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19 September 2018

The only caveat to having a roaring coal fire is that you have to buy the Telegraph

The tabloidisation of papers means the Torygraph is the only one big enough to open out and spread against the chimney.

By Nicholas Lezard

So in the end, I didn’t go down to That London in order to confront Rod Liddle and slap his face with a white kid glove, demanding satisfaction. For there have been more interesting developments here. For hark! Bzzt! The doorbell goes. It is A—, the supremely competent and smart woman who runs the office here, telling me that a new sofa is being delivered tomorrow, at 11, and that I will be in receipt of the old sofa, which it will replace.

She is at pains to remind me about the time, perhaps because I have a reputation as a late riser. I try to contain my excitement.

“At 11,” she says, again.

I am not kidding when I say I am excited about this development. I know this sofa well: in fact, I helped carry it up from a storeroom to the Library. (Yes, this place has storerooms large enough to contain sofas. And a room that is full of books and so is called “the Library”.)

It was – is – a splendid sofa, a bit battered by the years but a lovely deep blue colour and about the size of the QE2. And it is comfy. I have succumbed to its deep embrace only a few times, as the Laird has assumed droit de seigneur over it, as is his prerogative, and likes taking naps on it.

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But tomorrow, at 11, it will be mine. And I think that may be that for me. I will never move again, for it is going to be set in front of the fireplace. And every evening I light a fire, and I sit in front of it in a nice battered old armchair, and it gets later and later, but I cannot bring myself to go to bed, for there are few things nicer than sitting in front of the fire with a glass of wine, or maybe two.

The room doesn’t need it: there are functioning radiators, but why use them when you can have a fire? Well, yes, pollution, I know, but it is not a very big fire and when you place it in the grand scheme of things it is even smaller. And outside, the trees are festooned with lichen, which only grows where the air is clean, and that’s good enough for me.

There are only two problems with the fire. One is that it needs to be cleared out, almost every day. It’s a coal fire, which means that it produces a lot of clinker. This, I learn from Wikipedia, is good for nothing except perhaps making pavements. Steamships used to dump it over the sides. When I think of the amount of clinker I produce, I think of how much of the stuff there must have been back in the days when everyone had a coal fire. What did they do with it?

I put it in the rubbish bins, in straining black bin-liners, but I come over all giddy when I think of that being multiplied by several million.

The other problem with having a fire is that I am forced, every so often, to buy the Daily Telegraph. Those of you with experience of fireplaces will know why. Others may be a little mystified. I have to buy this tired joke of a newspaper because it is the only one big enough to open out and spread against the chimney-piece, or whatever you call the hole where the fire is. You do this so that the fire draws nicely without having to faff about with bellows and stuff, and the tabloidisation of all newspapers save the Torygraph means that only the Torygraph will do. Well, the Sunday Times, too, but I never seem to find myself in a shop on a Sunday.

Anyway, you can imagine the problem I have buying the rag (I see it has a cryptic crossword called “The Telegraph Toughie”. Look, if you’re going to be conservative, do it properly, OK?).

I like to think that people will think well of me, and one of the things I don’t want is for people to think I am a Tory. (I was going to say that it doesn’t go down well in my neck of the woods, being a Tory, but a quick check reveals that my MP, Pete Wishart of the SNP, whose voting record seems OK, held his seat in 2017 by an astonishingly tiny 21 – twenty-one – votes, out of 50,000-odd who turned out. The Conservative candidate came second, after a nine-point swing. Terrifying.)

I already have an English accent, so maybe it’s assumed I’m a Tory anyway, but I’m also enough of a familiar figure in the Co-op for the staff to say hello to me, which means I am on their radar, and they may be speculating about me.

So when I buy the paper, should I say, “I hate this paper, it’s for the fire”?

Or should I buy a copy of the Guardian for balance? (I’m not a huge fan of the Guardian these days, but that’s personal.)

Or should I drive miles out of my way to get the paper from different shops?

All of these options are, of course, nuts. The whole business causes a degree of anxiety that goes entirely against the spirit of sitting in front of the fire with a glass of wine in one’s hand. Then again, it’s quite satisfying using Boris Johnson columns to light fires with. 

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This article appears in the 19 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next war