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11 March 2020

Life is complicated enough, so swhy oh swhy have I been afflicted with keyboard trouble?

Whenever I press the hitherto blameless and reliable W key, it comes out as “sw”, and I have to go back and correct it.

By Nicholas Lezard

Things have got especially trying lately. The S key finally popped off my computer keyboard. No matter, I thought to myself as I picked it up off the floor, I knosw swhere the superglue is. So I stuck it back on. The problem is, in doing so – it’s a fiddly job – I slid the S key slightly under the SW key, so that swhenever I press the hitherto blameless and reliable SW key, it comes out as “sw”, and I have to go back and correct it. This adds considerably to the amount of time it takes me to type anything, as I have to remove every unswanted S. I can’t take it off because it’s stuck there. I used superglue, remember? It does swhat it says on the tube.

I have not corrected the first paragraph because a) I want to show you, by impacting directly on your reading experience, how miserable one’s life, both yours and mine, can be made by even the most trivial things, and b) I am late with this column and need to get on with it. I thought, for a while, that I could do a kind of literary Oulipo exercise. If Georges Perec can write a whole novel – in French – without the letter E, then surely I can manage to write a column without the letter W?

Let’s have a go this paragraph. My goodness me, there seems to be a huge number of… thingies… in the English language that contain that letter. There are an amazing number of them that have that letter in its initial place, never mind at some point in the middle. You can’t use any of those… Jesus, there’s got to be another term… discrete units of language separated by spaces from the preceding and later units that are often interrogative. Kipling’s six honest serving men. That’s another fashion of putting it. Look the phrase up if you don’t have the information at your fingertips.

OK, enough of that. I  can’t inflict that kind of writing on you and besides,  that paragraph took me half an hour to write, and my editor is losing patience with me. (By the way, I should also add that the S key only works half the time, the up arrow key is reduced to just a little rubbery nub which at least works if you press it hard enough, but the down arrow key – forget it. I’ve lived without it for a year  or so now.)

“Get a new laptop,” I hear you cry. OK, I cry back, give me some money, I don’t have any. What, you’d rather not?  I can’t say I blame you. But this, I suppose, is what happens when you have a laptop that’s ten years old and you type with all the vigour of someone who learned to do so on a typewriter and still imagines he’s using one.

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It’s funny that it’s happened now, in a way. I have been living the high life, or have been treated in such a way as to make me feel important. It all happened one day. First I was invited by the literary editor of the Chap magazine, because for some reason he thinks I am the bee’s knees, to lunch at a very swanky restaurant just by Tower Bridge. He said he was under strict instructions to get me drunk enough to be indiscreet. 

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As it happens I do not need to have touched a drop of liquor to promulgate the most outrageous stories about anyone, especially if they are about Toby Young, on whom I accumulated a lot of dirt and theories during the Nineties, when he was my editor at the Modern Review. (I’ll give you one for free:  after he once answered the door to me naked except for a pair of Speedos, glistening with sweat or perhaps lightly oiled, and carrying a dumb-bell, I began to wonder if his much self-vaunted heterosexuality is all it is cracked up to be. It’s not as if he didn’t know I was coming round. I’d have put on at least  a dressing gown.)

And then after lunch – and a large post-lunch brandy – I went off to the German embassy, where I had been invited as someone’s plus one to an on-stage interview with John le Carré. I was extremely pleased to attend, as I have finally got round to reading his stuff and am beginning to see what all the fuss is about. I also wanted to pass on the regards of my great friend J—’s mother Margaret, who was  Le Carré’s Miss Moneypenny when he worked in the Circus (as he calls the Secret Service in  his novels). 

Champagne was served, and I had a few glasses, I admit. I didn’t make a fool of myself at the embassy, or no more than usual; the problems began when I executed a plan to get a woman whom I am very keen on impressing on to the guest list. However, she didn’t make it, and a series of texts ended  with her saying “you appear  to be perpetually drunk and have no idea about more serious matters.” And all I can say about that is thank God the keyboard on my phone works fine, otherswise it swould have looked as though there swas some solid basis to her charge. 

This article appears in the 11 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, How the world is closing down