In the morning, she goes off to work. I play with her cat and prepare devilled kidneys

Gentle reader with a roof over your head: do not take the existence of a bed of which you have the use for granted.


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It’s the little things going wrong that can do the most damage when you’re homeless. Top of the Worry List right now is the left arm of my glasses. The hinge went the other day and the arm now dangles limply. It is, I fear, only a matter of time before it drops off altogether. I went to the opticians in the O2 Centre on the Finchley Road and they wouldn’t touch it. “Hand me the screwdriver,” I said, and performed some surgery, which gave some temporary respite, but now we are back to the status quo ante.

In the old days, when I had a home, I would have gone to the local branch of the famous optician chain with the amusing adverts and they’d have fixed me up in a jiffy. But right now, with funds tightening at the end of the month, I can’t just swan into the place and get a spare pair. At time of writing, I have 12 days before I can even think of doing so, and I’m not even sure these specs are going to last to the end of this column.

Do not fear for me, though. I am at the moment lodged in Olympia, in an extremely bijou ground-floor flat. Let me put it this way: I think the sugar bowl earns more than I do. (I am in a coffee-drinker’s apartment, hence my familiarity with the sugar bowl. Coffee, as they say, should be black as hell, as strong as death and as sweet as love.) I have certainly been seeing all sorts of places lately.

For some reason, all the people who have been putting me up for the past few months have been women. Can that be right? There must have been at least one bloke who’s done the decent thing. If there has, and I’ve forgotten him, and he’s reading this, please accept my apologies. In my defence, this is not a period of my life I will want to remember very much. “I hope you’re taking notes,” said L— in Shepherd’s Bush a couple of weeks ago. “I don’t want to,” I said, and she nodded in understanding. She had also raised a concerned eyebrow at my alcohol intake and the effect it might be having on my health, but I had said that my circumstances had prompted a certain short-termism in my outlook. Again, she sympathised.

As it is, I have found myself drinking not quite so much lately. Don’t worry, I’m still well in excess of government guidelines, but not as much in excess of them as I was. One of the side effects of being of no fixed abode is a continuous tiredness, and when you spend as much of your time in the British Library as I have been lately, you don’t want to be tired. As I have written here before, it is all too easy to pass out in the Reading Rooms, and if you snore this is frowned upon. I eye the long, padded benches by the lifts and sometimes see a young student stretched out on them. For some reason it’s OK for a young person to snatch 40 winks on a public bench, but I suspect that if I tried the same thing I’d be hauled off to the local nick.

The past couple of days have been spent revelling in the use of a bed all day long. Gentle reader with a roof over your head: do not take the existence of a bed of which you have the use for granted. And here’s another thing about my hostesses: three of them have let me use their bed. Two of them have decamped to the couch, although as they explained to me this was not so much out of self-sacrifice but because they really liked their couches, what with them being handy for the telly.

The third of them, though, likes to have me in her bed while she is in it at the same time, and that is a most welcome development. Then she goes off to work, and I play with her cat, and prepare dinner. Yesterday was devilled kidneys and mushrooms. Have you any idea how hard it is to find kidneys in W14, if you have been foolish enough to look for a butcher’s instead of going to the Waitrose at the end of Kensington High Street first? It’s not hard to find them – it’s impossible.

It did feel odd going into a Waitrose again. It’s been four months since the last time and I was beginning to wonder if they’d let me in. I’d had a haircut a few days before so I wasn’t looking completely mad, but the glasses hanging askew on my face told another story. 

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 26 January 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How women took power

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