelling lark, especially when I know that the finest sofa on God’s green earth is pining for me back in Perthshire. Lee Marvin’s “I Was Born Under a Wandering Star” was one of those records I heard as a child and never forgot, and I always thought that being born under a wandering star would be kind of cool if you liked that kind of thing, but at my age it gets awfully tiring.

I am travelling light, but with my laptop, a venerable Lenovo T410 which comes in at just under 5lbs (or two pounds more than a MacBook Air), and four or five books I want to scrutinise more closely for the Goldsmiths, I am using the word “light” loosely. I also have a spare pair of undercrackers, a few socks, a spare vest; everything else I am wearing, like a budget airline passenger trying to avoid luggage surcharges. It’s all packed into the fetching manbag a previous inamorata gave me, and believe me, whoever sold it to her on the grounds of utility and robustness wasn’t pulling her leg. It is doing (again: touch wood) a terrific job under the circumstances; it is holding up better than me.

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The big mistake was to travel with a fleece and a heavy coat. These are necessary in Scotland at this time of year; in balmy southern England, not so much. So I stepped off the train at King’s Cross already sweating with distressing freedom, and people on the tube were glancing at me anxiously, as if I were one of the first people infected in a new terrible plague. (Also, such a tan as I picked up in Scotland has now largely gone, so I was paler than everyone else.)

I wonder if I am the lightest packer in the world. My great friend, the late Robert Lockhart (subject of Louisa Young’s wonderful book, You Left Early; read it), would go off to Paris for a month with only the clothes he stood up in; his travelling companion/minder bought him a toothbrush when she discovered he hadn’t even thought of taking one, but he managed to lose it before they even got to the airport. Since he has gone, I might have to take the crown. Take the laptop and the books out of the equation and I think I am. People marvel at this. The WE is grasping quickly how deeply unusual I am so little surprises her now, but I think even she was impressed, and not necessarily in a good way, by the fact that I only took one shirt for a week’s travel.

I wonder if what I am doing is trying to pretend that I am only nipping out to the shops, instead of travelling the length and half the breadth of the country. Everything has been about change for the last 11 years, and I am not wild about change, unless it’s for the better. So while recent developments have been most satisfactory, I crave a time when no further developments are necessary. When, I wonder, will I again have a place I can truly call my own, for good?

That December deadline isn’t getting any further away. Could I move in with a certain person? The thought is appealing for many compelling reasons but I think I may have become too feral for a normal person. How did I do it, the whole living-with-someone-else thing? Is it a skill, like riding a bicycle, that you can pick up again? I have a feeling it isn’t. I am now an object that is never at rest. My life is in flux; and I remember, with a start, that “flux” is another word for what comes out of boils.

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This article appears in the 26 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Brexit crisis