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13 June 2017

My friend Razors is in town and I’m upset by his appearance – he hasn’t changed

Men who take on wives two decades younger than themselves are meant to be looking a little ragged.

By Nicholas Lezard

Bzzzzt! It’s the doorbell, making its hell noise, a sound accompanying, in films, the maximum pain inflictable on a subject being tortured. I open an eyelid. Noon. Who could it be? I don’t care. I shut my eye. The phone rings. “Razors”, the display says. Ah. Razors.

My old comrade has returned, temporarily, from New York, where he has been carving out a new life for himself as a TV mogul and second-time-around father. I notice that he has been posting photographs of his latest child on a social medium and I think, “How have the mighty fallen.” Still, he is here, and I am fond of the fellow (the word I would rather use isn’t “fellow”, but rhymes with “tucker”), so I tell him that I’m completely nude but will be down when I’ve addressed this issue.

When I open the door, I am dismayed by his appearance. He appears unchanged. Men who take on wives two decades younger than themselves, and children five decades younger, are meant to be looking a little ragged. I suppose Razors cheated by going bald in his thirties, but still.

Anyway, as it happens, we spend some time musing over the changes that have come over London since the last time he was here, a couple of years ago. He complains bitterly about the way our local greasy spoon has now changed hands and has become a place where you smoke shishas and eat hummus, which would be absolutely fine if it weren’t that that’s also pretty much all you can do at the restaurants on either side of it.

“Before that, I went for a walk around Soho, and it wasn’t there any more.”

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Yes, this is true, I say. Razors then asks after the Winchester. This was our name for the Duke, our much-loved local. Named after the Winchester in Minder, not the one in Shaun of the Dead (which, anyway, was named in homage to the one in Minder). I explain that it has been bought by a company called [name redacted; ask me for details] and put on the market for a ridiculous sum no one will pay. After a year – and we’re coming up to that now – the firm would never say to Westminster City Council, would it: “No one’s buying our lovely pub. Boo hoo! Can we turn it into luxury flats?” And the relevant councillor, perhaps softened by a very pleasant lunch, wouldn’t say, “Oh, all right, then.”

Razors asks after me. I start with my teeth, and my gums. He goes pale. “You want to look after your teeth, mate. You know the blood supply to your gums is connected straight to your heart? If you get an infection there and it gets really bad, that’s it. That’s how my uncle died.”

At that exact moment, I experience a terrible, crushing sensation in my chest and I double over. This is accompanied by a huge feeling of panic. Is it a panic attack, or a heart attack? It could be either. I certainly am not feeling very clever (as the characters used to say in Minder).

“Tell you what, let me buy you a pint. The missus and her parents are going up the London Eye and then going to Harrods. I’ve been up the Eye eight times, and Harrods is . . .” and he pauses to find the mot juste, “. . . horrible.”

I don’t feel like a pint. So I suggest we go to Casa Becci for a light lunch and maybe a bottle of something refreshing. We sit outside, because it’s sunny. I’ve mentioned this place before: my favourite restaurant on Earth, because it’s a family restaurant that has welcomed me into its family. I have already written about its calamari, which I consider the finest I have ever eaten. However, I have had the calamari the last 19 times I’ve been there.

I am feeling peaky, so feel like only a starter, and maybe some white wine, which, as everyone knows, isn’t even an alcoholic drink. Razors looks at me funnily. “All right, red.” He chooses a Montepulciano. He is paying, of course. I order the whitebait, even though I barely feel like picking at it.

Over the course of our meal, I tell him about the rest of my problems. I am alarmed to note that he doesn’t even laugh, let alone take the mickey. The last time he didn’t laugh or take the mickey it was because the Hovel had had a power cut, and he went all quiet, like a parrot with a blanket over its cage.

The whitebait arrives. I take a mouthful. It’s a marvel. It is, without question, the finest I have ever eaten. And I have eaten many whitebait. So crunchy on the outside, so delicately fishy on the inside. I eat my whitebait up and drink my wine, in the sun. 

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This article appears in the 07 Jun 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Election special