The New Statesman editor caught me in the street – but why is he talking about Colin?

Normally when I hear an editor’s approach in public my instinct is to hide. Weirdly, though, this one seems to be complimenting me.

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A nice spring evening, and I am heading towards Regent Street to a posh restaurant where the organiser of a forthcoming literary festival wants to take me to dinner. The festival is going to be held in one of those parts of the world where atheists and writers get hacked to death more often, you feel, than is strictly necessary, and so he’s going to pull out all the stops. Between Broadcasting House and Oxford Street, I hear my name called. It is the editor of the very magazine you are holding in your hands, or mooching for free off the internet if that’s the kind of person you are.

Normally when I hear an editor’s approach in public my instinct is to hide behind the nearest and largest piece of street furniture I can find and stay there until the danger passes. I once had to keep pace beside a double-decker bus in slowly moving traffic for about fifty yards in order to avoid Toby Young, and cursed, not for the first time, the abolishers of the Routemaster bus, because then I would have been able to make my getaway in a more dashing and cinematic fashion. But this magazine’s editor is, how shall I put this, less of a divisive figure than Mr Young, so we fall into step. He tells me that Colin is doing well, to which I murmur a noncommittal noise to suggest that I am pleased for Colin, whoever he is. He then says that Colin is managing to strike the right balance between melancholy and humour, and I am on the verge of saying, “Colin manages all that?” before I realise that he is using the word “column”. I am about to perform the traditional kowtow and abase myself with gratitude, but he disappears into the bowels of Oxford Street Tube station and I am left pondering.

The first thing I ponder is that maybe it really is time for me to get my ears syringed again. The second is that I am becoming almost alarmed at the way life has been organising itself for me recently. That pleasant little coincidence by Regent Street – which wouldn’t have happened had I decided, with more typical idleness, to take the Tube – was a small reminder from the cosmos. Next, my most loyal fan, from Sunderland, sent me £40 in the post, almost as if she knew it was what I needed in order to survive until the end of the month.

And Other Things have been happening. I shall not be specific just yet, but they are squarely in the category of “wildest fantasies fulfilled beyond all reasonable expectation”. So, pace Hunter Davies in last week’s mag, I cannot write a whole year’s Colins in advance and then take to my bed; there has been some very time-specific stuff going on lately, little of which I could have imagined happening.

“Enter your Pin number and push the green button when you’re happy,” said the man at Specsavers when I was paying for my contact lenses (the first I have bought in two years, and a clear indication that I am going to start playing cricket again this summer). “When I’m happy?” I say. “That might take some time.”

But the truth is that, at the moment, I am happy, in a way, which of course makes me worry about Colin’s Down and Out status, though obviously, if we’re talking about money, I am going to be Down and Out for the foreseeable future, or until the Estranged Wife sells the family home, which I don’t think either of us wants to happen. (We get on well these days, to the point where Razors makes jokes about us sitting in a tree, etc, but I assure him that’s not going to happen, and anyway, he’s a fine one to talk, with his girlfriend of some three years and counting now.)

Ho hum. I am very well aware that there is such a thing as the Wheel of Fortune, and one can be top of the world one moment and down in the castle dungeons the next. I am also discovering, in a hurry, that just because wild fantasies have been fulfilled doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. Only the heart that has managed to heal itself, or be healed, can be broken again. And I always remember the couplet by Goethe I learned, without having tried to, at school: “Alles in der Welt läßt sich ertragen,/Nur nicht eine Reihe von schönen Tagen.” “Anything on Earth can be endured,/Except for a row of beautiful days.” I look out the window. The weather is, indeed, beautiful. I feel I’m being called out to play, like the Beatles’ Prudence, after long immiseration and anxiety.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to Prudence. Did she come out to play? Did it all work out for her?

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 12 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The anti-Trump

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