New curtains: the most exciting thing in my life, second only to long-ago public indecency

By some miracle I picked a pair that fit the window space neatly, and have spent weeks admiring the way they work so well. Look, they close! And look! They open! Hours can be spent doing this.

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I look out of the window. It is the middle of August, and the first day’s play at Lord’s has been rained off, and outside, in Brighton, the vapours weep their burthen to the ground. Two days before that I got caught in my shirtsleeves in the second-most violent rainstorm I have ever encountered; the most violent one I was caught in was in London, a couple of days before that. The rain it raineth every day. Those I love most are in the warm South, languishing by pools; I am anguishing by puddles.

So in between getting soaked, I have been staying in bed an awful lot, even more than usual. I can’t take my laptop to bed any more; if it moves, it dies, and it becomes more difficult each time to make it start up again. So I read, mostly, and then nap for a bit. Napping has become much easier these days since I bought curtains. The most exciting thing I have ever done in my life was have sex in a thicket in St James’s Park in daylight on a summer Sunday, but that was a long, long time ago; buying a pair of curtains from Debenhams in Brighton runs it a close second.

OK, it doesn’t really, but for the first few months the only barrier between the bedroom and the light had been a pair of net curtains, which really don’t do the job. But these curtains are thick and dark, and by some miracle I picked a pair which fit the window space neatly, and even though I have had them for a couple of weeks I still admire the way they work so well. Look, they close! And look! They open! Hours can be spent doing this.

The shrewd observer with experience of freelance ways will have worked out the reason behind this time-wasting: there is a looming deadline. And this observer would indeed be on the nail, for I am meant to be sending off to the publishers the typescript for the second selection of this very column. (The first is called Bitter Experience Has Taught Me, and is available from all good landfill sites.)

I’ve gone through the typescript, all 300 pages of it, with a biro in hand, crossing out some of the more obscure topical references and most of the feebler jokes; adding footnotes to let the reader know of subsequent developments.

And now I have to transfer all these amendments to the electronic file. Do I really have to do this? It will take me ages. It is all hugely dispiriting. But it has to be done.

During those crazy dreams one has while having the second nap of the day, I found that it had become a surprise bestseller, and that I had become famous. People stopped me in the street. The young men at the check-out at the Co-op would look at me shyly as they packed my bag at the till and ask, “Excuse me, are you…” And I would, with a becoming smile, sign their proffered slips of paper, pose gamely for their selfies.

This is more of a waking reverie than an actual dream, I must admit, but it helps pass the time and certainly beats working.

And then a strange thing happens: I get a text from my oldest friend, Stephen, the one who packed me off to a house in the mountains outside Los Angeles for five days so that I could write a film script based on Bitter Experience. I did, but when he read through the script and asked me, “But what does Nick learn?” and I answered him with a look that said, “What a stupid question,” he said, “OK, maybe it’ll work better as a sitcom.” So he sent me off with instructions to write a couple of episodes and a page of character descriptions, three years ago – three years during which I have, for reasons of my own, chiefly idleness, done nothing. After a couple of years he asked me if I’d mind if he wrote the damn thing instead, which I suppose was what I’d been wanting him to do all along.

But his text: he says there has been a development which he wants to discuss asap. I wonder what it could be.

I must admit, it sounds encouraging. I had more or less given up all hope. When in Los Angeles, questions such as “Who do you think should play you?” assume greater force and reality than they do in idle conversation in the pub; there is a chance that this could happen, you realise. These people know the people who can make this happen. It makes one feel quite giddy.

Hopelessness isn’t such a bad place to be: you can’t be tormented by visions. I think maybe this is where Dante got it slightly wrong when he wrote “abandon hope” above the gates of Hell. In fact, you go, “All right, do your worst, then, see if I care.”

Although I really don’t want to find out if this is actually the case when you do go to Hell, when, after a life in which you have squandered your talent with little or nothing to show for it, it’s… well, curtains. 

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 21 August 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The great university con