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Inside the fridge, the milk has curdled. How did it know it was hot outside?

It may be related to quantum mechanics.

By Nicholas Lezard

I have, perhaps unwisely, volunteered to play in a cricket match this Sunday. By the time you read this, it will all be over. The plan is to cut down severely on the fags and start walking a lot, occasionally breaking into a light jog. I will also start shifting the dumb-bells a bit so that I will have some strength in my upper body in four days’ time. However, with the temperature in the 90s (Fahrenheit – so much more striking in hot weather, I find), all inclination to exertion seems to have evaporated.

Also, the air in London seems to have become almost soupy with particulates, so that any exertion greater than walking at a stately pace along the flat results in a groaning of the lungs, as if one can hear, in the distance, the plaintive call of seagulls. I know the fags aren’t helping, but I can’t stop now.

The plan is, of course, not to be a burden on the NHS in my old age, by not having an old age. (There is also the possibility that soon no one will be a burden on the NHS because there won’t be an NHS on which to be a burden.)

Then again, a look at the body in the mirror in the downstairs bathroom shows that my plan seems to be advancing faster than I thought. The angle from which one normally views one’s naked self hides many evils. For instance, I did not know, from looking at them from above, that my knees needed a facelift. The right knee in particular, for some reason.

Viewed in the mirror, the whole sorry story becomes plain to see. In fact, I am becoming increasingly fed up with the view in the mirror and am contemplating banning mirrors from the home, like Claudia Winkleman’s mother (actual fact!), or that Roman (was it Roman?) empress whose name escapes me.

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But I love the heat. I’ll miss it when it’s gone. It’s nice not knowing where you end and the air begins. Although playing cricket in it may be a problem. Watching it is exertion enough, and that is during a normal English summer. I have heard reports from team-mates who have drunk their own body weight in water while fielding, and my team-mates (I’m not being ungallant, only passing on their own complaints) have plenty of body weight to start with. A look at the forecast suggests cooler weather by Sunday, but would you bet on that?

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Meanwhile, I’ve made an intriguing discovery. It may be related to quantum mechanics: the seeming ability of elementary particles to sort of know what’s going on, like in the double-slit experiment. (Look it up, it’s worth it.) I noticed this morning that, inside the fridge, the milk had curdled – but there was still a day left on its allotted span. (“Milk that is born of moo-cow is but of few days and full of trouble, unless you put it in the freezer” – Job 14:1.)

The question is: how did it know what the weather was like outside? The fridge is, in its insulated bowels, cold. The milk is not sentient, and even if it were, which I am strongly beginning to suspect is the case, how would awareness of the weather outside its home affect it? Is it like the character in Proust who is moved to tears only by the fates of people she doesn’t know? Does it know that, somewhere else in London, a carton of milk has been left out in this weather for more than 30 seconds and is now, in effect, cottage cheese? And has it duly decided that life is meaningless, and also read somewhere that James Joyce, in Ulysses, described cheese as “the corpse of milk” and taken the statement at face value? Has the milk read Ulysses? And, if so, couldn’t it have waited to go off until I’d had my morning tea?

As you can see, I may love the heat, but it’s making my mind go weird.

I think again about my fitness regime. Those dumb-bells weigh six kilos each: that’s a stone. Even picking them up off the floor is going to be what sports commentators call a Big Ask. The thought of lifting them up and down above my head and curling them in parallel with my torso, and then repeating the movements umpteen times, is making me feel like taking an icy shower . . . but the shower is upstairs and I’m not sure it’s possible for me to flow uphill.

And just as I type those words, I get a text from the youngest one’s mother reminding me it’s his birthday on Sunday and I am obliged to attend. Thank heavens for that, I say to myself, and cancel my attendance at the cricket match. Downstairs, in the fridge, the new carton of milk breathes a sigh of relief. 

This article appears in the 28 Jun 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague