As Nexit approaches, I consider the parallels between me and my battered laptop

The ThinkPads operating in space have it easy compared to the ones I have owned.

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After a couple of weeks of suffering the same, and thinking it would be best not to, I eventually decide to google “lower back pain”. This may be have been a mistake. I know only one non-hypochondriacal googler of medical symptoms, and as an acute thinker she is good at picking out the relevant from the hair-raising. I am worried about kidney disease, as this is what polished off my father, and two cats. And while I do not eat nearly as much dry cat food as I used to, my father’s lifestyle was not a million miles away from my own, and let’s not forget heredity.

I go to one website and read the following: “Over the age of 55, about one in 20 cases turns out to be a fracture, and one in a hundred is more ominous. The further you are from 55, the better your odds.” I think they could have phrased that last sentence a bit better. I am exactly 55, for another month, so this means, if I’m following their reasoning correctly, that my odds are as bad as they can possibly be.

I’m fairly sure they don’t mean this but it makes me wonder if a large number of freak-outs by people checking their symptoms are down to wonky grammar. I know I can at least rule out pregnancy. 

The problem is how unwell so many of my friends are, and almost all of them lead far healthier lives than I do. They’re mostly about my age and it would appear that this is the kind of age when things start to unravel. One friend, though, many years younger than me and quite clean-living, has somehow contrived to get pneumonia. How I’ve never caught it I don’t quite understand. How I didn’t catch it in Scotland, in an unheated house in wintertime, is a complete mystery.

I think I should stop complaining about my lower back pain. I have too many friends who are in actual hospital, or obliged to go there for regular visits, for me to start clogging up the NHS. I checked my pee and there has been no change, so that can rule out kidney stones, which I gather are incredibly painful; my pain is nothing more than a dull ache that sometimes goes away for a bit. I plan on fogging the mirror for a while yet. What I am suffering is nothing more than the usual wear and tear.

A bit like my laptop, I suppose. The S key doesn’t work half the time, and it has been joined in this sullen disobedience by its neighbours, the D and X keys, suggesting that there is a build-up of matter beneath the keyboard. The down arrow key has joined the choir invisible; the DVD player doesn’t work any more but it still pops open without warning every so often; the battery lasts for about 15 minutes, and the socket you plug the power jack into has a loose connection, which means the jack has to be propped up with something – a penknife, a battery, a harmonica, that kind of thickness. The whole keyboard is pitted with the scars of the embers from I dread to think how many roll-ups.

 But the thing still works, damn it, and I refuse to abandon such a loyal machine. I wonder how long I’ve had it. Eight years? Nine? Something like that. It is a ThinkPad T410, and the point about ThinkPads is that while they weigh a tonne, they take an awful lot of punishment, and can often be fixed by being whacked. I know: I’ve done it. They are used on the International Space Station, and were on the Space Shuttle, even though the cost of putting them into orbit is enormous, compared to lighter machines.

My great friend Toby realised early on that I needed a robust machine. When handing it on to me he said that while the ThinkPads going on the Shuttle or hurtling around the planet have to worry about the possibility of a fiery immolation on take-off – or a strike from a meteor or some space crap when in orbit – they have it easy compared to the ThinkPads I have owned.

 Well, at least this one won’t have to worry about the journey to and from Scotland for much longer. Nexit, as I called it, in an effort to inject some humour into the situation, happens on 2 May, and then the whole sorry business of trying to find somewhere to live starts again.

This is a worry considerably more aggravating than mild lower back pain, especially considering my earnings, which rule out living in London unless it is an act of charity or cat-sitting. I was looking forward to staying in Shepherd’s Bush, as my friend L— was going on some travels, but she has recently broken her arm, horribly, and is in no position to go on these travels (they were, I gather, the strenuous kind).

She tripped over her own front doorstep, but as she is not a heavy drinker I don’t see how this can have happened. Oh God, it’s the same old story: the good suffer, and the wicked – me – thrive. If we use the word “thrive” in its loosest sense. 

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 18 April 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special