It was my birthday last week, and so the clock hand judders forward another year closer to my eternal rest. And yet I find myself in chipper mood, despite being vagrant and broke as ever. I might be out of Brighton in a week; or it might be a matter of months. Who cares? Medulla oblongata, as they sing in The Lion King.
I have three recurring dreams: in one, I am returning to university, but this time they are going to make me work, and I have only one term in which to do it; another has me visiting the Estranged Wife in the family home, which has since been mightily enlarged, with about four extra bedrooms, a vastly expanded study area, and, in one particularly harrowing version, an amusement park in the back garden; and in the third, my mother is doing something to enrage me.
I’ve had these three dreams lately, with these differences: that the university authorities are quite happy for me to loaf around the place as long as I like, without doing a stroke; that the family home is exactly the size it ought to be; and my mother behaved in a perfectly civilised manner. That one was particularly weird, and I woke up wondering whether I was coming down with a fever.
But no: I am for some mysterious reason in good spirits. Maybe it is the weather. I went down to London to see a friend and my daughter, and her Sort of Boyfriend. My friend and I had a craving for truffles, but the restaurant she’d booked online looked ghastly and the menus were laminated. The matter was settled for us when a middle-aged couple, who looked as though they’d come specially to London for their dinner, told us, as we were peering at the menu in an unconvinced fashion, that the food wasn’t very good at all, the service was indifferent and the prices – oh, the prices.
So I rang up John-Paul, manager of the Casa Becci, my favourite restaurant on earth, and I asked him if he did a pasta dish with truffles in it, and he said of course he did, there’ll be a table for you at half nine. (I have mentioned the Casa Becci before. It is on Paddington Street, London W1, and is a family-run restaurant with several good signature dishes, one of which, I can now confidently report, is linguine with sliced black truffles.) So the four of us went there, and we sat in the smoking area until midnight chewing the fat, and daughter and Sort of Boyfriend departed, and when I went to pay the bill it turned out that my Sort of Son-in-Law had already paid it.
I suppose maybe my mood has something to do with staying close to my children, or seeing more of them than I did when in Scotland. (And having a whopping restaurant bill delivered from one’s hands.) I went to The Battle of Trafalgar again, to see my youngest son, his girlfriend and their best pal, Barney. I fall into that very tiny demographic, Fathers Whose Children Are Not Ashamed To Be Seen With. The youngest has been telling his university chums my stories, and even gone so far as to show them some of these columns, and they have found themselves deeply impressed.
Can I just say how nice it is to have a local again? Scotland does many things very well, but not the pub. With few exceptions – and those mostly in the big cities – the Scottish pub makes, from the outside, the kind of architectural statement that goes “fighting catered for inside”; it is some way away from the cosy, wisteria-bedecked pub you get in the English countryside.
I was also in a good mood because my eldest son has made another short film as part of his university course, and I watched it, and it was hilarious. I think his tutors want him to make Bergmanesque investigations into the futility of life and the darkness of the human soul, but I think there is something in the Lezard make-up that demands to see the funny side, even if it means being marked down in one’s finals.
Anyway, there I was in corner of the Trafalgar. My youngest son had just floored me with the revelation that in the days when I smoked a pipe – long story – he thought that my doing so was really cool. At first I didn’t believe him, and looked searchingly into his eyes for traces of sarcasm, but he swore he meant it. I asked his friends what their favourite story of mine was and they agreed it was the one about being caught with a huge bag of weed at Luton Airport at the start of a family holiday.
And then my phone went: it was Maggie from the Mascara Bar, who had asked me if I could think of anyone to do a gig there under the aegis of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. I had an inspiration and said: “how about me?” So, if you’re in Stamford Hill on 8 June at 8pm, drop in. I don’t think I’ll tell the weed story, though. That’s for family only.
This article appears in the 29 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Theresa May’s toxic legacy