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17 October 2018

Contemplating my move to the Scooby-Doo house. Will it make me go madder?

The deadline for my removal from the apartment approaches – I have about six weeks.

By Nicholas Lezard

Autumn hits Scotland sooner and harder than it does the southern regions of the British Isles, and the last week has been alternately dreich and wild: miserably drizzly and cold, and then, for the last three days, a relentless wind, day and night, unsettlingly insistent, making me feel as if I were on board a sailship rounding the Cape of Good Hope rather than inside a castle, which, after a while, I started imagining was actually rocking.

The wind was exciting at first, but after a couple of days it begins to mess with your head, a roaring as if the biggest gas ring in the world had been left on, and I felt that the shifts of meteorological pressure were beginning to affect me at the level of the synapse, and that I was entering a phase of what seemed like a precursor to insanity. I felt like Lear on the heath, with pauses in the turmoil not helping me that much: then I started feeling like Macbeth. Which is at least more geographically appropriate.

But today it is gorgeous: mild and sunny, and even though all the leaves have been blown off the chestnuts (I fear the work of the leaf-miner moth; the conkers beneath them that I saw were pitifully small, the largest not much bigger than an acorn), the rest of the landscape was picture-postcard perfect, a glorious gradation of reds and browns. The woods are lifting with mushrooms, although they’re getting on a bit now, some of them the size of soup plates and with their caps aged to concavity. But in the sedge by the side of the lane I heard a cricket chirping, and there are still butterflies. How they survived the last week is something of a puzzle.

The season gets to me. It always has, but even more so now that the deadline for my removal from the apartment approaches. I have about six weeks, and although Plan A involves my relocation to the newly vacant cottage a hundred yards up the lane, I am not sure that the work that needs to be done to it is proceeding quickly enough.

At the moment it is semi-derelict, and looks from both the inside and the outside like the kind of place that the Scooby gang would hole up in, to the detriment of their nerves, Shaggy’s and Scooby-Doo’s in particular, as if they had forgotten the lessons that they had been taught in the previous week’s adventures.

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A friend rang me up on the computer the other day and asked if I didn’t feel terribly isolated up here; not really, I said; there’s always something going on, and there are ancillary staff doing the myriad jobs that need to be done to keep the place ticking over. It’s like a little village, or a benign Gormenghast. Although last week I had the place entirely to myself, and when there was a power cut, probably due to a tree being blown down and knocking out a power line somewhere (it happens up here from time to time), I got properly rattled, and a taste of what life before electricity would have been like, with the major difference being that in those days, people would have known where the candles were. Should I move to the Scooby house, this is a mistake I won’t be making in future. But I wonder whether moving up there will make me go mad, or madder. It could be fun.

Meanwhile, Doctor Who has started again, and the Laird and Lady invited me to watch the first episode with them, with dinner afterwards (cooked by me. Rabbit. “Who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?” I reflected as I took the skinned carcass from its packaging.) This was rather poignant. I had been hoping that my daughter, back from Amsterdam for good now (and living with my mother; God help her, ie my daughter), would join me for the new season, but as it turned out I was playing the part of the child, sort of, my hosts/landlords being just about old enough to theoretically be my parents (well, the Laird, at least).

It is always a bit tricky watching a TV programme one wants to concentrate on in the company of people one does not normally watch TV with, and I suspected that my landlady was the kind of person who feels unafraid to do a live commentary during even the tensest of dramas. Actually, she is one of the wittier and more articulate people I know, so her conversation is always a delight, but there are times when one wants a continuo along with the action, and times when one wants to catch all the nuances of Jodie Whittaker’s take on the venerable Time Lord, so I radiated a kind of pained silence, like a sulky teenager, until they got the message. I feel a bit bad about that.

As someone with roots in Lancashire, I was a bit vexed that the Doctor was from The Other County, but you can’t have everything. Wasn’t she good, though? And great to have the show back. Ideal for dark and stormy nights.

This article appears in the 17 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s civil war