Thursday morning and the body clock has finally stabilised itself: up at half past eight, and dressed sufficiently to be able to buy a pint of milk from the corner shop without fear of ridicule or arrest. It is also, for once, not raining; indeed, it is quite a lovely early spring morning. Oh look, there’s the latest edition of the New Statesman, and I dutifully buy my weekly copy. It is the last moment of internal peace I know all Thursday. Unusually, there is a thought nagging away at the back of my mind, and it goes: “Are you sure you want to do this, mate?” but I cannot place the reason it is saying this.
All becomes clear when I turn to the back pages; specifically, page 60, on which readers respond to an invitation to complete a poem, written by me in, I think, 1978, of which I remember only the first line, and have been unwise enough to quote in this very slot.
There are some things one is not meant to see, such as how frankfurters, and laws, are made; one’s parents making love; and, I can now confidently add, a whole page of mild piss-taking directed at one’s adolescent self. “A groaning postbag!” the setter declares. My heart sinks.
I remember, when this competition was announced, I had half a notion to enter it pseudonymously, just as Graham Greene entered a Graham Greene parody competition in this very magazine (and came second). In the end, I couldn’t be bothered; I was suffering from enough self-scrutiny, as it happened, and felt no desire to warm up this ancient broth. As some of you may recall, I’ve been commissioned to turn the first 90-odd columns I wrote for this paper into a film script, and although I completed the first draft in five days, a work rate of which I am quite proud, not to say astonished, the producer-to-be said that although it was an extremely creditable first effort it needed a bit more work, if one were to have a script that would fly in the business. He explained to me about character arcs.
“What does Nick learn from this?” he asked. “Nick learns f**k all, as usual,” I felt like replying, but suspected that this, however honest, might be a counterproductive answer.
I brood. Downstairs, the letter box rattles, and I go to see what new, unfulfillable demand has winged its way Hovelwards. Nothing, but an A7-sized flyer, printed on glossy card. “No life without problems,” it begins; “no problems without solutions.” I am further enjoined to avail myself of the services of one Mr Tayad, a “Great and powerful spiritual healer with many years experience”, who promises to assist me in “the union and return of loved ones”, as well as with “Business, Illness, Bad luck, Black magic, Evil spirits, Depression, Exams, Disobedient children, Careers etc”. He claims to be able to solve my problems on his first visit, with a quick result and 100 per cent satisfaction. There follows a mobile-phone number.
I must say, I’m tempted. About the only thing I don’t suffer from in the list is “Disobedient children”, and even then I suspect this is only because I have set the disciplinary bar so low that anything they do short of arson is greeted by me with an indulgent chuckle. I could add a few more things to it, though, off the top of my head and without pausing for thought: Mice, Not getting laid, a Shortage of trousers, Hilarious New Statesman competitions, a Largely non-functional left shift key and the Return of the stress-related spots on my back. There are even times when I am convinced that I have been put under a curse, and have been operating under one ever since, many years ago, I berated a neighbour for letting her dog urinate on the front path of the family home. She gave me a look that clearly boded ill: it was around then that everything began to unravel. I suppose I can’t blame her curse for the largely non-functional shift key; that, I am fairly sure, is down to my eating toast in bed, and the crumbs working their way into the keyboard. Then again, who’s to say that it’s not the depression caused by being a victim of black magic that causes one to eat toast in bed in the first place?
In the end, I decide to suck it up and not let it all bother me too much, as I believe the Buddha advised. I amuse myself and test my resolve by reading the winning entries in the competition. It’s not all as horrible as I feared. But it occurs to me, as I read the witty and not-so-insulting entries, that even if I had entered it myself, I’d have come nowhere.
This article appears in the 06 Apr 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Tories at war