She’s driven 475 miles to meet me, and quickly gets handy with my vacuum cleaner

The rest of the tidying we shall pass over in horrified silence, except to say only that unloading the empties into the bottle bank took half an hour.

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I write to the sound of a Henry vacuum cleaner being pushed around the living room. Love takes many forms, but now I come to think of it, the spectacle of a woman taking a look around my living quarters, wherever they may happen to be, and deciding, like Edward VIII, that Something Must Be Done, is not an unfamiliar one. I remember A—, who looked at the Hovel with something approaching awe; when, some months into the relationship, she decided to sort out the bookshelves and was still going strong at midnight, I decided that enough was enough (we are still friends). “I’m not doing this for you,” she said. “I just can’t bear it any more.”

This tidying-up operation stings me mildly, as, before the arrival of the Welsh Enchantress, I had spent about eight hours intensively tidying-up two months’ worth of detritus. Living alone in an echoing, barely furnished space gives one the impression that there is no real urgency to the decluttering project; in fact, one feels that one could actually do with a bit more crap about the place, in order to make it look lived in.

The tidying-up was actually horrible. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life. For a start, the washing-up had been largely conducted on a need-to-use basis, and if you know what that is a coy euphemism for, then your vision of the sink at the beginning of Withnail and I is not a million miles from reality. Also bear in mind that there is a lot of coal dust about the place: the resulting footprints look as though… well, the only simile that can do it justice is to say that it looks as though the lino has been stomped on by someone wearing boots whose soles are impregnated with coal dust, which isn’t a simile, because that’s exactly the reality.

The rest of the tidying we shall pass over in horrified silence, except to say only that unloading the empties into the bottle bank took about half an hour. (To be fair, this was about two months’ worth of bottles, and included the empties from a luncheon party the previous weekend, at which there had been 40 guests.)

But I wanted to please this woman; we had corresponded and spoken for long before her arrival, and she seemed of an extremely pleasant and accommodating disposition. Asking if there was anything she could bring from her home in Salisbury, I replied, in a sentence which I doubt has ever been written before in the English or any other language, “Just bring the tea-strainer and the thigh-length boots.” We have been speaking frankly and at length, you see.

There was considerable apprehension on both sides before her arrival. Photographs can be manipulated; expectations and hopes can put a filter on the lens. A 475-mile drive to see me in my new abode bespeaks considerable commitment, which can lead to a sense of obligation, not necessarily a good thing in this kind of situation. Also, I had been agonising somewhat over the ethics of a romance with a subscriber to the New Statesman. If it all goes wrong, does she get a free subscription or something?

So when an extremely attractive blonde woman drove into the Alyth market square in a black Audi TT and a pair of L.K.Bennetts, I was considerably relieved; and so was she. (L.K.Bennetts may not be the most appropriate footwear for rural Scotland but they don’t half make an impression when you step out of a sports car.)

I am pleased to report that everything has been going swimmingly. The life of a writer is, to her, an unfathomable mystery; as, to me, is the life of someone doing her best to survive in a massive bureaucracy. I can’t say I disbelieve her when she says she gets around 600 emails a day to do with work, because the look on her face, and the sound of her voice, tells me she is not exaggerating. (Oh, and the voice. Welsh, from the south, less guttural than, say, Cerys Matthews’s, another beauty from Wales; but I could listen to it all night, and on one occasion, did. Seriously, until the dawn.) She is smart as a whip. And last night we sang along to every word of Rubber Soul. That’s a deal-sealer.

And so now begins the odd business of accommodating oneself into another’s life. I have been allowed to run wild, as it were, not only over the last 11 years, but particularly over the last two, and one becomes, in one’s habits, how shall I put this…? Personalised. Or as if a team of social scientists had decided to see what would happen if a man had been allowed to live free of all external restraints. It did not take her long to realise that I am deeply eccentric, albeit with certain redeeming qualities, which I might blush to list here. I am reminded of the old conundrum: (a) good sense of humour (b) good in bed (c) lots of money. Pick two. But so far this is great.

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 first appeared in the 08 August 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The rise and fall of Islamic State