The night a man sidled up to me in the dark and asked: “Do you want a pizza?”

If you do not hear from me again, it is because I have, after all, been poisoned.

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I was walking down the road at about 11.30pm last night when I was given an enormous pizza. What was I doing out so late, you may well ask. Whatever you like to imagine, if it helps. A drug deal gone wrong, say, for dramatic effect.

I got into a Twitter fight with Peter Hitchens a few days ago that is still, as I write, rumbling on. This is about a review I wrote of his rotten book on drugs FIVE YEARS AGO. (Almost. In October 2012, to be precise. He is a stickler for the facts, when they suit him, and was particularly aggrieved when I mistook the Daily Mail for the Mail on Sunday, and has used this confusion as one of the load-bearing planks in the scaffold from which he plans to hang me.)

For reasons only he will be able to explain, he picked out something I said in this column and started calling me “Mr Lysergic Acid”. Desperate to stop being the grown-up in this exchange, an experience I found bizarre, unsettling, not to mention unprecedented, I said: “That’s Mr Lysergic Acid Diethylamide to you, if you please.”

But it has not abated his indignation. Everything I say seems to inflame it. I suppose now is not the time to say that I have not taken that drug for more than 20 years now, and the last time I did, I was so helpful, so considerate a father, house-husband and lover that my wife asked me, after a few days, whether I had been on drugs. I said no, how dare you, but with a twinkle in my eye. But that’s another story for another day.

Anyway, I have learned one thing: never get into an argument with the humourless. One should, indeed, pity them; or even marvel: they are like those people you hear of who are born without a brain, merely a thin layer of brain cells wallpapering the inside of the cranium, yet who, with some help and care, manage to live reasonably normal lives, and sometimes even get invited to appear on Question Time. On the panel. You may expect, and I will put money on this, a letter from Hitchens Minor to arrive in time for the next New Statesman correspondence page. Sorry. I have drifted off the point.

As I was saying, I was walking down the street at about 11.30pm, and someone gave me a pizza. It was from the new quasi-artisanal pizza emporium that opened a couple of years ago, and was mahoosive. If you had put the box on top of a 1960s Mini Cooper, it would have overhung the edges. The man carrying it had come up to me in the dark and said: “Do you want a pizza?”

I first explained that I had not actually asked for a pizza, and although I have not asked for a pizza to be delivered for even longer than I have not taken LSD, I assumed the form was that they delivered to one’s door. One does not say, for example: “I will meet you on the corner of Junkie Street at 11.30pm. The code word is ‘pepperoni’.” He explained that it was a pizza that was, and I paraphrase here, no longer fit for purpose, a couple of slices having been consumed, for form’s sake, and now being touted around the streets in search of a good home, and someone who might fancy a spot of pizza.

Being a Londoner, and not as daft as I look, I asked: “What’s the catch?” They might have put Rohypnol or something on it, you see, and then, once I had passed out after eating the pizza, had their wicked way with me. These things happen.

He assured me this was not the case, and although I had already dined – on a nice smorgasbord of methamphetamine, crack and mescaline, all of which can take the edge off one’s appetite – I accepted the pizza (for who does not like a pizza?) and took it back to the Hovel, which was only a short distance away.

I bore it with some sadness, though. The last time I had eaten the wares from this chain it had been when I was going out with A—, who pronounced the pizza serviceable but overpriced, and with ideas above its station. She had a dirty pizza habit, in that she actually preferred pizze from the bottom end of the gastronomic edifice, such as the ones you get in the freezer cabinets of corner shops, which Italians would not even give to their dogs. A remarkable woman. As I said a couple of weeks ago, with a full memory, everything reminds you of something else.

Well, the pizza is heating up in the oven now for my lunch. If you do not hear from me again, it is because I have, after all, been poisoned. Which I suppose is Peter Hitchens’s cunning plan. 

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 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue

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