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30 January 2019

I have washed my trousers – and the MacHovel now looks like a human uses it, rather than a bear

I should point out that doing the laundry here is no joke. In fact, everything is no joke here. Using the bathroom especially.

By Nicholas Lezard

It has been a week of high drama up here. First, there was the lunar eclipse. Did you see it? I had a splendid view. The earth’s shadow crept over its face, and the extraordinary thing is that the moon was darkening from the wrong side. When you live in the deep countryside and don’t watch all that much telly you learn to follow the moon’s behaviour without even trying. So watching something absolutely crazy happening to it can be almost unhinging. It was freezing cold outside but watching the moon darkening was like watching the minute hand of an enormous clock: you could see time. Also, this being something like 4am, I was not exactly sober, and this often makes me think things like “you could see time, man”.

This got me all excited and, in the end, I didn’t go to bed until 6am. My old friend Nick – from whom I had not heard in ages – had sent me a bottle of Lagavulin that I had been intending to save for Burns Night, but I’m afraid I put quite a bit of a dent in it. This meant that Monday was a complete write-off and I found that once again I had completely screwed up my body clock. (I gather that some goody-goodies went to bed early and set their alarms to get up for the eclipse; that’s not really the way I operate.) Maybe it screwed up other things too: I found myself unable to drink more than a homeopathic amount of wine and spent pretty much 24 hours in bed. The thought of going down to a freezing living room and waiting three hours for it to warm up did not appeal. Also, at some point the curtain came down and I didn’t fancy putting it up again. It would have involved standing on a chair and I don’t do that any more.

I must say I recommend staying in bed for enormously long stretches. A reader of this column, a Mr Tom Birch, who is pretty much my ideal reader, said on a social medium that by failing to read the rest of the magazine before the next issue came out, he’d hit upon a very expensive way of finding out if I had got out of bed this week. Well, Mr Birch, after Sunday night/Monday morning’s shenanigans, it was touch and go.

But in the end I had to. I needed food and tobacco and, unlike the good people of Dundee Majestic Wine warehouse, no one was going to deliver them to me. Also, I had begun to weary of the empty bottles that were spreading across the kitchen and out through the back door. That’s two months’ of empties. Taken with a laissez-faire approach to cleaning, the kitchen as a whole was beginning to look like a Tracey Emin installation. (I try to avoid the kitchen in the MacHovel, largely because it is as cold as Pluto.)

But somehow, I managed it. Sixty-four empty bottles is quite a lot; I was worried the pickup’s rear axle would snap like a breadstick, and I had to clear a whole morning for the task. The kitchen now looks as though a human uses it rather than a bear, and I even managed to wash the trousers I’d been wearing when I fell over in the silage heap trying to get a phone signal.

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If you think that doesn’t sound like much of an achievement, I should point out that doing the laundry in the MacHovel is no joke. First, you have to get the extension lead because there isn’t a socket in the utility room the washing machine is in. Then you have to find out the washing machine doesn’t work. Then you have to plug the kettle into the extension lead to see if it is that, rather than the washing machine, which is at fault. Then you have to put your laundry in a bin liner and walk 275m to the Big House and ask if you can do your laundry there. Then you have to walk back, three hours later – by which time it is pitch black because the moon hasn’t yet risen – and back again with damp laundry that will take two days to dry, if it dries at all.

In fact, everything is no joke here. Using the bathroom is especially no joke. The only heating is a towel rail that consumes electricity but doesn’t actually warm up. The radiators downstairs sometimes reach a temperature that in a human would not quite be high enough to get the day off work, but is at least something.

To repeat my exercise from three weeks ago, hands up those of you who have unheated bathrooms… And who live 50km south of the town that regularly boasts of being the United Kingdom’s coldest place… (Braemar, since you ask.) And whose windows face north…

It occurred to me the other day that when I am having a crap I am probably the coldest person in the country who is also indoors, and I have discovered the freezing temperature of toothpaste. Well, as my mother always says, there are various ways of achieving distinction. 

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This article appears in the 30 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Epic fail