To any young men embarking on love: beware what you can do, by doing nothing at all

And, on top of everything, my local is finally closing.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

I hope you had a lovely Easter. Mine, at the time of writing, has not started yet, and instead, this Thursday, I begin Day Five of the Lurg, which has kept me nailed to the bed, as the French say, and incapable of the slightest movement beyond staggering down to the kitchen to make tea, and then staggering back up the stairs to drink it.

On Sunday I managed to wake up just in time to pull on a pair of trousers and make it, sweaty and unshaven, to Majestic before it shut, but that was a fraught exercise, and if I tell you that since then I have drunk only one of the six bottles I bought, you will begin to see just how ill I am.

Yes, the Majestic Wine Warehouse down the road has reopened again, on time. And very unnecessarily pretty it looks, too, as if it’s trying to bury the “Warehouse” part of its name. “Don’t like it,” I felt like saying, like Matt Lucas’s wheelchair-bound Andy in Little Britain.

Then again (like George Orwell), being conservative in everything but politics, I didn’t like it when Majestic changed the typeface on its labels. And when I was served by a person who’d been drafted in from another branch, it was all I could do not to snap, like one of the more horrible kinds of old people you can get, “You’re not one of the usual people. I want one of the usual people.” It’s when you open the can of your own soul and see a writhing heap of maggots like that, that you begin to question the point of your own existence.

Well, that’s what you do when you’re lying in bed for days with nothing to do but read, and fret. The first days weren’t so bad: you feel utterly spaced out, man, as if on drugs, and sleep for about 19 hours a day; and the dreams are vivid, epic and relatively coherent. In one, my friend R—, who is a flight lieutenant in the RAF, persuaded me to smuggle a key past security in Dubai; the key happened to be for a nuclear warhead. I demurred, having little faith in: a) my own abilities, b) the legality of the enterprise and c) the pleasantness of Dubai’s prison cells, but R— explained that it was for a friend’s toddler, who liked playing with such keys, and he smiled so pleasantly as he said this that I agreed. It was one of the few times in my life I was pleased to wake up.

It’s funny, though, how sometimes you don’t have to do anything for things to happen. About a month ago I had what I suppose, in retrospect, was a dress rehearsal for the Lurg. I woke up at about four o’clock, groggily made some kind of dyspeptic comment on a social medium, and then staggered off to make some tea and have a shower.

It took half an hour or so to carry out these activities and I found, when I returned to my bedroom, that there were three texts waiting for me, all from the woman recently referred to in this column as the Woman I Loved.

The first went “We’re in the pub!” – an unspecified pub, but it became clear from the context, as I read through, that she was referring to my local.

The second read, “We’re leaving now”, and the third, “I can’t believe you were ever anything real to me”.

Later, I found she had unfriended me on a social medium. It is not the first nor, indeed, the last time that a woman has decided that I have feigned illness, or not feigned it, in order to inconvenience them. Any young men reading this column and embarking on the fragile, leaky boat that will end up constituting their love life would do well to bear this in mind. Not that there is anything they’ll be able to do about it, except recognise the signs a bit earlier and more clearly, so that they can fit in a few more verses of “Nearer My God to Thee” before the waves close over them.

And, talking of inundation, I learn that the aforementioned local really is about to close. There are two more months at the most before it goes down with all hands. A pub that’s packed out every day; that has been there since 1850; that people travel from far and wide to visit, especially in the summer months, when its benches overflow. All to be turned into flats, so that oligarchs and property developers can park their money while sunning themselves in the Antibes.

The Guvnor of blessed memory may no longer preside there, but his ex-wife does. Tired after struggling with long illness, and faced with a sum of money it would be hard to refuse, she has accepted an offer. I can’t blame her. But that’s it: 166 years of history. I’m going back to bed. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 31 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The terror trail