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17 April 2023

My life, and finances, are summed up by my attempts to mash a potato with a fork

It was a uniquely dispiriting moment in a life rich with them, and my suspicion is that I am living under a curse.

By Nicholas Lezard

It occurs to me that it is some time since I mentioned that I am broke. The regular reader of this column will know that it is unnecessary for me to state this, in the way that the powerful, the intelligent or the virtuous do not need to broadcast their power, brains or virtue. Doing so undermines the original assertion. One lets one’s actions do the talking.

Or, in my case, the actions of the inanimate objects around one. Last week it was a fork. I was using it to mash a potato. I do not have a dedicated potato masher: these are bourgeois items which have no other function than mashing, and the only other thing it would be called upon to mash would be my annual swede, purchased for Burns Night. (To make a swede even remotely palatable, the secret is to boil it, mash it with about a third of its volume of butter and a good sprinkling of ground black pepper, put more butter on top, then whack it in the oven. Grate some cheese on top. Or throw some chocolate drops or hundreds and thousands on top, it’s all the same to me, I won’t be eating it. Serve with more butter. Follow me for more recipes.)

Anyway, there I was, starting to mash with my fork. And the fork bent, at the neck, if that is what you call the part where the handle meets the business end. It bent a lot, unable to take the pressure of a man pushing it into some boiled potatoes. “A-ha,” you may think, “so that’s how Uri Geller does it. He uses a really cheap fork and just off-camera has a pan of well-cooked spuds. Simple when you think about it.”

Be that as it may, it was a uniquely dispiriting moment in a life rich with them. I am willing to bet a quid, or slightly more than a third of a pack of Waitrose Essential chipolatas, that none of your forks do this, except maybe the one you use to feed the cat with, and I’m not even sure about that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pussy’s dinner fork was sterling silver and monogrammed with its initial, woke metropolitan elitist that you are. (By the way, if I malign you and you are as broke as I am: buy chipolatas, not full-sized sausages, because they take less time to cook through. Follow me for more money-saving tips.)

[See also: How universal public services can end the cost-of-living crisis]

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The thing is, I am unsure how one goes about getting new forks. My Uri Geller fork was part of a bunch of assorted kitchenware given to me by my friend S— when I moved into the Hove-l, and I’m not going to start howling at her for a better one. One does not look a gift fork in the… tines? Anyway being a bit posh, I like a vintage fork. The last cutlery I bought was a set of six dessert knives from an antique shop located in, if I recall correctly, Pity Me in County Durham, more than two years ago. They were Sheffield-made and under a tenner. I thought I had done pretty well for myself until the end of one snapped off while I was buttering some toast. Are we beginning to see a pattern here? My suspicion is that I am living under a curse: consider the tendency I mentioned, a few weeks ago, of office chairs to sink to the ground when I sit on them.

Still, I mustn’t grumble. A few weeks ago I bit the side of my tongue with such force that I nearly fainted. Never mind, I thought, tongues heal really quickly, but two weeks on it was still awfully painful, and one morning I woke in such pain that I went to the doctor’s, fully convinced that I had given myself Stage 4 tongue cancer, somehow skipping Stages 1-3 altogether.

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Of course, it felt much better in the waiting room – the same principle as the dentist’s doorbell, as Leopold Bloom remarks in Ulysses – but when the doctor announced it was simply an ulcer, in other words nothing more than a glorified zit, I could have wept. A week’s course of antibiotics was still needed to clear it up.

And that’s another thing. Next month, I turn 60, and the big deal about that is free bus travel and free prescriptions. I am looking forward to these a lot. But my asthma medication is running out. I used to get two of these fancy metered inhalers a time – 60 doses per inhaler. Those days are long gone, and I currently get through about one a month. Yet now I have only 13 doses to last me five weeks. I could move back to Scotland, where prescriptions are free, but if Keir Starmer becomes prime minister no doubt he’ll want to put an end to that socialist nanny-state malarkey. I know I’d rather have a Labour government than a Tory one but I mean, really. Follow me for more grumbling.

[See also: Right or left? How we solve the cost-of-living crisis]

This article appears in the 19 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Axis of Autocrats