(Excerpts from a Journal by Michael Savage that forms a sort of literary sequel to the novel CHANGING WORLDS)
Copyright © 2011 John O'Loughlin
1. Friday 17th September
2. Saturday 18th September
3. Saturday Evening
4. Sunday 19th September
5. Sunday Evening
6. Monday 20th September
7. Monday Evening
8. Tuesday 21st September
9. Tuesday Evening
10. Monday 27th September
11. Tuesday 28th September
12. Wednesday 29th September
13. Late Wednesday Evening
14. Thursday 30th September
15. Friday 1st October
FRIDAY 17th SEPTEMBER
It has just gone and I am sitting in my armchair, casually contemplating the thin strands of tobacco smoke which rise, halo-like, from my half-consumed cigarette. My throat is sore because of the smoke and my lungs feel as though they were on fire, but I can't pretend that these little physical inconveniences particularly bother me. After all, one has to suffer something. In fact, I have only recently started smoking again, so there is plenty of time for me to get used to the idea. When I'm on the verge of bronchitis I will probably give it up and make a fresh resolution, like the one I made at the beginning of the year, in order to safeguard my health anew. I have rarely smoked more than ten cigarettes a day anyway, which is probably just as well, considering how depressed it makes me feel afterwards. Besides, smoking only appeals to me occasionally, as a supplement to food or drink. I could never be a chain-smoker.
God, these cigarettes are ghastly! They burn down far too quickly. No sooner have you begun inhaling them than the wretched things disappear in a cloud of smoke and fire of creeping ash! You wonder why you bothered in the first place. Actually now I come to think of it, they are virtually the cheapest brand available, so I guess that was the guiding factor in my buying them. But I couldn't really afford to buy any dearer brand at present because, being a poverty-stricken writer with a limited income, I simply don't have the money to spare on luxuries.
These cigarettes are marked MIDDLE TAR, though it wouldn't really bother me if they were something worse. I guess I'm secretly indulging in a form of self-punishment as well. At the beginning of the year I made what I now perceive to have been a foolish New Year's resolution. I said to myself: "You've been smoking like a chimney for well over six months (a slight exaggeration on both counts, but never mind), your health isn't very good anyway, and you're bored with cigarettes and dying for a change. Make this year somehow different!" So I stopped buying cigarettes and started buying confectionery instead. For a while I felt like a saint or, at any rate, like someone saved. Then to consolidate my change of heart with a change of health, I began doing press-ups, no more than twenty at a time, because my arms weren't strong enough to support me initially, but just enough to make it worthwhile, to mark a beginning.
Well, that resolution lasted about three months and almost killed me. In retrospect it surprises me that I could have persevered so persistently, taken it all so seriously, considering that I didn't really feel much better afterwards. But, strangely, it never once occurred to me to think objectively about what I was doing; I just acted. When I staggered out of bed in the morning the first thing I did was attend to the press-ups. I acted like a robot. And before I climbed back into bed last thing at night it would be the same thing: more damn press-ups. It must have been like somebody saying his prayers and paying his worldly dues at the same time. Yes, but at least I might have profited a little from these exertions; for it seemed to me that every attempt I made at becoming stronger only succeeded, eventually, in making me weaker, in removing my ability to extend the number of press-ups. By the time I got to the twentieth one I was a physical wreck. My nerves twitched as though they had just received an electric shock, my tongue shot out backwards and forwards like a jack-in-the-box, my breathing became hoarse, and my arms felt like putty. They became noticeably weaker for all the exercise I gave them!
Well, so much for all that! These days I am back to smoking again. Indeed, I might even be fatuous or outrageous enough to regard it as a form of slow suicide, a sort of long-term investment policy with death. It doesn't feel very much like pleasure, anyway. There is nothing particularly sensational about it - not, that is, unless you are prepared to regard a pair of constricted lungs as something of a sensation. But I would be deluded, all the same, to assume that my life could be done away with so easily. It might take another thirty to forty years, during which time I would probably continue to drift in and out of tobacconists with the residue of an insane resolution in my head: to do away with myself at any cost! No, I don't really feel I possess that amount of patience or resolve, least of all at the moment. It certainly takes a lot to kill a man. If we could all be disposed of that easily, there wouldn't be many of us left here now. In relation to life we are as stubborn as mules - absolutely fanatic! It would definitely take more than a few thousand cheap cigarettes to finish me off, money or no money. So there is evidently little consolation to be had there!
This ashtray amuses me. Indeed, I don't think it was actually intended as an ashtray at all, since it is too pretty. In actual fact, it is an Italian souvenir marked À PAVO, evidently its place of origin. I don't even remember where I got it, but somebody must have made me a present of it some years ago, because it's not the kind of thing I would buy myself. I absolutely detest its formality!
To begin with, it is a piece of oblong plastic measuring some 6" x 4". The edges are curved slightly upwards, no more than half-an-inch (as might be expected from an ashtray or tiny fruit bowl), and the interior, if such it can be called, contains the reproduction of a colourful painting which depicts five medieval knights who are seemingly paying court to someone in front of and slightly above their gazes, though to whom, exactly, I haven't a clue because he/she doesn't form part of the picture - at least not as it stands here. Perhaps the title of the original painting would enlighten me on this score? But I don't possess an encyclopaedia of Italian art and really don't wish to put myself to the trouble of finding out. I mean, there isn't actually all that much to get excited about when you think of it, is there? These five gentlemen are evidently the cynosure of the work. However, if by some miracle they knew that someone was using them for an ashtray they probably wouldn't look so proud of themselves. They would more than likely take offence and unsheathe their swords specifically with a view to reigning blows and imprecations upon the offender. Indeed, they might even get hostile with the manufacturer for putting them on a souvenir which could be used for such base purposes.
But all this speculation is obviously of small account. I don't even know whether or not they were originally painted from real life, though they look plausible enough anyway. What particularly amuses me, however, is that the fellow at the rear of the group - a man, incidentally, who looks somehow wiser and more experienced in courtly protocol than his companions - is staring rather higher than the others, much as though he were at a private audition, while the third one from the front, a rather effeminate-looking character in headgear, is wearing a sort of peeved expression on his face which stares directly at the painter, or where one imagines the painter should be, instead of straight ahead of himself like all the others. You get the impression that he considers himself a cut above the rest and that the tedium of having his portrait painted is gradually becoming too much of a strain, in consequence of which he would like the painter to damn-well hurry up and finish the job as quickly as possible. Well, that may or may not be the actual case, but it is essentially to him, and in part to a more manly-looking fellow to his left, that I owe the privilege of a few irreverent diversions.
In mentioning all this, I took the precaution of wiping away the accumulated ash of an evening's bum smoking from them. But now that I have lit myself another cigarette and am consequently obliged to deposit fresh ash somewhere, I am gratifying my sadistic impulses by carefully depositing some of it on the effeminate one's face, rather like those fiendish little delinquents who take a perverse pleasure in effacing the more salient contents of billboards, public notices, and anything else suitably vulnerable to derogatory amendment. What surprises me, however, is that I actually experience a sense of fulfilment from crowning his little naked and vaguely arrogant chin with a bustling outgrowth of beard-like ash. It is almost as though I had actually achieved something by so altering his demeanour. Why, with this funny little beard, he could almost pass for Ezra Pound, even with those doleful eyes! At least you would never take him for a woman now - not, that is, unless you noticed his bright red tunic.
As for the sharp-nosed fellow nearest to the painter, who appears to be kneeling on the ground and resting his hand on the arm of the chair or couch upon which the foremost of his four companions is seated, it's not so much his face that concerns me as the overly centrifugal nature of his striped dress which, reaching to the ground, suggests a strongly autocratic disposition. With two swift dabs I'm able to obliterate it and lend him a more knightly appearance which, however ragged the ensuing armour, seems to do his sheathed sword slightly more justice.
Aggravated by the childishness of it all, I stub-out the remains of my cigarette on the front one's neck and disgustedly push the 'ashtray' to one side. It has ceased to amuse me. In fact, it might be better employed, in future, as a soap dish, so that I can obliterate its courtly contents in a cleaner and less hazardous fashion. From now on I'm going to do something more constructive with my time!
At the moment, it is raining heavily. I can hear rainwater spurting down the drain outside my french windows. There are also regular dull thuds against the panes, though I can't see anything because the curtains are drawn. Nevertheless it reassures me to hear such sounds. I am reminded that there are other things than people in the world. On these wet days I like to think that people are too diverted by the weather to have much interest in anything else, least of all in individuals like me. Its inclemency acts as a kind of shelter against humanity, a refuge for sick and outcast souls. Things become more subdued, the streets appear to withdraw into themselves as though in a silent conspiracy against nature. They remind me somehow of a dog that doesn't want to be washed.
Now this torrential rain will certainly make the ground easier to dig next week. I was beginning to despair at the prospect of how much additional back-breaking labour I might be in for, by digging over the back garden on the landlord's behalf. Admittedly, I only managed to do about half-an-hour's digging there each day last week, but that was quite enough! At times it seemed as though the fork would break from all the pressure I was obliged to put it under, in view of the stony nature of the ground. After this, I only hope it doesn't rain all week. My room becomes frightfully depressing after a few days of solitary confinement.
For the time being this stillness is agreeable to me; I don't want to ruin it. If I were to practise blues runs on my acoustic guitar or play some rock albums on my stereo, the neighbours would more than likely take offence and quickly find some means of retaliating or, at the very least, defending themselves. They would regard my activity as a sort of infringement of their rights, the rights to a given quantity of silence, to a couple of hour's tedious repose in a bath of somnolence, to a little mutual vegetation. Quite frankly, I don't wish to bring that kind of vindictive tribunal to bear upon myself this evening; I have already suffered quite enough noise for one day. If I were now to stretch my self-indulgent pleasures beyond a certain low-key level, the neighbours would probably think me barbarous and summarily accuse me of behaving like an adolescent. It would definitely be wiser to share in the half-life of the community for a while. Then they can testify to my self-restraint.
If my eyes didn't hurt so much from reading I would read a little longer this evening. But I have had enough of it and, besides, you can only do so much of a given thing. Beyond a certain point you come to feel that the world is too narrow, that the sanest thing to do would be to take a week's holiday or have a few days’ break just to make a change. If variety is really the spice of life, then mine must be pretty tasteless! Sometimes I get the impression that I'm actually suffocating from culture, since the stereo only leads to the bookcase, the bookcase to the notebook, the notebook to the typewriter, the typewriter to the guitar, and the guitar to the radio ... in a vicious circle of enforced intellectuality. When you feel like that, you might as well destroy everything, since the world has evidently become too narrow. However, as far as today is concerned, I'm most definitely suffering from an overdose of culture. I badly need an antidote. Ideally, the best thing would be to get drunk and chase after women. But I haven't got the money for it and, besides, there aren't that many women around here whom I would consider it worth my while to chase after. In the end, I would only humiliate and disgust myself. Well, the next best thing - other, of course, than to smash furniture or to burn books - would be to turn-in for the night. But as I won't be able to sleep for at least another two hours, and it is now only 10.45pm, I may as well persevere with things a while longer.
I abandon the writing table (scarcely a desk) and shuffle over to the bookcase. There is an 8" Venus statuette on the top shelf which immediately catches my attention. Actually I think it's an Aphrodite statuette because, although the shopkeeper I bought it from said "Venus", the hairstyle is of that slightly erratic nature especially favoured by the ancient Greeks. Why, it's almost a mess! But that is precisely why I like it so much; this goddess is approachable.
Like a good many other such symbols she has taken the trouble to turn her head to one side, so that one gets an enchanting view of her fine brow and long nose. Surprisingly, her mouth is exquisitely beautiful in its refined sensuality, and farther down, in the exact spot where her nose seems to be pointing, we discover the indisputable cynosure of this mythological effigy to be an exposed left breast, the very breast which the questionable modesty of her raiment has permitted her to reveal to us humble mortals in order, presumably, that we might have a sufficiently cogent criterion by which to acclaim her sexual prestige as the goddess of love.
The aesthetics of the thing momentarily overwhelm me. For an instant the insane desire to smash it possesses me, and I grab her in my left hand as though to dash her against the opposite wall. But something checks me; the act would only bring me remorse later, particularly if the nearest neighbours decided to take offence. No, I have destroyed enough things for one day as it is! And quietly. My diaries are in shreds in the wastepaper bin, and so, too, is my latest notebook. I don't see that I shall benefit myself all that much by also destroying this harmless statuette. I replace it on the top shelf of my bookcase. The eternal woman is re-enthroned, her sexual sovereignty inviolable. When she has gathered enough dust I shall wipe her clean and place her in a different position - for instance, rump foremost. Actually I'm not at all convinced that she shouldn't be viewed from the rear anyway; you see more of her body then. Until now I have been fairly content with a frontal view. It didn't occur to me that she might benefit from a contrary perspective. I ought to have swivelled her around a bit.
I abandon the goddess of love and automatically fish out a rather cryptic-looking booklet from the bottom shelf of my bookcase. It has a black cover and measures about 8" x 12". Strangely, you wouldn't know which was the front and which the back just by looking at its cover. In fact, you wouldn't know whether it was upside down or not either. The most significant thing you can say about this enigmatic cover is that it's incredibly scratched. Its surface literally glistens with tiny silver threads which criss-cross it in all directions, lending it the vague appearance of a relief map. If I really wanted to know exactly where I stood with this cover, I would have to study the scratches and count the dots. But so much attention applied to such an insignificant item strikes me as crazy, the sort of behaviour one might expect from a lunatic, and I certainly don't regard myself in that light - at least not at present. So I immediately stifle the idea, since my life has quite enough crazy little idiosyncrasies and obsessions already.
I have thrown the booklet onto the bed and am now sitting down beside it. As a matter of interest, it is a souvenir from a Grateful Dead concert of several years ago. Officials were giving them away free and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to collect one. You couldn't ask for more. There are about thirty glossy pages in this memento, a majority of which are dedicated to close-ups of each of the musicians, a few group photos, and a number of facts and quotations. These days I don't remember all that much about the concert, but I can certainly recall that it took place at London's Lyceum, off the Strand, in May 1972. Anyway, as this booklet is quite large, it serves as an ideal place to deposit photos, and that is precisely why I have opened it this evening.
At present, there are some
ten photos in
it, photos or, rather, photographic reproductions of young female
I carefully selected and cut out from various men's magazines several
ago. Now these photographic reproductions,
which are in colour, are all different sizes.
Whenever I take the trouble to look at them, these days, it is
from boredom or for some ostensibly aesthetic and even poetic reason. The initial erotic quality which some of them
once possessed for me has long since faded away; I am much too familiar
them. However, the most significant
thing which now strikes me about these models is that they are mostly
some form of clothing, even if only a pair of nylon stockings or the
of briefs. There are only two of them
who are completely nude, but they look silly to me, since all you can
each case, is a bare rump. There is
nothing particularly individualistic about them - not, that is, unless
prepared to utilize a magnifying lens in order to study the minutiae of
respective behinds. Of the rest, a few
are pretending to indulge in what my little
Well, whatever the case, their self-indulgence leaves me cold. I much prefer those models that have opened their legs a little and are lying back on the bed, as though waiting for a lover to approach them. Somehow they strike me as being a more agreeable and less narcissistic type of female; they haven't turned their back on men. However, as for those who are purely aesthetic, whose casual postures seem to suggest the utmost complacency, affluence, and restraint, I have to confess that they generally leave me cold, too. It is as though, already well fixed-up sexually, one could afford to pay merely for the sight of naked back, breasts, or thighs, anything more revealing being considered infra dignum or, at the very least, quite unnecessary.
I have had enough of photos for one evening. After a while they all look the same. You might as well tear them up, for all the good they do you. Naturally, when you see them for the first time in any given magazine it is a kind of novelty, you are visibly surprised. You secretly hope to discover someone really worth looking at, someone who transcends the fully-dressed conservatism of the majority of neighbourhood women, granting you a degree of voyeuristic intimacy. If you're lucky, you may even encounter the spectacle of a model who truly appeals to you, gives you a momentary thrill as she seduces you into admiring her. After which you might cut her out, as though to distinguish her from the ruck of other models, and pin her up somewhere or, failing that, hide her away in a large black booklet for future reference. But if there is no-one who particularly appeals to your aesthetic sense, you might end-up throwing the entire magazine in the dustbin. I suppose that depends on your temperament and idiosyncratic bent. Though if you're like me (and I can't be all that unique) you probably avoid reading anything. You may consider it too 'feuilletonistic', too much of an imposition to wade through the sordid facts of somebody else's sex life, too perverse because, in reality, there is nothing in it for you and, anyway, you would know the kinds of things to expect, so what matter? Everyone according to his tastes and insights! The dustmen may reap a gratuitous reward, assuming they don't automatically consider such magazines a waste of frigging time and consequently set about having them disposed of, in the usual fashion, as quickly as possible.
I return the booklet and its extraneous contents to their allocated place on the bottom shelf of my hard-pressed bookcase, squashed in-between a couple of large hardbacks, one of which just happens to be a largely pictorial biography of Henry Miller. That, it seems to me, is quite enough pleasure for one evening! If I suddenly had the good fortune to experience knowledge of a greater pleasure, I would probably end-up feeling sorry for myself. "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," said the poet Gray somewhere, though I can hardly regard my condition as blissful.
All of a sudden I begin chuckling to myself. The sight of some old LPs reminds me of the fact that I once sold someone a record without realizing I had left about fifteen similarly erotic photos between the inner sleeves of its cover. It was one of those single albums that open out like a double, and in the spare section, as it were, of the cover (which had somehow come unstuck along the outer edge) I had previously secreted what I imagined to be a quintessential distillation of choice erotica. What amazes me is that the photos remained hidden away during the transaction. For the shop assistant made a careful inspection of both the disc and cover without in the least suspecting anything. I am only too glad that I didn't remember about them at the time, otherwise I would almost certainly have become quite visibly embarrassed! He considered the album worth a quid anyway, so I didn't quibble with him. Indeed, it wouldn't have surprised me if he subsequently discovered that he had acquired a special bargain. Nothing but those photos could have elevated the album to a higher plane!
SATURDAY 18th SEPTEMBER
This morning I didn't feel like getting up. It seemed much safer under the covers. For one thing, I hadn't decided what to do with myself, and, for another, I could sense the approach of autumn. The effort required to stagger out of bed and eventually sit at my writing-table-cum-desk seemed immense. I wondered whether I hadn't turned into a fairy overnight or gone mad, or something. Admittedly, there were voices, footsteps, and radio noises impinging upon me from other parts of the house, but that didn't exactly encourage me. On the contrary, I felt as though I had been subjugated by a world of indolence. Indeed, as though I might even have left the human world altogether and possibly become a polyp, irrespective of the fact that the cold air on my arms indicated that I still resembled a human being, even if I didn't exactly feel like one. It was as though my life had inexplicably become divorced from those all-too-human noises and it annoyed me to think that I would inevitably be forced to do something similar in due course, to act like a marionette dangling from the ends of bedsitter-conditioned strings for another twelve or more hours. I honestly didn't want that to happen, since things seemed better off as they were - without any interruptions.
To begin with, I wasn't annoying anybody by just lying still; for, in all probability, the neighbours would have been quite oblivious of my prone proximity to them. But if I were to clamber out of bed and start scratching around, brushing my teeth, hunting for clothes, etc., and then endeavour settling down to record, on my electric typewriter, some new ideas for my forthcoming novel, the chances were pretty high that the upstairs tenant would begin making more noise than I could tolerate, that she would begin to distract me by dropping things on the floor, shoving armchairs about, rubbing the water heater's rubber pipe against the metallic tap of her sink unit, stamping backwards and forwards as though doing the highland fling or suffering from St Vitus's dance. If possible, I wanted to avoid that sort of friction today. It disconcerted me to think that I should be the butt of such flagrant abuse.
What exactly it was about me that annoyed her, I couldn't imagine. But it seemed all too evident that she didn't like men of my sort. True, she couldn't have read any of my writings, since none of them had been published. But that wouldn't necessarily prevent her from sizing me up, as it were, from my appearance (both sartorial and physiognomic), from the kind of music I usually listen to, from the fact that I don't have a girlfriend, never speak to her, am studiously preoccupied, and so on. Perhaps she imagines I spend a lot of time busily plotting the future downfall of some worthy institution or, worse still, writing critically about her for being so boorish, philistine, and heavy-handed. I don't honestly know, though, being the sort of person she is, I wouldn't even put it past her to become annoyed with me because she can't use me, because I possess a sort of innate obduracy and social aloofness which prevent anyone from getting close to me without my express permission.
However, a couple of days ago she was making even more noise than usual, which was more than I could reasonably be expected to endure. She used as many resources as she could find - those I have already mentioned and some additional ones besides - and she persisted so indefatigably and with so much inane vindictiveness ... that I felt compelled, on at least three occasions, to hurl a leather boot up at the ceiling. In fact, I can still discern the indentations looming above me now, scarring the soft ceiling with ghastly one-inch cracks. Indeed, there is also a rather nasty black mark above the fireplace, where the boot struck the wall after ricocheting off of the ceiling. I tried to rub it off with the aid of as much elbow grease as could be mustered, but it still persists in existing, and with as much stubbornness as a permanent fixture, as though the wallpaper needs it there. The most sensible thing for me to do now would be to put a large poster over it, perhaps something surrealist. But that would inevitably mean staring at a poster instead which, despite certain aesthetic predilections on my part, doesn't really appeal to me in view of the fact that there are already four small posters on the walls anyway, posters which I have no desire to either move or remove. I certainly don't feel I could possibly tolerate the sight of another one, no matter how small. For it would undoubtedly make this room appear too much like an art gallery, and a rather eccentric one at that! Still, one has to look at something attractive. Too many blank walls are depressing.
As I was saying earlier, I didn't feel like staggering out of bed and subsequently throwing myself into a noisy scene again, granted that there were quite enough little disturbances going on already. I would have preferred to remain mummified between the twisted sheets of my bedding, temporarily innocuous. To be sure, my contribution to domestic goodwill hadn't amounted to anything very impressive over the past few weeks. But, even so, I certainly had no intention of reducing or negating it this morning. So far as I'm concerned, domestic antagonisms ought to slacken off a little on Saturday, enabling the house to assume a sort of semi-relaxed atmosphere freed from the bonds of weekday pressures. Yet when you are dealing, as here, with somebody who evidently finds one day pretty much like another, who doesn't appear to look forward to the weekend, who is naturally heavy-handed and thick-skinned to boot, and who bears you an unshakeable grudge, then those sorts of concerns are completely gratuitous and only succeed in making you feel foolish. You might as well try appealing to the moon, for all the good it would do!
Anyway, when I finally succeeded in forcing myself to get up, at 10.30 this morning, it was partly on account of an empty stomach and partly on account of my mind which, in accordance with well-established tradition, was beginning to exasperate me. When you mostly let yourself go like that, when you just lie there and think about nothing in particular, the chances are pretty high that your mind will take the law into its own hands, as it were, and proceed to wander off at an intellectual tangent. You would never believe that this mind was yours; that, freed from the vigilance of the ego, it would be capable of such arbitrary decisions and/or aberrations. For one thing, it is almost unintelligible, it babbles on like an over-active brook, and, for another, it doesn't appear to lead anywhere, but follows a kind of wayward course through uncharted psychic territory.
If you were to attempt plotting this course, you would soon find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere and probably have to dispatch all the common sense at your disposal in order to bring yourself back from the brink of insanity to the everyday world of concrete phenomena. When, for example, I began listening-in to it this morning, the impression I got was of someone who had forgotten to switch off the motor, in consequence of which my mind would burn itself out and either leave me with a shattered brain or, failing that, a severe headache if I didn't soon take serious measures to rectify the problem. So I clambered out of bed in a panic, got washed and dressed as quickly as possible, pulled back the curtains, discovered it was still raining, and thankfully felt my equilibrium return. The sight of so many external objects had evidently given my mind something with which to preoccupy itself, for it went straight from one extreme to another. Now when that happens and I am pondering over what to write, I usually find myself wondering whether I've got a brain at all, because it seems a devil-of-a-job to drag anything worthwhile from it, to cultivate anything like a positive or imaginative response to things. Of course, I'm well aware that my life isn't particularly exciting, that a man as solitary as myself, who hasn't had as much as half-an-hour's intelligent conversation with anyone in over five years and who hasn't even so much as kissed a woman in nearly six, can't reasonably be expected to bubble with intellectual enthusiasm, like an ambitious college student. But, then again, I would at least like the consolation of some intellectual preoccupation, however attenuated.
So I sit at my desk, waiting patiently for something to click, for a penny to drop, as they say, only to discover that my brain prefers to lie low as though waiting for a divine signal, a special cue, an incentive to spring into action like a rabid predator and tear the page apart in a fury of raging intent. Though what the requisite signal, cue, or incentive ought to be on such occasions I haven't the foggiest, because I might sit there with an empty head for over an hour sometimes. The week before last, for example, was a fairly typical occasion. I had only a short while before finished typing-up my first novel, an innovative little project which leaned heavily on interior monologue, as befitting a writer as solitary and introverted, not to say Joycean, as myself, and was now stuck with the problem of how to proceed with the next one. At the height of my incertitude in this matter, I realized that I would either have to come up with a solution to the problem pretty fast or seriously consider finding myself a clerical job instead. Now since the latter alternative didn't particularly appeal to me, in view of my preference for literary work and knowledge that there were precious few clerical jobs to which a person of my restricted experience and dubious expertise could reasonably apply with any hope of tangible success, I quickly dismissed it as unwise and straightaway set about amassing notes for my next novel, whatever it would eventually be. For the best part of two weeks I sat in psychic darkness, so to speak, scribbling out as many notes as I thought fit to include in a character's conversation or reflections - the sort of ideas one might loosely associate with metaphysical speculation, humorous hypotheses, ideological fantasies, intuitive perspicacities, and religious controversies: in short, a rough-and-ready Mon Coeur Mis a Nu, which would hopefully serve as a repository of significant ideas into which I could dip my languishing imagination as the need arose, thereby drawing the relevant inspiration for my forthcoming themes.
Well, by the end of that time I had amassed something like 150 medium-sized pages of these notes, incorporating everything from a supposition that old people could often understand young people better than their parents did because, being old, they reminisced more, to my mounting distrust of women who, for reasons best known to themselves, habitually hid their legs behind long skirts or dresses; from a fantasy concerning Oscar Wilde, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Charles Baudelaire, the author of the above-mentioned journal, seated together in a café and conversing animatedly in French about the relationship between politics and religion, to my recollection of the humorous and almost surreal incongruity established by certain unlikely juxtapositions of shops, viz. a Scripture Press shop wedged in-between an antique dealers and a turf accountants on the one hand, and an undertakers wedged in-between a butchers and a tobacconists on the other; and from my opinion concerning the baseness of conversationalists who only use their interlocutor as an excuse to talk of themselves, to reflections upon a moth that happened to turn acutely narcissistic, one evening, on encountering its reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Now in compiling these and other such notes, my imaginative faculty eventually tired of the immense spiritual effort required to plumb the intellectual depths, so to speak, and retrieve such buried treasure as was down there, so that the final attempts I made to exploit it overwhelmingly led me to the conclusion that I had brought as much intellectual treasure to the surface as could reasonably be obtained for the time being, and that the feeling of an empty hole or shell which I now experienced would only be good for receiving such self-contempt as I might fall prey to if, in proceeding with my prospective novel, it gradually dawned on me that I hadn't compiled enough of the right sort of notes, but too many irrelevant and largely undesirable ones!
However, not being as ardent a masochist as I had formerly supposed, I was able to mitigate the psychological anguish of this worry by consoling myself in the knowledge that such deep mental excavations weren't to be treated flippantly, since one couldn't raise too many profound thoughts to the surface of one's mind in such a short space of time when thoughts of that nature were more often the product of a gradual awareness or momentary intuition than the result of systematic burrowing. If I had formerly regarded literary creativity as fairly spontaneous, I had at least been corrected in my rather naive and false regard. I had also learnt that one can't be creative without first being uncreative or reflective, without sitting in the psychic dark every so often in order to check one's spiritual compass and simultaneously allow for the build-up of fresh material, fresh experience. If the mental dam suddenly burst, one day, so much the better! But it wouldn't burst from an empty vessel. This quiet, mysterious, and almost imperceptible build-up of material under the surface, in the murky depths of the psyche, was the price one ordinarily paid for feeling bored on or above it. If I had lost patience or confidence in myself and subsequently abandoned the wait, there might not have been another chance. I would have misunderstood the terms of engagement, or so I presumed.
By this time next week I
shall be on my way
to visiting an old friend in Merstham,
Tomorrow, however, I know from experience what I will probably do, but I'm not absolutely sure how I may feel about it. That will depend on my mood. Yet I know for a fact that I will get up at or thereabouts, tidy up my room a bit, have breakfast at the local café, buy The Observer, and then come back here and begin reading it. Of course, I won't read everything, since that would be a waste of time. But I will certainly glance through the pages and mentally latch-on to anything that particularly arouses my interest.
Last week, taking the arts review into account, I must have read at least a quarter of all the printed material. Now that was a sort of record in itself, considering that I rarely get beyond the headlines. Indeed, sometimes I don't even read them; I merely look at the pictures. I flick through the pages with a sort of fanatical determination at the back of my mind not to be taken-in by anything, and whenever I encounter what I can only regard as misguided or overly impartial information on a subject about which I have highly partial views, something inside me clams-up and I hear a little voice, the voice of my ideological conscience, caution me against making a fool of myself by reading things which will only mislead or confound me - political opinions, economic forecasts, literary criticisms, and social commentaries that I might just as well do without.
Now this happens virtually every time I buy a newspaper, which is to say, every Sunday morning. So I observe the pictures, scan the main headlines, and discard those kinds of articles which won't necessarily make me a more enlightened person or, for that matter, a better citizen (though I am officially an Irish, not a British, citizen), but will more than likely frustrate and irritate me by taking me for a ride that either contrasts with my better judgement of the situation or has to do with subjects about which I haven't the slightest interest or sympathy, in any case.
If there is one kind of intellectual I detest above all others, it's the person who has to know something about everything as though his very existence depended upon it. The one who always appears to know exactly what is going-on in the world even though he is no less powerless than the rest of us to do anything about it, and who exudes, in consequence of this obscene curiosity, a sort of childlike enthusiasm for facts and figures quite divorced from the pain and emotional anguish which usually accompany them, about which, in any case, he has only a limited capacity for experience. Indeed, the very justification for this childlike enthusiasm applied so indiscriminately to a variety of unrelated contexts is highly questionable. You get the impression that such a person is either duped by facts, victimized by his brain, mad, or all three together. What-on-earth, you wonder, can he possibly gain from so indiscriminate a perusal? Is it that it gives him something extra to talk about, to satisfy his egotistical gluttony and thereby accord him an intellectual advantage over his less well-informed fellows? If that were the case, I shouldn't wish to listen to him! It would remind me of what one of my aunts used to say about the importance of reading the papers every day in order to always have something in common with others, to be able to talk about the latest news. Admittedly, one usually learns the latest news from someone or somewhere anyway. But to actually make a point of it, to actually suppose that you can win friends or influence through it - well, I would rather leave such an ambition to her!
Yet if that was hard to
stomach, what she
said to me about general knowledge was virtually unpalatable - namely,
person who spent lots of time wading through various encyclopaedias,
dictionaries, reference books, etc., in order to acquire greater
obviously very clever and on the road to enlightenment.
People on quiz programmes, for example, were
obviously very clever because they seemed to know so much, could answer
difficult questions, questions undoubtedly beyond the reach of most
people.... Now although I was prepared to believe that some people on
programmes were indeed very clever, I felt absolutely no compulsion, in
of my good aunt's persistent admonitions, to follow suit, to bend my
an encyclopaedia or whatever every day, as if that constituted the only
criterion of enlightenment or confirmation of cleverness!
Quite frankly, it didn't matter in the least
to me whether the highest mountain in the world, the longest river, or
biggest lake were to be found in Asia, Africa, or South America. It didn't interest me in the slightest to
know the number of American presidents or English monarchs to-date, and
this compared with the ancient dynasties of
In fact, now that I consider the matter, it was exactly the same story at school. I didn't make the top grade because I could never force myself to take an interest in anything I disliked or considered superfluous, and there was plenty of that. If I encountered a subject that left me cold, I did what I could to pass muster but no more. However, whenever I encountered something I liked or in which I could believe, I set about doing my best in it and usually came top or near top of the class. Besides certain aspects of history, music, and English (in that order), I was also pretty good at geography and did fairly well at examination time in those aspects of any particular subject which seemed meaningful to me. But when it came to subjects like technical drawing, physics, woodwork, metalwork, and engineering science, I was a failure, a rebel, and a wastrel all rolled into one. I saw absolutely no reason to exert myself. Indeed, it seemed as though the school authorities were primarily interested in churning out a given number of duplicated achievers every year, in making most of their pupils so intellectually generalized and malleable that they would not only all think alike but be able to adapt themselves to just about any task, irrespective of whatever preferences or innate predilections for one subject over another individual pupils may have had.
Well, idealist that I was (and still am, for that matter), I did what interested me and left school with fewer qualifications than those whose academic commitments extended right across the board, in a sort of balanced respect for the general curriculum. I don't in the least regret the fact!
Just as I am writing all this down in my journal, the girl upstairs has come down and is speaking to someone at the front door. I can't make out exactly what the other person, evidently a man, is saying, but he has apparently come to the wrong address, since she has such a reassuring air with strangers. You would think she was the most serious person on earth. She is telling him that someone who used to live here has had all his mail forwarded-on, and that there is absolutely no-one by name of Erickson living here at present. Her composed, authoritative, and slightly imperious tone-of-voice puts everything into place straightaway. There is absolutely no possibility of a mistake!
I cease listening to her because she annoys me. I have heard all this nonsense before anyway. It is too theatrical to be worth taking seriously. She changes her mask when and where it suits her - at a moment's notice. However, earlier this week she was anything but the composed, authoritative, and slightly imperious citizen you could easily take her for today. She was like a little schoolgirl at the awkward age. Indeed, you would have thought, by the amount of noise coming from her room, that there was a kindergarten upstairs.
Yes, and her current boyfriend - a rather unassuming and reserved type of bloke who nevertheless usually acknowledges me whenever I encounter him in the hall - is more or less terrorized by her most evenings. She calls him every damn name under the sun just for an excuse, I suppose, to calm her highly-strung nervous system down a bit, to ease her psychic tensions by revelling in the power of her belligerent and somewhat strained voice. I don't know how he takes it all, but he still manages to give her a damn good lay from what I can judge by the absurdly violent way their mattress creaks at night. Maybe sex provides him with the only opportunity he gets to dominate her? Though even that is by no means certain!
Whether or not he enjoys being made to feel a fool, I haven't a clue. But he keeps coming back for more punishment all the same. Why, they are virtually a pair of sadomasochists! In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he is secretly afraid of her. At least that would seem a reasonable supposition when you bear in mind what he has to go through most nights. She wouldn't get away with so much verbal abuse if she were dealing with one of my sort, though. Yet the chances of a man like me getting involved with a cow like that are pretty slim; I am far too sensible.
Anyway I think that, generally speaking, most women have this advantage over us; morality or, perhaps I should say, sexual deference prevents us from thrashing them. Now whenever I bump into her companion on the stairs or in the hall we remain fairly cordial, not simply because we don't particularly dislike each other but almost as though we were also subliminally aware of the physical violence we could inflict upon each other in the event of either or both of us losing our temper for some reason. But where she is concerned, nothing in the world could prevent her from being abusive if she felt confident that her gender protected her from retaliatory violence. This, I believe, is the crux of the matter. She exploits male deference in her desire to dominate her boyfriend, and comes out top dog nine times out of ten. He evidently tolerates being abused, presumably for some ulterior motive.
However, although that is how it appears to me at present, I wouldn't stake my life on it, by any means! They only concern me insofar as the noise level is concerned and if that were kept down to a bare minimum, I wouldn't blink a speculative eyelid.
Now I think it's time for me to take a stroll around town and get myself a bite to eat. Enough writing for the time being!
I didn't go to the
How shall I explain? Well, it all started last Thursday, when I received some money through the post from my long-suffering aunt. Considering that I hadn't even remotely expected anything of the kind, I was momentarily placed in a state-of-mind bordering on euphoria; I could have kissed somebody, even the upstairs neighbour. Since there was nobody around to kiss, however, I thanked my lucky stars and quickly got ready to go out. For some weeks I had been living on the borderline, resigned, in the absence of literary recognition, to having just enough money on which to scrape by. But this little surprise - evidently in response to the letter I had earlier written my aunt informing her of my dire financial straits - would now enable me to buy myself a record or even a new shirt, depending how I felt.
Since I already had enough shirts in the wardrobe, I opted for some music and duly headed towards the local record shop which had the widest selection of the sort of music I had in mind. My contribution to the proprietor's financial well-being would undoubtedly meet with a favourable response. He would welcome the money as though his very survival depended on it. After all, I would only be doing my bit to keep the economy turning, to put money into circulation instead of hoarding it like a miser, hiding it under the mattress or somewhere. It was bound to favour somebody.
When I eventually got to the shop, which happens to be in Muswell Hill, I straightaway proceeded to hunt among the hundreds of classical sleeves on display, having previously acquired a taste for French piano music, especially that of Ravel and Debussy. However, there were so many records from which to choose, so many I didn't want, and so many I hadn't heard before that, in my increasingly perplexed state-of-mind, I eventually settled for an album of piano sonatas by Scriabin, that little-known and rarely-played Russian composer. For one thing, it was piano music and, for another, its dignified cover readily appealed to me. Besides which, I was beginning to feel a trifle dizzy, a shade uncomfortable about hunting around from one pile of sleeves to another without actually getting anywhere. I even felt slightly intimidated by the proprietor's suspicious glances, by his occasional optical stabs in my direction, which seemed to suggest that I was taking an awfully long time in deciding what to buy and that, if I wasn't an outright crank or a roguish and possibly none-too-experienced schemer who just might be a danger to the condition of his record sleeves, I could well be something worse. It seemed that my presence there was beginning to annoy him. Even so, that shouldn't have bothered me. Ordinarily I am anything but an easy customer to satisfy. I must have walked in and out of this particular shop on at least five previous occasions without having bought anything. Shopping annoys me, not least of all when it comes to music. Why, I'm virtually paranoid! About half the total records - and more than half the cassettes - I ever buy always end up either being sold to someone or, failing that, thrown in the dustbin. They fail to please me.
Well, I continued to nose through his selections, pulling out sleeves all over the place, looking at the pictures (if any), biting my lower lip, and generally making a fool of myself and perhaps also, unwittingly, of him. I had moved from the piano section to the concerto section, from the concerto section to the symphony section, from the symphony section to the organ section, from the organ section back to the piano section, from there to the vocal section and even, bizarrely, to the film section. It seemed as though I would never make up my mind, that I would gradually become a sort of permanent fixture, albeit one that was capable of a limited degree of autonomy. Strangely, it didn't appeal to me in the least to ask the proprietor to play something, because the chances were that I wouldn't like it, would tell him to take if off and play something else, only to discover, much to my disgust, that I didn't like that either.
To be sure, there had already been enough problems in my life with rock and jazz albums, without the necessity of my now adding so-called classical music to it as well. That would have been the last thing I wanted! So I shuffled back from the film section to the piano section, impulsively fished out the Scriabin, and rather self-consciously slapped the sleeve down on the proprietor's counter.
Something about the look the elderly man gave me, however, indicated that things weren't quite shaping up to his expectations. I wondered, for a moment, whether I hadn't made a mistake, whether it wouldn't be wiser to suddenly change my mind, fish out a cheaper or better one, though, to be honest, I didn't think it would be too expensive and was more concerned about the nature of the music. But before I could do or suggest anything of the kind, before I could even move my lips, he had picked up the sleeve and begun searching for its record. As on other such occasions, he gave the disc, once found, what appeared to be a thorough inspection, taking due account of the grooves on both sides and even going so far as to take a measured vertical view of it, doubtless to ensure that it wasn't warped and therefore wouldn't start bouncing up and down on my turntable when I eventually got round to playing it. No, that condition was reserved for me, when he informed me, in his customarily suave tone-of-voice, that it would cost £4.99p. I almost fainted! I had unwittingly let myself in for one of the more expensive recordings. My former rather too optimistic expectations were rapidly deflated. I had naively imagined that the price would be somewhere in the region of £2.99p, like the previous record I had bought in his shop - a selection of Ravel's piano music, and a by-no-means bad selection either! But this record was obviously quite another story, and one that I could ill-afford, even with ten quid to-hand. Had he not made such a show of checking it, the crafty old devil, I would have informed him it was too expensive or, at any rate, musically unsuitable and that I would therefore have no option but to select something else. But his unassuming politeness had lulled me into a false sense of complacency, so I reluctantly fished out the note from my pocket and nervously handed it across the counter to his outstretched hand. After all, I had only myself to blame!
Well, as can be imagined, I beat a demoralized retreat and headed straight back home, oblivious of the book and wine shops which would otherwise have arrested my attention and possibly even secured my humble patronage. Somehow, I knew from the moment I bought this cursed record that I had made a dreadful mistake; the rest of the afternoon was against me. Even the leather bag in which I had hidden it wasn't really protective enough. Every glance from other people would inevitably condemn me. I walked back rather hurriedly with my head bowed most of the way; for I didn't want to see or to be seen by anyone, least of all anyone whose face was familiar to me. But when I got indoors and tentatively, nervously, almost reluctantly placed the disc on the turntable, turned-up the volume, put on my headphones, and sat down in my creaky armchair, everything was gradually revealed to me; I had made a dreadful mistake! Never in my life had I encountered such an appalling row, never before experienced music so far removed from my tastes.
When I came to my senses I was in a fit of rage; I could have smashed something - the Venus statuette, for instance. The room became as lugubrious as the music, the clouds pressed heavily against the window panes, and I cursed to myself, as though complaining to an imaginary audience: "To think that there are so-called cultured people who are actually impressed by this sort of noise! They're all mad, absolutely mad!" So saying, I stamped my foot on the floor in Hamsunesque vein and then exasperatedly threw myself onto the bed. Yes, I had certainly put money into circulation all right, but, for once, I had duped myself in the process. Things were looking awfully down that afternoon!
Largely on account of my financial constraints, I don't buy records or cassettes all that often these days. But, whenever I do, I'm usually fortunate enough to be able to appreciate the greater part of what I hear, particularly the classical music which, for reasons of economy, I almost invariably buy on disc. On Thursday, however, the law of averages was against me. I certainly couldn't appreciate the greater part of what I heard then! It was far too disjointed and atonal. Everything about the music only served to make me feel more depressed and dissatisfied. There didn't seem to be one worthwhile melody on the entire record, not one! For the most part, there were just notes, notes which weren't particularly interesting and which didn't seem to lead to any logical resolution. It was the sort of thing that you instinctively know you've heard before: fairly nondescript 'serious' music - absolutely characterless! To think that there were people who regularly allowed themselves to be taken-in by this kind of stuff, I said to myself! They read the blurb as quickly as possible, if in fact they read anything at all, and immediately their minds are made up for them; they see the calibre of the music even before they hear it. They go along to the concert hall and sit through several hours of barbarous insanity, sheer cacophony, an anarchic degeneration euphemistically marketed in terms of modern experimentalism but the product, more usually, of cultural reaction, and rather than appear unappreciative, and hence naive, ignorant, superficial, presumptuous, conservative, philistine, impatient, ignoble, etc., they behave like a flock of sheep being led to the slaughter and clap as loudly and enthusiastically as possible, as though the cacophony, however unintelligible, was actually well-worth listening to and paying for, since something that constituted musical progress. Some of them would doubtless continue clapping until their hands sprouted blisters if they had to, the mugs, or even until their hands were blood raw!
Well, at least I have the consolation of knowing that I haven't fallen so low, that I'm not so easily satisfied. My musical eclecticism usually saves me from succumbing to such self-deceptions by preventing me from going too far in any given direction, by fixing definite limits to my respective predilections. I am evidently a member of that breed of culturally conservative souls who feel much safer with certain of the established classics, compositions known to possess a discernible quantity of agreeable musicality; piano concertos, for example, like Brahms' 2nd, Prokofiev's 3rd, or the Grieg and Dvorák ones. Where many of these so-called avant-garde works are concerned, however, I remain unflinchingly sceptical, if not downright contemptuous!
Well, so much for all that! I wouldn't have taken the trouble to write about this affair with the Scriabin had I not gone out feeling like a fool today. I knew that I would pass the record shop and I also knew that I wouldn't be able to force myself to look through its plate-glass window into the brightly lit interior, at least not for the time being. That shop was strictly taboo! For, when I eventually walked past the place, it was half in the assumption that the proprietor would recognize me and classify me as a fool, and half in the assumption that I really was one, with little or no musical taste. Therefore it was only natural that I should prefer to retain a low profile, so to speak.
Of course, in all likelihood the proprietor wouldn't have recognized me even if, by some remote chance, he'd had time to see me. And even if he were to recognize me, I wouldn't have been any the worse for it physically. Nonetheless, such a perfectly rational consideration wasn't sufficient to prevent me from feeling acutely self-conscious. Quite the contrary, I hurried past like a guilty thief.
However, now that I have recorded my impressions, like a little schoolgirl, I feel slightly better. I had to get them off my chest somehow and, since I don't have anyone with whom to discuss my affairs, writing them down in this journal is the only solution. But I ought to have learnt my lesson by now. I oughtn't to make that sort of mistake again!
So the day has passed, the rain has stopped, and I am sitting in my little box-like room as usual. I don't feel such a fool now and, besides, things are beginning to look up this evening, an outcome I hardly dared anticipate in the morning, and not only because I feared that I would turn into a marionette dangling from unenviable domestic strings, a boot thrower, a directionless wanderer, or something even worse, but also because, for some time now, Saturday evenings have been the most depressing of the entire week.
Now I know that may seem an incredibly strange statement to make but, all the same, it is rooted in indelible experience. More precisely, on Saturday evening you would like to socialize a little, to enjoy yourself with a woman. That is all it really boils down to, I'm afraid. For Saturdays and Sundays are pretty much alike in this respect: they each have their fixed limits. On Saturday evenings you imagine that people are having a good time and letting themselves go, and on Sunday mornings you imagine that they are lying in bed with a hangover and recovering from their 'sins' of the previous night, just taking things easy and slowly preparing themselves, confessions or no confessions, for Monday, because Mondays also have their fixed limits. Yet this is precisely what bothers me about it. My Saturday evenings are too much like any other evening to be particularly enjoyable; they usually amount to so many wasted hours.
Sounds penetrate my eardrums from other parts of the house. I hear radios mumbling, televisions screeching, neighbours chattering, bedsprings jingling, children crying (the people in the next-door flat are a family), telephones ringing, footsteps clumping across the upstairs floor, tap water running, the front door slamming, and, in addition to all these routine disturbances, a medley of fairly nondescript sounds which I can't even begin to fathom. Now if I wanted to assert my presence, to become a part of the Saturday-evening atmosphere and add to the general hubbub, I could do no more than play a few over-familiar records on my stereo and/or make a rather bluesy sound on an old acoustic guitar. But I don't always feel in the mood, alas, for such little cultural diversions which, in any case, only succeed in depressing me after a while or, worse still, engendering a feeling of merciless self-contempt. Saturday evenings should be dedicated to better things than self-contempt!
For example, romance. A beautiful woman lies on my bed and stares me unashamedly in the face. I don't know where I stumbled across her and I don't really care either, though it must have been somewhere quite interesting, and she must have been interested in me to attract my attention so openly, because I noticed, from the moment I clapped eyes on her, that she wasn't the usual glum-looking sort of woman but seemed possessed of an engaging generosity of spirit. Indeed, her entire appearance, the intelligence and charm with which she conducted herself, suggested the likelihood of a person utilizing life to her own advantage rather than being submerged or crushed by it.
But what matter? She is here and I recognize her for herself, as also for the transformation she has wrought in me. She is at one with her personality, confident of herself though by no means haughty or intimidating. We are accomplices who understand each other and, as such, we are prepared to show patience with each other, to make allowances, to revel in our respective idiosyncrasies. We know, too, that we are going to revel in each other's bodies in another hour, two hours - what matter? Time is immaterial because time is no longer the governing factor. Our conversation is spontaneous, frank, absorbing. We read each other too well to be interested in playing silly little games, in stalling for the 'perfect' moment, in creating little 'theatrical' effects. Our mutual sex-appeal is too obviously evident to allow us to be side-tracked by considerations of mechanical etiquette or petty convention. We didn't even go to the cinema; there was nothing either of us particularly wanted to see. No, and we certainly didn't make gastronomic fools of ourselves in some expensive restaurant; that would have been completely out-of-the-question! But a moment will come when, lying on her back, she will feel me run the fingers of my tender hands over her dark-stockinged thighs and up under her close-fitting miniskirt to the contours of her groin, where, advancing under the gusset of her panties, they will contentedly nestle in the dark mass of pubic hair which crowns her sex. This is an evening that won't be wasted!
I awake from these tender reflections with a painful start and the concomitant realization that I have achieved nothing more than a gratuitous erection. There isn't even a blue stocking to be seen. I'm an idle dreamer!
It is almost half-twelve, so I am going to bed. There doesn't seem to be much point in staying up any longer.
SUNDAY 19th SEPTEMBER
As usual the local café was fairly crowded when I pushed open its rickety glass door earlier this morning. The owner depends almost entirely on weekend custom, whereas during the week things simmer down to a virtual standstill. Apart from the odd occasion, I am his only customer between . There isn't even an assistant on the premises; the owner manages to take care of everything himself, which is to say, he manages to look at the pictures in his tabloid, listen to the radio, smoke several cigarettes, and do whatever else is necessary to prevent himself from falling asleep. Whenever I have a few words with him, I get the distinct impression that I am talking to a somnambulist. Admittedly, he never entirely loses consciousness; but, all the same, he never entirely comes to grips with such consciousness as he has, either! Like a lot of other people here, he drifts about in a sort of tepid limbo.
If it wasn't for the fact that he's a Cypriot (Greek, so far as I can tell), I might be able to strike up the rudiments of a decent conversation with him. Unfortunately, however, his knowledge of English is somewhat too rudimentary, being confined to words like 'coffee', 'tea', 'burger', 'egg', 'milk', and 'chips' (which he pronounces 'cheeps'), so that anything beyond the rather narrow confines of his business needs would hardly be accessible to conversation, even supposing you could overcome his thick accent and faulty pronunciation which, when combined, render him virtually unintelligible. I still haven't got around to finding out his name, though I suppose that is neither here nor there, so far as our worldly relations are concerned. To him, I am just a regular customer who happens to order the same food every morning and, to me, he is just the anonymous old guy who happens to fry it. In the interests of efficiency and inter-ethnic harmony, things are better left as they are.
Anyway, to return to what I was first saying, whenever I drift in here during the week he is usually looking at his paper or smoking a cigarette and gazing through his plate-glass window out onto the street, gazing with semi-hypnotized eyes at a milk float, a parked car, a dog cocking its hind leg against the nearest lamppost, an overcast sky, a mother dutifully wheeling her pram past, the few shops across the road, etc., and, after offering him a friendly glance, I am compelled to bury my rebellious head in one of the pop stations blaring from his radio at the rear of the premises. But all this changes at the weekend, especially on Sunday mornings. For he looks like a man run off his feet, the sweat glistens on his deeply furrowed brow, and his assistants - either his two daughters or his eldest daughter and somebody else (usually a dark-complexioned young man or, occasionally, a rather plump and sad-eyed fellow with a limp) - look pretty much as run off their feet as him.
Today the eldest daughter is assisted by the dark-complexioned young man. There are only twelve tables for them to wait on but, to judge from the noise and general hustle-and-bustle, you'd think there were at least fifty. One of the reasons for this is that the owner, who also happens to be the chief cook, can only attend to one customer at a time on his small stove, so that he is always obliged to limit his service to methodically working through each of the twelve or more other customers, which, fortunately for us, he does as quickly as possible, albeit occasionally dropping or smashing something in the rush. Instead of looking forward to Sunday as a day of rest, this man must condition himself to working doubly hard! Only after he has closed the café and switched off its neon lights at can he begin to look forward to a week of comparative ease, of vacuous gazing and somnambulistic reverie.
Fortunately, there are only a couple of customers ahead of me in the frying queue today, so I won't have to wait too long. Since I am sitting near the rear of the premises I can see most of what goes on in here, though, naturally, there isn't much worth seeing. Things come and go more or less according to plan.
That daughter of his worries me slightly; she looks so sad most of the time. In actual fact, I'm a bit uncertain whether there isn't something wrong or whether that is her natural appearance, though it wouldn't surprise me if there was more to it than met the eye ... like she lacked access to a regular lay or something. Even so, working flat-out in a steamy café all Sunday isn't exactly a thing to be overjoyed about, is it? A girl of her age ought to be released from such obligations now and then. She can't have anything much to look forward to at the weekends.
Yes, but there is something more to it as well. I think she suffers a lot on account of her face, which is tarnished by a mass of sores, spots, and boils. Every time she serves me I notice the same thing, and it appears to be getting worse. It would be enough to give me an insuperable inferiority complex, having to contend with a burden like that every day! Yet for an adolescent female it must be especially burdensome, what with so many young men to wait on all day. If I were in her shoes, I don't think I'd have the nerve to appear in public, let alone work in a café!
Whether it's wholly attributable to her youth, to blood trouble and pubic upheavals, I don't pretend to know. But, whatever the case, she evidently eats a lot of fried stuff, and that can't help. Why, there is hardly anything on the menu that isn't fried. You have to have chips with everything: egg and chips, bacon and chips, pie and chips, sausage and chips, spam and chips.... Indeed, it is pretty much the same story, or menu, in most cafés; their customers eat nothing which hasn't been liberally soaked in grease! Yet when I consider how circumscribed most people's diets must be in here, I feel like getting up. It seems a plausible enough reason why they always look so washed-out and discontented most of the time.
In a minute the eldest daughter will hand me the menu and I, for my part, will pretend not to notice or be offended by her facial condition. I won't bother to look at the menu either, because I know in advance what to order. Then she will give me two sugar cubes or, more precisely, four sugar cubes wrapped in two pieces of red paper which, because I never take sugar with tea, will remain on the edge of my saucer. It has been going on like this for at least three months now, but, no matter who is serving, I still get the superfluous cubes, even though I occasionally draw attention to my abstemious predilection. Still, there is always the possibility that I will change my mind one day and ... ah! here she comes now.
"Er, egg-bacon-chips-beans and a tea, please."
God, she's so thin! In fact, I was going to mention that earlier but, what with her facial problems, I completely overlooked it. If she gets any thinner she will turn into a living skeleton. Why, her waist is almost as thin as her neck! It must be difficult for her to find skirts that fit tightly enough. How-on-earth she manages to carry such heavy plates all day, I can't even begin to imagine ...
"The way they were playin' yesterday, mate, they don't stand a fuckin' chance of winning the championship. It's a drag to waste yer fuckin' money on that sort of bleedin' game, I can tell yer."
"They 'ad 'alf the fuckin' team injured anyway."
"I don't know what-the-fuck was the matter with 'em, but if I have to watch any more of that sort of crap, I'm going to demand a refund from the fuckin' cunt at the gate."
"Look at this bastard 'ere."
I have neither the courage nor the desire to turn around, since I can hear all I need to without moving my head. The three of them were seated there when I arrived here earlier this morning. They weren't there last week, but they were certainly there the week before! As it happens, the most I can hope for will be a little silence while they stuff their big dirty mouths with chips and cynically browse through the tabloids, where the 'bastard' is evidently to be found. Unfortunately, the more querulous one is highly predictable - he never talks, he shouts, and in the most blatantly expletive sort of way. Of course, I can always take refuge from them in the radio, but I don't feel particularly enthusiastic about what it is playing at the moment. It doesn't sound too ennobling, either.
When I got here yesterday morning, I managed to find a seat behind the fridge over to my right. There are usually a few tabloids lying on top of it and, if the mood takes me, I occasionally fish one of them off and begin wearily and somewhat tentatively to glance through its photo-rich pages. Well, the only offering there yesterday morning was The Sun, and, as I never read that, I couldn't force myself to pick it up. I wanted to escape from the radio at the time but, there you are, I was left pretty defenceless; I couldn't force myself to stretch out a hand and take what is, after all, a relatively harmless item between my fingers, even though there were only about half-a-dozen other customers in the café and they all seemed perfectly unassuming. I was simply trapped in my habits. Indeed, I was almost afraid of feeling uncomfortable about it, afraid that somebody would notice my embarrassment or that the chef would suddenly come to a halt in front of me with his fat mouth hanging open and his dark eyes well-nigh popping out of his somnambulistic head, as though I had just committed a social indiscretion - pulled down my jeans, say, and started to masturbate into a tabloid or something. Now some people might think it snobbish that I should display such intellectual fastidiousness with regard to so trivial an item, but I don't pride myself on being a snob. In fact, I can't see that snobbery really has anything to do with it. On the contrary, it was more a question of taste. For when it comes to matters of taste, I know perfectly well how to differentiate between what strikes me as congenial and what doesn't, and no fool on earth could convince me otherwise! That paper simply wasn't for me. Yet my immobility before it struck me as highly significant at the time; I was made freshly conscious of my limits.
Now when I pushed open the café door, a short while ago, I had just escaped from similar reflections concerning my relationship to the upstairs tenant. That, too, was essentially a question of limits, and one which has added yet another link to the chain of constraints made from a consciousness of how much my freedom as an individual is hemmed-in by limitations either imposed upon me by society or by myself in relation to that which is other than me. In fact, I'm fast beginning to wonder how many more such links I can add to the chain before it begins to weigh too heavily upon me, and I feel morosely imprisoned beneath a crippling weight of these limits. If I'm not completely free, if I choose to impose certain restrictions upon myself, it must be because I have gradually come to the conclusion that, beyond a certain point, freedom isn't good for me; that too great an emphasis on it would only lead to my being exposed to further constraints of a more burdensome or onerous nature. Obviously, I don't want to become the slave of freedom. If I am relatively free, then it must be on my own terms. Thus these limits can be seen as a guideline to that restricted freedom, in which case I shouldn't allow them to become too cumbersome. Yet I can't permit myself to become overly complacent about them either, to treat them matter-of-factly, because they occasionally burst out of their chain and present or represent themselves for trial, obliging me to formulate fresh convictions about them.
That affair with the boot, for example, may have been relatively insignificant in itself, but it somehow threw the entire justification for such a retaliatory procedure into question last night, when the upstairs tenant began to make a lot of additional noise after I had gone to bed. I couldn't have been in bed longer than five minutes when she, and possibly her masochistic boyfriend as well, began dropping things on the floor, shoving their armchair about, opening and slamming cupboard doors, and generally making a hell of a noise. For the life of me, I couldn't understand exactly why this was going on since, as far as I could tell, I had done nothing to particularly arouse their hostility during the evening.
To be sure, I didn't want to get worked-up into a rage just then; for I am only too aware that rages are disagreeable impositions which one is generally much better off without. But after about fifteen minutes of these continual disturbances I felt anything but complacent and perceived, clearly enough, that I was steadily expanding with negative energy: anger, hate, resentment, and the urge to retaliate. Unable to restrain myself any longer, I sprang out of bed, fumbled around in the dark for my monkey boots and, on locating them, flung each one as vehemently as I could against the ceiling, while subconsciously hoping that I wouldn't smash the light bulb or damage them in the process. Unfortunately for me, the boots made more noise when they fell to the floor, sole downwards, but in the moral blindness of my fury it didn't occur to me that the downstairs neighbours would be disturbed. I was infuriated to the point of oblivion, and when, after the first assault on the ceiling, I flung my boots up two, three, four more times, scrambling around for them as before, I was shaking in the agony of my rage. I didn't feel like going upstairs and making a verbal scene as well, because I was in the nude and, under the circumstances, dressing would have proved too difficult. Besides, I was virtually speechless. But it seemed that my aggression had left its mark, for the house quickly fell into a sullen silence.
Switching on the light, however, I discovered, to my utmost dismay, that the ceiling was now scarred by a mass of ugly black streaks where the boot polish had come off, as well as more seriously disfigured by one or two additional indentations. It was evident that I would subsequently have the unenviable task of attempting to scrub it clean and patch-up, as best I could, the more damaging effects of my anger. When I finished the job, early this morning, I realized that the ceiling would henceforth be coated in dull grey patches, as though suffering from the effects of damp rot, and this fact really chastened me. Such 'retaliatory' measures as I had rashly seen fit to indulge in, during the night, are clearly impracticable. I had acquired a new limit.
There is a middle-aged couple seated at the table to my right who come in here from time to time and occasionally cast furtive glances in my direction. I can hardly ever make out what they are saying, because they almost invariably speak in Greek. But every ten minutes or so the woman throws a kind of nervous fit which temporarily interrupts their conversation. I don't know whether she has just thrown the fit, because I have been unduly preoccupied with my thoughts. But I am half-expecting it to happen any moment now, since I can see them quite well out of the corner of my right eye. When the woman involuntarily nods her head, says nothing, stops eating, and looks abstracted, you can bet your life it is about to happen. At present, this affliction is welling-up in her, she is entirely defenceless against it, though the man, presumably her long-suffering husband, is still talking away in his usual restless manner. I can feel a kind of restlessness growing in myself too, a distinct feeling of tense expectancy, but I have no wish to appear intrusive or overly curious. Neither do I wish to burst out laughing at the sudden thought of waiting for something pathetic to happen. They ... ah! suddenly her head swivels sharply to the right, her right elbow juts out and wobbles backwards and forwards a few times, her mouth opens into a wide yawn, her neck cranks violently upwards, her torso is thrown forwards against the table, and ... just as suddenly it is all over and she resumes her former posture to both her own and her husband's gratified relief. Even I am released from my pent-up expectancy into a sort of mild catharsis.
"There you are, dear."
"Ah, thanks!" Now I am free to eat my breakfast with a modicum of complacency.
This has proved to be an unusually productive Sunday. When I consider the number of words written yesterday and the no-less impressive number written today, I wonder whether I haven't gone mad or something. And I wonder what kind of cerebral repercussions lie in store for me, if I can manage to produce somewhere in the region of twenty pages a day! If last week was a case of verbal constipation, this week is certainly shaping up to being a classic case of verbal diarrhoea!
But to return to the facts. As it started raining again this afternoon I didn't take my customary Sunday stroll but remained indoors. There wasn't anything of particular interest in the paper and, for once, I decided to abstain from reading literature or philosophy. So with little else to do, I sought refuge in the idea of revising the one-scene playlet I had been working on earlier in the year. Here, then, is the result. It is almost and I have only this minute finished polishing up the last few lines. I have called it "The Latest Cure", though it has little to do with medicine.
Now if someone were to inquire of me why I then had to transcribe it to this journal, I would reply: "Because it ties-up with what has been going on today and prevents me from doing anything worse." I should imagine that that would be a sufficiently cogent answer!
The small surgery of Dr Martin Stanmore, the supreme exponent of 'Emotional Hypnosis', where a young and semi-delirious victim of unrequited love, a Mr James Hamilton, is endeavouring to explain certain aspects of his crisis to both the doctor and the doctor's female assistant, Nurse Pamela Barnes. He is seated in front of Dr Stanmore's paper-strewn desk, while the good doctor himself - a tall, dark-bearded man - is slowly pacing the floor backwards and forwards behind him. Nurse Barnes, who is seated immediately to Mr Hamilton's left, is clasping a large surgical casebook in which she has been taking particulars and recording general impressions with regard to the clinical nature of the patient's psychological condition. The scene opens towards the climax of Mr Hamilton's confessions.
MR HAMILTON: (In a state of nervous excitement) I'll buy five minutes of her time, four minutes, two minutes! Just a glance then, a touch, a word! I'll follow her everywhere, anywhere, what matter! I have only to set eyes on her for a second and my heart beats like a drum, my Adam's apple rises up to choke me, and my concentration goes positively haywire! I can't even eat without thinking about her. I get indigestion every time anyone mentions her goddamned name, that terribly beautiful name which haunts me all through the night. Her gestures, voice, smile, hair, eyes, limbs, buttocks, breasts, clothes, scents, opinions - everything about her completely enslaves me! For two pins I'd get down on my knees and start worshipping her. What else can I do? She has only to appear in my presence for a few seconds and I'm a nervous wreck.
DR STANMORE: (Aside to Nurse Barnes) He needs immediate attention. Grade A. This case is already serious. His state-of-mind may deteriorate still further unless we apply the emergency antidote at once. We'll have to put him under for several hours.
MR HAMILTON: (Jumps to conclusions) You're not intending to interfere with the workings of my brain, are you? I'd rather not experience anything more painful than what I'm already suffering from, if you don't mind. A sedative is all very well, but if it's only the start of a process that ...
NURSE BARNES: (Her hand on the patient's nearest arm) Now don't be afraid, James! You won't feel a thing. We've treated literally hundreds of young people, both male and female, since this clinic first opened, and the vast majority of them have profited enormously from our service, as can be verified by the many letters of thanks and acknowledgement in the cabinet to your right. (She vaguely points in the aforesaid direction) We have every confidence that your welfare will be safeguarded with the utmost care, and that you'll be successfully returned to the pre-love condition without experiencing any psychical or physical repercussions whatsoever. Indeed, we even undertake to offer you a six-month's guarantee which ensures you free service, should today's application of hypnotic expertise by one of the world's top emotional hypnotists prove insufficiently therapeutic; though we've had few complaints or rejections, I can assure you. This emotional insanity from which you're currently suffering ... is injurious both to yourself, as victim, and to the community at large, which is to say, to those whom you infect throughout the course of your daily routine - people who inevitably become victimized and, to a certain extent, influenced by your reduced efficiency, intermittent emotional aberrations, intellectual instability, and general melancholia.
MR HAMILTON: (On the defensive) But I didn't mean to fall in love, honest! I couldn't help it. Her continuous presence gradually overwhelmed me, despite the fact that she was attached to somebody else at the time and wouldn't have anything to do with me sexually. By the time I sought to evade her, it was too damned late. I had succumbed to the malady.
DR STANMORE: (Extends a reassuring hand to the patient's right shoulder) Nobody can help falling in love, my friend. It's beyond our control, since ordained by nature. If it happens it happens, and you must suffer the consequences, whether positively or, as in your case, negatively. If she refused you, then she is to blame. You have every right to the woman of your choice. If she was otherwise engaged, I rather doubt that she told you all that much about it, not, at any rate, unless you pressed her to, since the object of this engagement would then have constituted a reason for her excluding you which, regardless of human convention, isn't in accordance with nature's will.
MR HAMILTON: As a matter of fact, she claimed to be engaged with church activities every night.
DR STANMORE: (Raises his brows in surprise) Then you're very unfortunate, my young friend. For the Church is usually in opposition to nature. You've suffered, it seems to me, on account of someone's habitual bigotry. But don't worry! The new administration is seeing to the removal of outmoded institutions and we, for our part, will certainly do what we can to prevent this misfortune from incapacitating you further. It remains to be said, however, that the final solution rests with you personally. So you must be determined!
MR HAMILTON: (Frowns) But even if you do hypnotize me, or put me under, I'll still be in love, won't I? I mean, you can't cold turkey my emotions.
NURSE BARNES: (Slightly irritated, in spite of her show of good humour) We have absolutely no intention of "cold turkeying" you, James. We can only hypnotize you into forgetting her.
DR STANMORE: (Sits at his desk and then leans forward with fingers crossed, his demeanour stern) Some people call it brainwashing. They believe it to be an outrage against nature, another very conspicuous example of the inhumanity of modern science, a ruse they're constantly exploiting as a means to furthering their own ends which, as we've already seen, are more often against nature. Now some individuals even go so far as to assert that the interruption and subsequent termination of this pestiferous ailment actually robs its victim of a meaningful and emotionally enriching experience. As though such a condition as unrequited love were more of a pleasure than a pain, and therefore shouldn't be tampered with in the name of science! They fail to establish the difference between the requited and unrequited kinds of love, thereby regarding them as equal when, as anyone saddled with the latter will know, they're virtually as far apart as heaven and hell! Indeed, I should be most surprised to discover a person whose love had been requited duly applying for immediate hypnotic alleviation. As a rule, such a person is perfectly at one with himself.
MR HAMILTON: (Still feels sceptical) But will I really forget all about my emotional attachment to her? I mean, isn't that a trifle farfetched?
(Unable to restrain her impatience) Mr Hamilton, you are a difficult
convince! Anyone would think you didn't
want to be cured, that you'd rather remain in the painful clutches of a
which has virtually deranged your mind!
Why-on-earth did you come along here in the first place, if you
wanted to persist in playing hard to get?
Admittedly, many things appear a trifle farfetched to begin
that's certainly no reason why they should be thought impossible. Whoever would have supposed man capable of
travelling to the moon, let alone flying to
MR HAMILTON: Yes, but what if, in leaving here, I encounter her within the next few days - as I'm almost bound to do - and subsequently run the risk of falling in love with her all over again? Surely I won't be immune from that?
DR STANMORE: (Exercises his customary aplomb and paternal encouragement) Oh yes you will! For we assure you, during the course of your treatment, that she'll have absolutely no further emotional hold over you until such time as, given a change of circumstances, you may specifically request otherwise. If you shortly encounter her again, there'll be absolutely no possibility of unrequited love. You'll be completely free of her. However, should she subsequently become accessible to your attentions through either a change in her romantic or possibly even ideological circumstances, then you'll be perfectly free to become re-acquainted with her without running any risk of falling in love. You may even decide to return to us in order to be re-hypnotized into falling in love with her again; though such a decision will be entirely up to you, and obviously subject to the precondition that a mutually satisfactory arrangement can be reached next time.
NURSE BARNES: Unrequited love is a thing of the past, a kind of virulent psychic disease, or insanity of the soul, from which your parents' generation and all the generations prior to them constantly suffered. They had absolutely no protection against it, and consequently succumbed in their millions. Now if venereal disease was the chief physical manifestation of sexual hardship, then unrequited love was its chief psychical manifestation, against which it was extremely difficult to prevail. Clinics for alleviating the directly physical aspects of the problem were established quite some time before medical experts and politicians got round to taking its psychical aspects more seriously, and this traditional disequilibrium of attention - so often resulting in more cases of rape, juvenile delinquency, neurosis, severe depression, chronic perversion, and sexual hatred, i.e. the so-called 'war of the sexes' - was partly a consequence of the political establishment's inability and/or disinclination to link such social transgressions with sexual repressions, and partly a consequence of the prevailing misconception with regard to the nature of a healthy soul, the principal criterion for assessing the health of which should have been its social wellbeing and emotional integrity, rather than the psychological shackles with which the antinatural morality of the state metaphysics chose to enslave it! However, the recent enlightenment schemes and re-education programmes which the new authorities have introduced, including a much wider and more liberal sex-education scheme; the possibility of regular sex in one of the many aesthetically-advanced 'Sex Centres', where one can privately, comfortably, and economically enjoy access to the most advanced films and sex gadgets/dolls; the widespread recognition of manic depression as the punishment inflicted by nature upon those who, whether through force of circumstances or in consequence of arbitrary decisions, have deviated from it to any appreciable extent, and the concomitant acceptance of the organic necessity of some form of regular sex; the systematic elimination of certain superstitions and anachronisms, and the establishment of the league against sexual puritanism, etc., coupled to the remarkable advances in modern technology - about which, incidentally, I need say no more - have entirely revolutionized the situation. And not only by the legitimatization of various theoretical antidotes to the old way of life but, more importantly, by the legitimatization of a variety of practical antidotes to it which are far superior to any old women's formulae or imaginable drugs, and certainly much less harmful. We no longer suffer from so many physical diseases, so why should we suffer from mental or emotional ones instead? What would it gain you to remain perpetually melancholic?
DR STANMORE: (Ironically) You're not a writer, by any chance, are you?
MR HAMILTON: (Without really appreciating the doctor's subtle irony) No, I'm not actually.
DR STANMORE: Well then, what have you got to lose, apart from a humiliating obsession which you're unable to control, a situation which is driving you crazy, a gratuitous attachment? The days of emotional slavery are over! There is absolutely no need for you to follow this young woman, this epitome of physical vanity, around on an imaginary lead, as though you were a craven dog whose very survival depended on it! Renounce this servility! Have done with her! Embrace your independence!
MR HAMILTON: (Smiles for the first time) Maybe I'll be luckier next time, assuming there'll be a next time?
DR STANMORE: (In a conciliatory and overly reassuring tone-of-voice) Of course there'll be a next time! A handsome and smartly-dressed young chap like you? Don't underestimate yourself! Why waste precious time worrying yourself sick over some young prude who foolishly ignores you, when you can walk out of here, later today, and approach the first attractive girl your eyes light upon? Now don't take me literally, but that's the possibility. Too many young men waste months and even years in consequence of unrequited love when, given the right opportunity, plenty of other pretty females would ordinarily attract them.
NURSE BARNES: And that's precisely why we're here, complete with soft lighting.
MR HAMILTON: (Blushes slightly) Then please get to work on me, people. I have to walk out of here a new man!
MONDAY 20th SEPTEMBER
Whenever I experience a nightmare these days, like earlier this morning, I am in the habit of turning violent. I refuse to be intimidated. Usually, a sudden uprush of retaliatory anger has the effect of obliterating the nightmare, and I lie awake feeling slightly annoyed that I was obliged to resort to something which had the effect of waking me up prematurely. If I can't force myself back to sleep as quickly as possible, I lie there fantasizing or, alternatively, thinking over the chain of events which led up to the crisis.
Now from what I can remember about this particular chain of events, a man in a raincoat and trilby, whom I had never seen before, stepped through my french windows and tried to strangle me whilst I lay in bed. When I realized what he was up to, I struggled free and yelled, at what seemed like the top of my voice: 'Piss off, you stupid sod!' and began to lash out at him with my fists. Then I suddenly woke up with a start and discovered that I was in an empty room. The mysterious stranger had evidently beat a hasty retreat!
So far as I can now recall, most of my nightmares over the past few years have assumed a similar pattern; retaliatory abuse of the most expletive kind serves to dispel the impending calamity, and the assailant, whether human or otherwise, suddenly finds himself confronted by more opposition than he had evidently bargained for. However, as a child my nightmares were very different, both in substance and outcome, and often took the form of a chase. I would almost invariably encounter a hairy monster, a sort of large ape-like beast who frequented derelict houses at night and who may well have been a sort of perverted father-figure come to steal me away from my mother. How or why I got to these houses I shall never know, but I was usually alone and, like most young children, highly inquisitive. Now at sight of the monster, which either appeared on the scene from around a corner or out of a dark hole in the ground, I would beat a hasty retreat. But, as it was night, everywhere was dark and forbidding, which caused me to experience considerable difficulty in finding my way home. At the same time I somehow sensed that the monster was hot-on-my-heels, though I could never force myself to look back in order to acquire concrete verification. The initial glimpse of him had evidently been enough!
What really troubled me, however, was that I couldn't escape quickly enough; for my efforts to evade his pursuit were gradually becoming harder and harder, and I felt my legs overcome by an incredibly overpowering heaviness, as though I were wearing deep-sea diver's boots or the ground possessed a powerful magnetic quality which inhibited movement. Now while this was going on, and I was desperately struggling to quicken my pace, it occurred to me that the monster was steadily gaining ground, that he need only stretch out a large hairy claw and I would be done for, torn limb-from-limb or eaten alive. Terror-stricken, I turned to face my pursuer, who by this time had borne down on me, in order to experience the worst. But my last-moment panic invariably woke me up, and I would lie drenched in sweat with my head ducked under the blankets and my heart pounding away like it was about to explode. Fortunately for me the explosion had already taken place, since the nightmare was blown to pieces! All that remained to do then was to prevent my imagination from going back over the sordid details of the chase and digging up fresh evidence against me, fresh horrors from the dungeon of my petrified soul. Had I been able to get quickly back to sleep, this problem would never have arisen. But my imagination usually had ideas of its own, and the more I struggled against it, to avoid a recapitulation of the dream sequence, the more dedicated it became to frustrating my struggles until, an hour or so later, my soul was a hideous prison of mortal fears!
As it happens, I don't experience such ghastly nightmares these days, probably because I'm old enough to look after myself and am more psychically evolved, in any case. But I still hide most of my head under the bedding, as though to shield it from the proximity of invisible powers who only come out, as it were, at night. That is undoubtedly a legacy from childhood, as is an occasional tendency of mine to discern the outlines of faces, masks, profiles, disguises, etc., in a variety of small patterns and/or nondescript shapes, doubtless because I still have an active imagination. At the age of five or six I was often frightened by the many projections cast by shadows, by the 'bogeymen' who inhabited the curtains, appeared behind lampshades, paraffin heaters, clothes hangers, and other domestic objects, hugging the walls with their ominous silhouettes. I almost expected to see one of these silent projections move and slowly turn towards me, in order to petrify me with a pair of piercing eyes which, until then, had remained firmly closed, and thus hidden from view. It must have been similar to the suspense I subsequently felt at the cinema during the introduction to those old Edgar Wallace thrillers (I think!), when a metallic man slowly swivelled around in his chair and you waited breathlessly for a full view of his authoritative face, that apparently omniscient gaze which encompassed everyone and everything, and from which you knew there was no escape. Long before I was regularly taken to the cinema I must have attributed similar powers to the shadows which haunted my room, because I could never force myself to sleep unless the light was left on, so that things remained exactly as and where they were. Then I knew what I was up against, that the shadows had fixed limits. Once the light was turned off, however, there would be no limit to what they could get up to; they might feel protected against detection and multiply in the dark, like frenzied ghosts.
Well, whatever they did, I no longer worry about them at all. Yet I can still detect the outlines of strange faces, masks, etc., if I choose to stare at my flowery wastepaper bin or crazy-patterned lino some evenings. There is nothing particularly frightening about this propensity, which would hardly be worth calling hallucinatory. Nevertheless, the fact remains that I can occasionally construct an imaginary face or two if I really focus my attention on doing so, if I allow my adult imagination to wander a little in the direction of Salvador Dali's 'paranoiac critical' methodology.
However, when I awoke from this morning's nightmare I didn't in the least imagine that 'bogeymen' were lurking in the shadows. But, all the same, I couldn't get back to sleep as quickly as I'd have liked to either, nor did I fancy the idea of allowing the night air to caress my ears. So I must have been dozing for quite some time before I entered the next dream (of which I now retain only the vaguest of recollections), though a dream or two later I was dancing with an attractive dark-haired girl who also permitted me to fondle her breasts. Naturally, I would have preferred this episode of my dream life to continue much longer than it did; for when I squeezed her tits, she thanked me warmly and cried: "Oh, do it again!" over and over, as though she hadn't been toyed with in ages and my service was consequently of especial significance to her. So I made every effort to be of further assistance and when, all-too-soon and for some unaccountable reason, I woke up ... I felt bitterly disappointed that the dream in question hadn't permitted me a few additional and, as it were, deeper intimacies besides.
But there you are! I experienced both heaven and hell in one night. My dream life had once again become more important to me than my waking one. Indeed, so much so that, when I eventually crawled out of bed this morning, it was with the ominous feeling that my next round of dreams would have to be paid for at the high cost of a day's intensive labour. My new literary venture was awaiting me, in consequence of which I would be compelled to mould something from the various notes made during the past two weeks.
Of course, if things became too onerous I could always read for a couple of hours, visit a museum or art gallery, take a lengthy stroll, or even go to the cinema. Yes, why not? My last visit to the cinema had been several months ago and, as far as I could now recall, it had amounted to an extremely memorable experience. I had seen an adaptation of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, with Max Von Sydow in the title role, and it had made such a profound impression on me that, for an entire week, I could think of nothing else. In fact I re-read the novel (for about the fifth time), and then went and saw the same film at a different cinema the following week! For films like Steppenwolf and, for that matter, Siddhartha (another Hesse adaptation) are comparatively rare, in fact so rare that, when you see them, you're aware of experiencing an important film event, the sort of event that probably won't occur too many times in your life, particularly when you reflect on the crassly violent nature of the countless commercial films which continuously swamp the market with their mass-produced inanities and vulgarities.
However, in returning to the present, I'm not really anticipating any such important event, filmic or otherwise, today. It will probably be one of those lukewarm days that drag along in a rather monotonous fashion - the sort of day with which the ailing Harry Haller was apparently well acquainted!
When I eventually settled down to doing some writing this morning, it had gone . I added some more notes to my current notebook, thought out the plan for the first chapter of my prospective novel, and toyed with a few potential character names. With my conscience slightly appeased, I had lunch, took a short stroll, read a dozen pages of Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, and resumed writing until tea time. After that, I listened rather half-heartedly to the radio, which was broadcasting the news.
However, at the moment I am in the process of recording some fresh thoughts, particularly about the money in my pocket. Admittedly, there is nothing remarkably strange or unusual about it. But what does strike me as a little odd is the fact that it only fully dawned on me today, whilst I was handing some silver across the counter at The Cornerstop Café (a different place, incidentally, from the one I invariably have breakfast in), that it wasn't really mine, since it had undoubtedly passed through many thousands of hands before me and had probably collected as much unspeakable filth, in the process, as one either cared or dared to imagine. I was fiddling with the coins in my pocket, feeling their edges, weighing them on my fingers, caressing their obverses and reverses absentmindedly, when suddenly, as though from a stunning flash of insight, I realized that this money was essentially communist, that it belonged to everybody ... from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor. I almost threw the silver I was holding into the greasy, outstretched hand of the plump waitress, in order to be rid of it as quickly as possible and thus 'decontaminate' myself. It would have been far too demoralizing for me to have thrown up my lunch there and then on account of a handful of dirty coins!
Yesterday, the day before yesterday, and any number of days prior to that, I wouldn't have given the matter as much as a single thought. My chief concerns were (a) to have enough money to get by on; (b) to make sure I didn't lose any; and (c) to ensure that I kept a constant check on my spending. Today, however, I acquired an additional concern: I wanted to wash the rest of my coins under the tap in order to sterilize them! I somehow feared that my hands, and possibly even my mouth, had already become 'contaminated', in which case it was too late for me to rectify anything; my skin would be swarming with thousands upon thousands of ugly germs which had been transferred from the dull, greasy, piss-smeared coins in my pocket. Indeed, my mouth was at that very moment probably seething with countless microbes which had no business being there. It would be justice to smoke them out with the aid of the worst imaginable cigarettes, to rid myself of these pestiferous little monsters that thrive on dirty coins!
What really amazes me, however, is that I hadn't thought about this problem before, but had treated my money somewhat matter-of-factly (as people usually do when they've never been accustomed to real bellyaching poverty), without in the least suspecting that it could have had a most unhygienic history; that, for example, somebody could have dropped a 10p coin on the dirty pavement or not washed his hands after going to the lavatory; that a disease-ridden prostitute could have reached into somebody's sweaty pocket to extract a few crumpled bank notes and a little loose change, or pushed a 50p coin across an ash-stained, beer-stained, sweat-stained, spew-stained counter in some dingy neighbourhood pub. Everybody and anybody, from a king to a beggar, could have nonchalantly, unwittingly, playfully fingered these coins in exactly the same way as me, without in the least suspecting the true extent of their filth. Even the local health inspector wouldn't have known exactly what he was dealing with. For this really is a case of 'Where ignorance is bliss ...'
Anyway, I'm not going to let all this bother me too much, since I don't value my life that highly, even though I find it difficult to be flippant about it. In fact, the most seemly thing to do now would be to make a point of only touching money - notes as well as coins - when I have to, in order to minimize the risk of infection.
These wretched flies! I am sure they have a mind of their own. No sooner have I begun to eat a peanut-butter sandwich and to shoo the filthy insects away than they turn spiteful and converge on me from all directions, like kamikaze pilots. I ought to do the job properly and swat them all to death, knock the stale air out of their filthy lungs, but I don't possess a fly-swat, nor even a newspaper today. You would think, though, that the little wretches would leave you alone when you've given-up struggling with them, that they would take the hint and become reasonable. No such luck! One of the little buggers seems particularly bent on revenge. He is even going so far as to wander around the rim of my mug until he arrives at the place against which I normally put my mouth and, doubtless encouraged by the obnoxious residue of stale tea, has now begun to rub his front legs together as though to gleefully deposit something unspeakably despicable upon it, the dirty little shit! Absolutely no sense of decency! Right now the only thing that concerns him is how best to irritate me.
Yes, but if by ill-luck he gets out of here alive he will settle on the first piece of tempting filth his big wild eyes lead him to, quite as though I had never existed. Indeed, he will probably become part of a colony of fellow shit-mongers. And if he then encounters a member of the opposite sex with whom he fancies some kind of coital arrangement is feasible, he will leap upon her and do everything in his power to breed more flies. The only thing that really matters to him is to revel in as much sex, filth, spitefulness, and flying as his comparatively short and highly precarious existence will permit, to die after a full, adventurous, and productive life. That is doubtless why he refuses to waste any more time over a slightly humiliated human being like me, but continues to do exactly as he pleases, despite my obstinate protestations. He absolutely refuses to acknowledge my moral superiority over him, the egotistical little pig!
Still, I shouldn't allow myself to become so upset over this relatively trivial intrusion. I haven't fallen so low. If I were a scientist, however, I could quite understand it. Flies, rats, spiders, skunks, frogs, lizards, worms, lice, and snakes are often the very justification of a scientist's existence, his raison d'être. He can rattle off a hundred-page thesis on genetic anomalies in rats without batting an eyelid. He has compiled immense volumes of highly erudite material concerning the lower animals, and sometimes concerning things far below them - for example, microbes. From these and similar investigations he has instigated remarkable breakthroughs in the world of organic knowledge. His distinguished colleagues clap vehemently and spontaneously in unanimous appreciation of his important findings, and from laboratory to laboratory, lecture hall to lecture hall, country to country, his knowledge of rats, spiders, flies, and other such lowly creatures has steadily increased his authority and overwhelming prestige. The age of rats is on the wane; they will soon be virtually extinct. When Professor Ratcatcher has completed his studies and is satisfied with his findings, there will be little reason for their continued existence. After all, it's mainly through such studies that, thanks in large measure to the professor's perseverance and unshakeable optimism, man will be able to aspire towards his noblest achievements to-date, that he'll embrace the future with fresh hope and, above all, as strong a desire to eliminate flies and spiders as he previously showed with regard to the more accessible vermin. So be it! I leave Professor Ratcatcher to his worthy task, and just hope that he doesn't treat the coins in his pocket with the same insouciance as most of us now treat flies!
Now it is time for a short nocturnal stroll. If I don't get a change of air soon, there'll be a strong possibility of my suffocating to death and being metamorphosed into a fly or something equally disagreeable, like one of Kafka's enigmatic characters.
TUESDAY 21st SEPTEMBER
Yes, there are basically two types of young lonely women: those who bear you a grudge because your reticence in making their acquaintance only serves to emphasize their plainness and, conversely, those who bear you a grudge because your reticence in making their acquaintance only serves to undermine their beauty. In passing judgement on themselves, such women almost invariably fit into one or other of these categories. Of course, there are also two ways of looking at them; either as their slave or as their tyrant.
Now if, for example, a young man considers himself a slave of such women, he may feel disinclined to stare at female strangers because he imagines himself to be a perpetual victim of their attractiveness and consequently imprisoned by the desire or need to make love. Such a man might well imagine himself subsequently sweating away for them like a phallic puppet on a vaginal string. A female stranger who smiled to herself when he noticed her for the first time might well suggest something despicable - for instance, a personal vanity concerning her looks from which he can derive no consolation, since there is nothing in it which would indicate direct interest in him. If, in public, this young man prefers not to stare at women, you may be fairly confident that he is busy safeguarding his dignity and independence; that he prefers to avoid compromising himself, to making a fool of himself in the presence of largely indifferent or even potentially hostile strangers. Naturally, there is always the possibility that a fair percentage of the young women he encounters will leave him cold, in consequence of which he would never think of taking a second look at them. But even if he happens to encounter somebody highly attractive or, more accurately, somebody who corresponds to his ideal, the chances are pretty high that he will prefer not to tantalize himself, to commit himself to the conspicuously vulnerable category of 'men without women.'
As far as the tyrant is concerned, however, the roles are completely reversed. He wishes to exploit women, to descend upon them like a beast of prey and utilize them for his own predatory ends. A young woman who smiled to herself when he first noticed her would indicate that he had influence, that he pleased her and, consequently, that further developments were not inconceivable. In short, he accepts appearances on a more optimistic, not to say self-aggrandizing, basis, without ambiguity or paradox. Ideas concerning the tragedy of sex are if not downright repugnant to him then, at any rate, mostly alien. After all, as he sees it, the female exists to mollify and divert the male and therefore his natural optimism, in this regard, will lead him to dominate and subjugate her for her own good as much as for his, or so the story goes.
Now these two contradictory points of view, taken together, constitute the essential difference between the sexual attitudes of Baudelaire and de Sade, to take two convenient examples from the archives of prominent literary figures. The former considered man, and by implication himself, to be 'a slave of a slave', while the latter, spurred on by his strange perversions, sought to dominate and subjugate women to his own sadistic ends. It depends, I suppose, whether you possess an inferiority complex or a superiority complex, whether you consider yourself a slave or a tyrant in this respect, and to some extent whether you happen to be in a pessimistic or an optimistic frame-of-mind at the time.
Without going into unnecessary details, one can surmise that Baudelaire's syphilis played some part in shaping his general attitude towards women, in developing what could be seen as an effort to avoid normal sexual relations, in view of the fact that such a highly contagious and virulent disease would inevitably turn a man of Baudelaire's sensitivity into a kind of island and thus prohibit the natural fulfilment of his amorous desires, particularly with regard to those types of women who, for cultural and social reasons as well as looks, would ordinarily have appealed to him. But, of course, that is quite another matter, scarcely one to which I need dedicate any more time here, in this humble journal. Baudelaire and de Sade only concern me insofar as their respective attitudes to women and, by implication, sex are concerned, which is why I drew attention to them in the first place. A majority of men probably oscillate between these two extremes, depending on their mood.
Indeed, you could almost use your attitude towards women, at any given time, as a sort of barometer or guide to the nature of your prevailing mood. I mean if, like me, you went out feeling rather glum, the chances are pretty high that you wouldn't want to look too closely at anybody, that you would rather drift past others undetected, without any verbal or visual commitments. You might even have got the impression that people were closing-in on you, knew all about you, and were only too aware that the slightest slip on your part would give the whole game away: they could classify you as a victim or even as a pervert.
Yes, they would know that you had taken to the streets because your room had become too constrictive and depressing. They would see, from the sullen expression on your face, that things weren't quite running according to plan, that something was seriously amiss, that you didn't have any female company and were only out in the vain hope of encountering somebody worth getting to know.
Yes, you might well imagine it like that, depending, as I say, on your prevailing mood. Still, the chances are that people won't consider any of those things at all but will just brush past your arm as stranger to stranger, not even bothering or daring to look you in the eye. For all they knew, you might be a madman, a potential rapist, a thief, a simpleton, an atheist, an ignoramus, a syphilitic, a homosexual, or one of the legions of the unemployed and, worse still, unemployable. You might be 'on the make' and, as such, the most sensible thing that an innocent young woman could do, in the circumstances, would be to mind her own business in case you transpired to being someone it was difficult to get along with, someone who approximated to one or more of the above categories and therefore wouldn't make life any easier for her. Besides, if she really wanted to take a closer look at you she could always do it on the sly, when you weren't looking, were side-by-side, or had hurried past each other in a rush to avoid mutual embarrassment. Once off stage, so to speak, she could afford to relax again. She needn't feel constrained to make your acquaintance; she would be out of harm's reach and able, in consequence, to assess you at leisure. But if you suddenly glanced back at her, as though to imply knowledge of her little subterfuge, she would instinctively look away. You would know that it should be regarded as idle curiosity on her part, the sort of mindless trap into which a young lady of curious disposition occasionally falls. Needless to say, strangers can be awfully suspicious of one another!
So you continue on your way, inhaling the obnoxious odour of whatever happens to pervade your nostrils, whether it be the accumulated residue of a day's traffic pollution or the acrid stench of somebody's alcoholic breath. You walk down one street and up another, following a familiar route rather than one which might lead you astray and cause you to scratch your head in puzzlement as to where exactly you were. Between the couples and the groups of people who occasionally brush past your arm you detect the odd solitary wanderer like yourself, but you don't stare too closely. You realize that it wouldn't do you any good, since you would only feel humiliated by the sight of your social reflection. Now if, by any chance, this solitary wanderer were to mumble something as you drew near him, you wouldn't allow yourself to become intrigued, embarrassed, or annoyed by the fact; on the contrary, you would simply ignore him. You would know from experience that such mumblings were usually negative, the derogatory implications of which engendered guilty feelings. So if you didn't want to become a martyr to your own guilt, and weren't particularly paranoid, you would have to relegate the person concerned to the maniac level, the irresponsible level, the disturbed level, or, more effectively still from your standpoint, the bum level. That would certainly be one way to defend yourself from such extraneous intrusions!
And so you continue to walk along the pavement as though nothing had happened, nothing was wrong with the world or with your life, and you were only enjoying the harmless pleasure, after all, of a leisurely neighbourhood stroll. You pass thousands of monotonous brick-leaden houses which have been strung together in the name of urban civilization: empty houses, brightly-lit houses, old houses, dark houses, new houses, small houses, derelict houses, large houses, renovated houses, even a few blocks of flats, where the inhabitants (if any) are almost invariably locked away in their separate rooms and nestling in nocturnal somnolence, watching TV or listening to the radio, knitting winter clothes or reading the daily paper, washing their hair or complaining about the weather, dozing by the fire or eating their evening meal, and your glum mood goes out to these houses, incorporates them into its silent diatribe, dismisses them as so many residential eyesores, and defensively curls-up, like a threatened hedgehog, in order to retreat into its lone chamber of psychic despair.
Yes, you may well wonder, in this negative frame-of-mind, how it is that these wretched houses don't suddenly disgorge people in a furious riot, or why their inhabitants don't suddenly break out in one ultimate revolt against the overwhelming narrowness of things, as though in defiance of the claustrophobic atmosphere of their tepid lives! If you had a lethal weapon in your hands, at this juncture, you would almost be capable of using it, of doing somebody a favour by ridding him of his daily humiliations, freeing him, once and for all, from the implacable clutches of his glorified nest, routine chores, nagging wife, importunate kids, numerous disappointments, frustrations, worries, obsessions, depressions, and physical ailments. Of course, you would almost certainly be considered a criminal and be trodden underfoot. But what else could you reasonably expect from people who are so accustomed to domestic deprivation that they inevitably become resigned to it and end-up regarding their perseverance as a sort of moral triumph? Nevertheless, you would have more sense than to cause a neighbourhood scandal, to give vent to your transient spleen in such a barbarous fashion! You would sooner beat a hasty retreat back to your single room, lock yourself in, like everybody else, and then pretend that consolation can be found in a few cheap cigarettes which, after a while, might even lead to an illusion of pleasure.
Without too great a stretch of the imagination, one can quite understand how certain traditional religious beliefs came to have such a lasting influence, how people were gradually seduced into regarding their life as a penitence, an atonement for that indiscretion of indiscretions - original sin! When one is trapped in such a depressing world, it seems only too logical that certain people should attribute a form of Divine Retribution to the problems with which humanity are daily confronted. They may be inclined to associate the world's shortcomings with a continuous punishment (for original sin) simply because the essential nature of things seems too disconcerting to be wholly attributable to anything else, least of all a Supreme Being.
Yes, but when you realize, in light of original sin, that these shortcomings are partly attributable to yourself and partly to the world in general, to those people you often come into contact with, then you have nothing to fall back on but yourself, nothing to do but stare yourself in the face and admit to your mirrored reflection that no traditional deity, whether now or in a thousand years' time, is going to tell you what to do, since that is largely if not entirely your own responsibility. If you 'wimp out' and convince yourself that life would be intolerable without some form of conventional religious faith, a faith built upon the foundation of certain extraterrestrial beliefs which necessarily presuppose the existence of a Supreme Being behind all Creation, then you can either do away with yourself or, alternatively, seek consolation in the relative knowledge that a traditional religious faith is better than no faith, with the implication, willy-nilly, that you would rather go to the grave superstitious and deluded than face up to the reality of living in a purely humanized world, a world where it is up to you personally. There is no alternative. Either you seek the delusive consolations of conventional religious faith at the expense of your self-determination, or you refuse to be so consoled. Anything else is presumptuous.
Indeed, it's as presumptuous or, more correctly, deceitful as was some religious lecturer who once informed me (I had been foolish enough to allow myself to be dragged along to a lecture by some Christian organization one Saturday afternoon) that many young people were going through life with a terrible depression weighing upon their minds simply because they refused to allow Jesus Christ into their lives, a Christ Who would purify and redeem them as long as they put their trust in Him, a Christ Who would stand by them in times of need, etc. Well, much as there was some truth in what I heard that afternoon, I walked out just before the lecture had finished and the collection box come all the way around. I walked out and didn't look back, and not simply because I was privately disgusted with the limitations of the lecturer's argument but, more importantly, because I had previously arranged to meet a friend at another part of town and had been assured, when first accosted with intent to being driven to the lecture, that I would be returned to my pick-up point in good time in order to be able to keep my rendezvous. As it happened, that didn't transpire, since they probably thought I was bluffing in the first place and had no control over the lecturer's timing, in any case. Someone informed me whilst I was on my way down the steps of the building, already over fifteen minutes late for the rendezvous, that no transport facilities had been provided for the return journey and that I would therefore, and much to their regret, have to make my own way back to the centre of town. That did it! Not only had I been tricked into attending a superfluous lecture but, to cap it all, I had been cheated out of the return journey, to boot! I was furious with myself for not having had more sense in the first place, for not having forbidden myself to be seduced into attending such a thing simply because some of them were French, and I had foolishly succumbed to their charm and language at a time when my admiration for all things French was probably at or near its peak.
However that may be, I eventually found my own way back to the centre of town. Though I wasn't exactly in a state of euphoria about it, despite the far-from insignificant consideration that I had managed to get away from the place before things there became unduly oppressive and, as far as I was concerned, repressive. On the way, I turned the essential substance of the lecture over and over in my mind and, in doing so, I realized how tactfully, craftily, perhaps even unwittingly, its perpetrator was deceiving people.
Oh yes, many youths and, for that matter, adults were going through modern life with a terrible depression on their minds all right, of that I knew only too well! For I was suffering from just such a depression myself, one doubtless born of loneliness and an inability to meet anyone with whom I could merge or, rather, submerge myself and possibly re-emerge a new man a few hours or even days later.
Oh yes, I knew all about social loneliness and sexual frustration, ostracism and rejection, the plight of the intelligent individual in the urban wilderness, ethnic exile in an alien environment, an environment at loggerheads with my natural and cultural instincts. I knew about as much as a young person could know about such things without going completely crazy and attempting to do away with himself or, failing that, with certain others.
Oh yes, absolutely! But that didn't alter anything, that wasn't enough to erase the years of depression overnight. And neither were those flagrant lies about Jesus Christ! Whatever simple or conservative people might think, it wasn't Christ who would make war on depression or, for that matter, on the numerous other afflictions, misfortunes, disasters, and diseases with which modern man was confronted. It wasn't Christ who would stand by you in times of need, even if some of his teachings did. Christ was dead, crucified, finished! Killed once by the ancient world and killed again by the modern one, with its rampant barbarism and concomitant disregard for inner truth, its heathen idolatry before a plethora of superhuman 'stars' ... from film and pop to sport and glamour. Christ was simply the pretext certain people needed for getting together, forming a sort of social club where it was assumed, for purposes of convenience, that he or, rather, He (with a capital 'H') was still alive.
No doubt, such people required an ulterior motive to drag their humiliated bodies and souls together once or twice a week, in order to perform special ceremonies for one another. And when they had performed their various religious duties, sung Christ's praises, listened to the same old sermon as though it were totally new to them, made a donation to the church coffers, and received the clergyman's dutiful blessing, they could rub shoulders on a more down-to-earth and mutually acceptable basis. They could ease their minds by discussing Mozart's piano sonatas, the history of French Impressionism, the immorality of contemporary cinema, the joys of a country picnic, the fallacies of Nietzsche's philosophy, the irreverence of Bertrand Russell, the latest African famine, the inferiority of other so-called World Religions, or the futility of atheism. But if these and other such subjects began to wear thin or to lose their cutting edge, they could always let themselves go in a lengthy bout of unrestrained hymn-singing, or even take it upon themselves to wander about preaching the Good News to people.
Yes, they could tell all
ignorant souls, the legions of unbelieving atheists, about the great
of belief in Christ, His ability to transform souls, to erase
one new strength, hope, life, etc. And
if that didn't work, they could always resort to someone great, like
'The Bible is no mere book but a living power that conquers all who
it.' Indeed, they could even resort to
Queen Victoria who, on being questioned, one day, as to the secret of
So the church-goers have their weekly get-together which allows them to bolster one another up and even gives some of them an opportunity to meet somebody of the opposite sex who may subsequently prove more beneficial than anything else - a woman, say, who may give the interested man access to a pleasure that will fill his soul with well-being and thereby enable him to travel around the world condemning alcoholics, smokers, drug addicts, and atheists with a new ardour in his veins, born of the conviction that love is all it takes.
But it's not Jesus Christ who can work the miracle, it's not Christ who can authorize their social and/or sex lives (though even if he could one would have to accept the possibility that he also helps unbelievers too, since they often have successful social and/or sex lives as well). No, Christ doesn't know of their existence, and even if, by some incredibly remote chance, he did, he would probably feel indifferent towards them or downright upset that they were using his name to further their own ungodly ends. For whatever they've achieved, by way of social and/or sexual advancement, they have authorized by themselves, granting themselves a social life which is built upon the foundations of a few expedient delusions without wishing, for obvious reasons, to accept or admit to the fact that they are actually deluded. After all, a fair number of them would have to face-up to the fact that they are really pharisees who had opted to make a deal with religion out of ignorance or fear or some private ulterior motive as often as not connected with sex.
Yet such a confrontation with the self, such an admission of moral weakness, would doubtless prove undesirable, if not downright unbearable, to most of them. It would raise too many awkward questions, questions which were better left not only unanswered but safely buried beneath a mass of lies and expedient delusions. For whether or not one is consciously aware of the fact, it is an implicit law of nature that whatever one does, over an extended period of time, one must acquiesce in it wholeheartedly, else risk going insane. Even a thief, an embezzler, a liar, or a pervert must fully acquiesce in what he is doing if he wishes to maintain his psychic equilibrium. Otherwise he will sooner or later make a mistake, give himself away, become paranoid, nervous, unstable, and thereby turn his life into a neurotic hell-on-earth in no time. There is no alternative.
So a man who refuses to join what he regards as a glorified social club simply because he believes that it is fundamentally a self-deluding lie, has no real option but to shun it. He is either compelled to acknowledge God in his own fashion and on his own evolutionary terms or, alternatively, to remain agnostic or even atheistic. Naturally, if he wishes to remain intellectually even-handed, he may opt for agnosticism. But if he is goaded-on by a fierce hatred of the world's injustice, cruelty, hypocrisy, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and deceit, then he'll probably opt for atheism.
A philosopher who can't disprove the assumed divinity of Christ or, for that matter, concepts like the Immaculate Conception and the Resurrection, because he concedes to the irrelevance of logic in dealing with such concepts, is by no means intellectually defeated. On the contrary, such a concession would be intellectually positive, an assertion, in complete honesty, that a given proposition of, say, 2 x 2 = 4 cannot be altered to 5 or 6, no matter what one might personally prefer. In fact, it would be an indication of intellectual integrity derived from a given premise: namely, the claims of the Scriptures taken at face-value and with due regard to the validity of faith. Naturally, I'm not concerned, in this journal, with the evolution of the Scriptures under the aegis of medieval scholasticism. I am not contending that various parts of the Scriptures were carefully revised or reinterpreted in order to strengthen the foundations of otherworldly supremacy and simultaneously safeguard the authoritarian power of the Church; though I'm well aware that such a procedure may have been in accordance with theological requirement. No, the point is that certain aspects of the Scriptures prompt one to say either 'Yes' or 'No', not to disprove them. And we also know that some of the more subtly transcendental doctrines of the Church are completely meaningless before a man who 'lacks the faith', since he can't acquire religious faith once he assumes that it is only the faith itself which works the transformation in people and not the possibility of there being anything tangible behind it - a living deity to whom it should directly relate.
Indeed, any aspiration which religions like Christianity might make towards universal supremacy is both illogical and unjust. Yet the more theological gaps one can expose in them, the greater is the possibility of their sinking into the vast realm of long-accepted myth, along with the Nordic, Celtic, Roman, Greek, Chinese, Indian, and Persian myths of old. That must surely be the fate of an official religion whose devotees and doctrines prove insufficiently convincing to attract the huge numbers of disillusioned unbelievers who remain firmly anchored to the world of the faithless, and whose need for a more relevant and credible religion remains sadly neglected.
When ordinary people treat the established Church lightly, when they see the duplicity and hypocrisy of its principal upholders all too clearly, then its end is surely in sight. Needless to say, it will be a true Day of Judgement when the people democratically cast off this anachronistic burden and thereby relegate it to the subterranean archives of old-world mythology. Until then, those who are unable to prostitute themselves upon the altar of expedient superstition must continue to avert their eyes from the sordid cobwebs of their age, depressions or not!
I have allowed my pen to wander on at some length on this vexed subject of religion and, since I still haven't exhausted what I wish to say, I shall now allow it to wander on a little further. To begin with, I am going to remind myself that I was indoctrinated so persistently, rigorously, and methodically with Christianity that, for several years, I almost saw it coming out of my eyes. As a Roman Catholic, I was brought up, until my tenth year, in regular service of the Church. I attended Holy Communion and Confession unfailingly every week. I was well-versed in the Catechism and other teachings before I really acquired so much as the faintest notion of what it was all about. There were always so many words to memorize that one hardly had time to reflect on exactly why one was memorizing them in the first place. One just took it all for granted.
Anyway, at the age of eight or nine I became an altar boy at St Joseph's in Aldershot and proceeded to assist the priest with the tasks usually associated with such a position, viz. praying at Holy Communion, opening and closing the altar gates, carrying a large Bible, swinging the censer, kneeling before the altar, holding the Cross, and so on. I even wore the obligatory black-and-white frocks which, as I recall, were invariably too long for me and usually tripped me up whenever I got up off my knees or walked around. In truth, I was mortally afraid of disappointing the Blessed Virgin, that mother-substitute on these occasions. Everything would go against me if I had the misfortune to drop something, to fart, cough, or sneeze during prayers or, worse still, stumble down the altar steps onto the rails below. It was of the utmost importance to remain composed, in order to prevent oneself from doing anything unseemly in front of the congregation, especially once they had flocked to the rails with their mouths open and their tongues lolling out to receive the blessed sacrament, when an indiscretion on one's part could have been so costly to priest and communicant alike!
Now this ordeal lasted, as I said, until my tenth year when, following the death of my maternal grandmother, with whom I had always been pretty close, my mother summarily dispatched me to a Protestant Children's Home in Surrey, doubtless grateful for the opportunity to get me out of the way at last and start again with someone else, a new husband whom the existence of her mother had previously denied her. From then on it was a question of Baptist inculcation, the rites of which were so different from all that I had already learnt, since the Blessed Virgin scarcely figured at all and, by way of contrast, the baptismal font was of supreme importance. In actual fact, it wasn't a font at all, in the Catholic sense, so much as a rectangular trough in which an adult could be totally submerged whenever there was the prospect of a new and sincere declaration of loyalty to Christ. The 'convert', already effectively a practising Christian, was simply formalizing his declaration so that, through a sort of symbolic rebirth, people would come to know of his earnestness. Whenever this happened, and the vicar had just lowered someone into the water backwards, you realized that the Baptists had acquired a staunch supporter and that nothing would deter the person concerned from following in Christ's hallowed footsteps. It was an extremely important occasion in Baptist ritual.
Well, I remained Baptist property, if unwillingly and unofficially so, until I left high school at seventeen. There was no possibility of my avoiding the Sunday services - absolutely none! As a rule, you attended church once in the morning, followed by Sunday school, and, assuming you didn't go to Crusaders that afternoon, once in the evening, followed by coffee and relaxation in the adjacent Youth Club. However, if you wanted to play football in the local park, as I usually did on Sunday afternoons, you had to smuggle your boots out of the house and wear such kit as could be mustered for the occasion under your Sunday best. There could be no question of getting too dirty anyway. For indiscretions of that crass order were strictly taboo and, in the unfortunate event of being discovered, would have met with severe repercussions, including the possibility of a sound thrashing, coupled to a cold bath. Now if you wanted to watch TV, as I occasionally did in the evening, you were severely admonished and absolutely forbidden to do any such thing. Sunday was the Lord's day and nothing else. The most you could hope for - other, that is, than a succulent roast lunch and the sight of some pretty girls in church - was a game of chess, draughts, ludo, or snakes and ladders; though it was also permissible to play the piano, provided you didn't play for too long and only kept to the more conservative, and hence religiously-orientated, pieces. Absolutely no jazz or boogie-woogie!
Well, as far as the rest of the week was concerned (and excluding the compulsory religious education acquired at school, which, I guess, was more Anglican than Baptist), the most you could be thankful for was the fact that you didn't have to go to church. Early-morning prayer meetings were held, without fail, at 7.15 and usually lasted between fifteen and twenty minutes. They generally consisted of Bible readings interspersed with routine prayers, though occasionally the Bible was dropped in favour of anti-drug reports, crime surveys, The Pilgrim's Progress, or missionary stories. But never for very long, since it was always regarded by the house parents as the real cynosure of such meetings, their veritable raison d'être.
Before and after these prayer meetings, however, you did some housework, which included hoovering the numerous carpets and/or dusting the even more numerous items of furniture to be found throughout the spacious old semidetached house (the house parents' private living quarters on the second floor excepted), and when the time came for breakfast - as, indeed, for lunch and tea - you knew in advance that nothing could be eaten before someone had said grace. A boy who refused to say grace when his turn came would be refused any food, it was as simple as that. You had to be grateful for everything, even the badly cooked stuff! Naturally, my appreciation of the food was somewhat compromised by the unflagging persistence of this mechanical routine, this "For what we are about to receive ...", which made a religion out of gratitude and elevated food to the status of a benediction.
So at the end of the day, when you were weighed down by homework and there seemed to be nothing under the sun to be really grateful for, you said your prayers in an equally mechanical fashion, before climbing wearily into bed. Then it was that, with the withdrawal of one or other of the house parents from the dormitory, you grabbed a pornographic magazine from whichever of your fellow sufferers had managed to secure anything from school-friends that day, ducked under the blankets with a diminutive torch, and began to scrutinize its erotic contents with a lively if nervous curiosity. Oddly enough, this little clandestine episode was the most you could expect in the world of sexual experience since, if by some remote chance you had managed to find a girlfriend in the outside world, it was strictly against the house regulations to bring her into the dormitory or into any other room where there was no houseparent on duty to keep a protective eye on things. She would have to sit downstairs in the crowded living-room, where the possibility of sex of any description was virtually nil. The house parents provided little incentive for the indulgence of appetites which ran contrary to the Lord's will and, consequently, such appetites were starved and perverted, in true puritanical fashion!
Well, if that kind of upbringing wasn't designed to turn any reasonably intelligent person off Christianity for life, I wonder what would! If its persistence wasn't guaranteed to produce a negative effect on anyone over an extended period of time I can only regard the person concerned as either mad or stupid, and perhaps even a born saint. Indeed, if there is one episode that stands out in my memory above all others, in connection with my life at that time, it has to do with the day Dr Spovey, the Home's legal inspector, having got nowhere in an attempt to make me see the error of my ungodly ways, called the male houseparent aside and informed him that I "will be a tough nut to crack". Imagine it! They wanted to subjugate me, to brainwash me into becoming an obedient slave of the Baptist faith in order, presumably, to continue exploiting me both emotionally and financially in years to come. The mugs! If there's one thing they'll regret, it's that they never cracked me. And I hope they fucking-well choke on the fact!
So there you are. I have described some of the influences which
helped me on the way to my current position, turning me against
particularly its Baptist manifestation, which was, after all, the thing
really in rebellion against; though I didn't fully realize that fact at
time and, even if I had, I doubt very much that, after so many years of
anti-Baptist revolt, I would have walked straight back into the arms of
Catholic Church again, as though nothing had happened in the meantime,
modification of knowledge or awareness taken place in consequence of my
enforced sojourn in the enemy camp. Time
cannot be reversed, and therefore I could no more return to my Catholic
than to my childhood in
For the next link in the chain of my anti-Christian progress, however, I had to wait until, as a humble drudge-ridden clerk in a prestigious West End office, I made the mistake of falling in love with a beautiful young woman who confessed, one fine day, to having been a practising Christian before she took up with or, rather, gravitated to some kind of Buddhist commitment to Transcendental Meditation instead. For me, who had only loved her from a distance and idealized her beyond all imaginings, that was like a slap in the face. A practising Christian? What-on-earth could she mean, I wondered. Though I was presently to get an idea when, making the most of the opportunity circumstances now provided me with, I finally got round to asking her out, only to be informed that she was engaged all week and, given the nature of her social commitments, would probably remain engaged for some time to come. Not only was she regularly practising TM in the evenings but, as I now learnt to my utter amazement, she was still associated with her church, her father being a vicar, and would consequently be singing in the choir, learning new hymns for the forthcoming services, helping him prepare his sermon, etc., so that there was hardly any time to spare on more earthly matters.
Well, that certainly stumped me! I had waited patiently for a young woman who not only effectively kept me chained to an uncongenial office job for several years but made it extremely difficult for me to get to know anything much about her, on account of the fact that, with the exception of periodic visits to London at the end of each university term, she spent most of the year elsewhere. It was fairly evident that these private commitments - this Transcendental Meditation, the hymns she was learning, etc. - were of more importance to her than the love of a self-confessed admirer; that the singing of esoteric verses was of greater importance than putting an end to someone's unrequited love; that the mechanical rituals associated with the worship of a divinity who only existed in the mind of certain people was more important than the amorous desires of somebody whose existence was all-too-physically manifest. The fact that she had dedicated her spare time to TM and the Church, in that order, meant that certain other persons would have to suffer the consequences. For her attentions were evidently focused on things of greater import than the all-too-mundane desires of some rash and impudent male who had unfortunately fallen victim to sexual ambitions beyond his station!
To be sure, it would be much wiser for a young woman like her to dedicate herself more exclusively to people within the confines of the religious clique than to allow herself to be senselessly drawn over to the service of outsiders. One can imagine the voice of her conscience or, rather, conscience-substitute (guru?) saying: "He was obviously deluded. One just cannot be too sure of the uninitiated; they're full of faults. It's wiser to avoid such people. Yes, it's wiser to establish an esoteric morality, a morality in direct opposition to nature. It's wiser to avoid all those who question us, who doubt us, for the simple reason that if they're not with us, they must be against us! We must fortify ourselves against the monotonous encroachments of the outside world. Be civil, not servile! Be brave, not grave! If you can win fresh devotees to the path, particularly young ones, so much the better! Bring them along! Introduce them! We can use their help to further our interests. Transcendental Meditation is now practised in over seven-hundred major cities throughout the world by about one percent of their respective populations. As a result of this remarkable breakthrough, the crime rate in these cities has fallen by approximately the same percentage...." From which remarkable coincidence we should deduce that the people formerly responsible for one percent of the crime have now turned to TM instead!
So some sanctimonious guru with a Cosmic obsession with the astral plane is gradually worming his way into the hearts and minds of his devotees, is slowly but surely remoulding their views according to the dictates of his personal whim, intimating to them that private opinions are superfluous to one who is striving towards the Clear Light. Meantime, in another part of town, a minister is informing someone that he can have Eternal Life if only he gives his heart to the Lord and refrains from sinful habits. Whilst in yet another part of town a young woman is selling introductory magazines which advertise her sect. She is quite pretty as well as disarmingly charming, and whenever she stops a young man (as frequently happens) and makes a sale, she calmly informs him, albeit with a degree of pride faintly mingled with condescension, that she loves him, even though nothing could literally be further from the truth. "I love you," she says again, staring into his rather startled eyes with all the professional candour she can muster. Yet if, by some remote chance, one of these young men should thereupon reply: "If that's the case, why don't you come home with me and prove it, then?", she would probably blush and scuttle away like a panic-stricken crab. She would wonder who-the-devil he thought he was!
Yes, quite so! But life goes on pretty much as before, despite all the apparent and relatively superficial changes in evidence. Eminent clergymen invoke the rain during a period of severe drought. No, they don't do a rain dance, for that would be pagan. They simply recite certain prayers in the hope that God will hear them and make the rain fall!
However, in returning to the subject of that girl I fell in love with, a girl who, in her own words, had been a practising Christian, I can't pretend that I now hate her for having spurned my advances and harboured certain unsympathetic delusions about me. Hate would be too strong a word and, besides, how can you seriously hate someone with whom you were or had been in love? With a clergyman father, that girl couldn't avoid being indoctrinated in Christian, and more specifically Protestant, beliefs. She was bound to be deeply influenced by the various religious practices and theories of her church and, as such, she can even be regarded as a victim, one of many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of victims who, even in adulthood, are rarely more than someone else's mouthpiece, a sort of puppet galvanized into action by some worshipful autocrat who looks like purity personified but mentally rapes the sexier of his female followers and actually succeeds with one or two of them every so often, forcing her legs wide apart and pumping away like a dog in heat.
Yes, she would probably think that he was being kind to her, that they were fulfilling part of their daily devotions to The Almighty by regularly making direct contact with the life force. All the same, she wouldn't have the nerve to look into his big wild eyes too often; she would be concentrating on the numbing effects of his blood-engorged penis, on his sexual assault which almost seemed to be rupturing the walls of her vagina as he manipulated her with savage intent, as though he wanted to carve her in two, putting an end to both of them in one long orgasmic passion of sexual oblivion. But when he had lapped up her juices, like a grateful dog, and left her to stagger into what remained of her clothing, she would never attribute cruel or brutal motives to this 'man of God', this 'leader and teacher'. How could she? They had only been making love, after all, and that was sufficiently self-explanatory. She, too, could afford to avoid proposals from the outside world!
MONDAY 27th SEPTEMBER
I feel relatively encouraged, not to say relieved; I am
write again. Not since last Tuesday,
following the completion of the above entry in this journal, have I so
written a word. I have spent most of the
intervening time in bed, unable to sleep, unable to read, and virtually
to think. Not only did I swindle myself
out of a trip to
On Tuesday afternoon I felt fine or, more precisely, I had no premonition of an impending calamity. If there had been a friend or two with whom to talk, some wine to drink, or a woman to fuck after finishing my stint of writing that afternoon, none of this would probably have happened, and I would have continued recording ideas and impressions in my journal on Wednesday afternoon.
With no immediate or even prospective recourse to such relaxing diversions, however, it soon became clear to me that I would either have to pass the time in my usual solitary fashion or, if the prospect of that proved somewhat daunting (as it evidently did on this occasion), persevere with my writing for an extra hour or two. I had passed literally hundreds of evenings in exactly the same fashion, without ever talking to anyone, without ever seeing anyone, without ever making love to anyone, and so I had little doubt that I would somehow manage to get through this one as well, even if it did mean a little extra work for once. The last thing you wanted, in such circumstances, were doubts about anything! It was of the utmost importance to stay relatively cool, to pass the time in as sensible a fashion as possible, to adjust to your circumstances with the minimum of friction, because if you didn't, if you began to worry about the possibility of overtaxing your brain, the apparent narrowness of things, the extent of your sexual frustrations, or the absence of companionship, wine, and laughter, you were already on the way to a lunatic asylum or, failing that, to a church congregation! The one imperative rule of life demanded that you adjust to your circumstances whatever they happened to be, and I, for one, knew exactly what mine were.
What I didn't know, however, I was soon to learn as, driving myself beyond my cerebral limits, I sustained a head-on collision with my will and subsequently wound-up on the brink of a nervous breakdown. If it wasn't for the fact that I don't normally worry too much or look the breakdown type, I might have gone completely over the brink and plunged into an abyss of self-destruction. But it seems that, for the time being, I have been spared such a catastrophe. My cerebral horizon is now clearly mapped out and all it requires of me is to remain within its boundaries and not go dotty, like an overworked pointillist. Be thyself, by all means. But know thyself as well! This is also required of us.
Well, now that I can actually think again without fear that my brain will blow apart, that it is too heavy to carry, that a hideous pain will dart through it at the slightest intellectual provocation, or that the clicking noises which accompanied my crisis for a few days will return to click louder and more intensively than before, I consider it expedient, for the sake of a little self-respect, to continue from more or less where I left off last Tuesday. At least I shall be slightly wiser now. I shall have learnt something else about the fixity of my limits!
TUESDAY 28th SEPTEMBER
I have just returned from The Cornerstop
Café where, as usual, I had lunch. Unlike
I go for breakfast, this café is situated on the brow of
of the steepest hills in
Anyway when, somewhat out-of-breath, I eventually arrived at The Cornerstop Café at about one-thirty today, the place was jam-packed. Indeed, I had never seen it so full. At first I considered turning around, taking an extended walk or, preferably, visiting the nearby public library in order to kill time while most of the customers gradually paid up and left. Just as I was about to opt for the latter solution, however, I caught sight of an empty chair in front of a table at which an old man was laboriously churning some nondescript stuff over and over in his mouth, as though he were a cement mixer. I could plainly discern some of it sliding around between his teeth. Nevertheless, without wishing to disturb his ruminations, and scarcely bothering to reflect on the obvious inconvenience of the situation from my point of view, I hastily sat down opposite him and took hold of the menu, as though to balance myself. I could tell by the peeved expression on the old bastard's haggard face that he wasn't particularly pleased at the prospect of having a young stranger seated opposite him, but I couldn't help that. After all, one has to sit somewhere and, besides, the sight of his thoroughly masticated food being churned around in his big mouth wasn't the best thing that could have happened to me, either. Quite the contrary!
Well, I duly ordered a tea and some shepherds pie with chips from the plump waitress, and then sat there pretending not to notice him; though I must have looked fairly apologetic or self-conscious from his point of view. However, my attention was soon diverted by a young man at a table to my left who probably entered the café not long before me, since he had just finished his soup and was now speaking in a rather loud and passably middle-class voice which sounded at loggerheads with the generally informal tone of the place. He was dressed like an office worker, possibly an insurance clerk or estate agent, and his manner of speaking suggested someone both effeminate and moronic. It apparently didn't occur to him that his loud and ponderous manner of speech was attracting attention from virtually all corners of the café. Evidently, he was oblivious of everything save his determination to get some message across. Indeed, the fluffy haired girl, to whom his words appeared to be addressed, was staring incredulously at him whilst he spoke, her mouth hanging open like she hadn't in the least expected his words to be directed at her, even though she was the only other person at his table. It must have been all she could do to refrain from laughing in his face, the way she was now looking at him. However, the waitress appeared outwardly calmer as she approached him, bill-pad in hand, with intent to taking his order - a thing to which he didn't initially respond in view of his verbal preoccupations.
"Er, I think I'll have a steak-and-kidney pie, if you don't mind," he eventually decided.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we're only doing shepherds pie today - unless you'd prefer fish or a roast?"
"Oh, I see. In that case, I'll have shepherds pie, then."
"With boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, or chips?"
"Er, boiled potatoes, if you please."
"Peas or carrots?" By now it was beginning to sound like an interrogation.
"Er, peas, I think. Thank you so much."
"Tea or coffee?"
"Just a tea, please. But make it weak."
"Thank you, sir."
I am trying my hardest to remain coolly detached and to mind my own business, but he speaks so loudly and slowly that it's virtually impossible. Noticing the attention of the girl opposite upon him, he suddenly launches into renewed conversation with: "I say, it's just as well that we've had so much rain recently, what with all that horrible drought, isn't it? I was beginning to lose hope, you know."
Somewhat to my surprise the fluffy haired female replies: "Yes, it was a bit worrying."
"Still, we mustn't allow ourselves to become overly complacent about it," he remarks. "According to the latest weather reports, there's still a serious water shortage throughout the country."
"Is that a fact?" the girl exclaims with apparent unconcern.
"Oh yes. It'll be some time before the normal facilities are completely restored. In point of fact, the water authorities will have to process all this recent rainwater so that it'll be fit for consumption, won't they? Otherwise it would taste ghastly and might even do some mischief.... I say, you aren't waiting for the menu by any chance, are you?"
"No, not at all."
"Oh good. I just thought you might be. I didn't mean to hold on to it like that."
The girl seems on the point of giggling or blushing, but remains silent.
"I say, it is busy in here today, isn't it?" he resumes. "D'you know, I've never seen so many customers in here at the same time before. Let me see now ... Why, there must be all of thirty people, you know!"
The waitress suddenly serves me my dinner and tea. The old man opposite has just finished eating and is now picking his false teeth - for that is what they plainly are - with the grubby index finger of his right hand. There is a little pile of spat-out gristle on the side of his plate. Every few seconds, despite the general noise in this far from quiet place, I can hear his guts rumbling, and he belches quite vehemently - evidently in response to the post-prandial exigencies of his digestive system! Now the old devil is going to roll himself a cigarette.
I turn back to my dinner but, as can be imagined, I don't really feel too enthusiastic about eating anything. Besides, I have a painful suspicion that the old devil's eyes are following the progress of my loaded fork out of idle curiosity. I intensely dislike this suspicion because it usually makes me feel uncomfortably self-conscious, and I can also feel my nerves beginning to shake a bit. The chances are pretty high that some of the peas will roll off the edge of my fork when next I endeavour to lift it towards my mouth. I ought to reassure myself by re-entering the whirl of events. Then I shall at least have the consolation of being an accomplice instead of simply a hapless victim of some potentially cynical appraisal.
Sure enough, he was watching me! For his reflexes were predictably slow, his eyes remaining fixed on my fork for a second or two.
"Excuse me, d'you think I might borrow your saltcellar for a moment? There doesn't happen to be one on my table."
"Sure, go ahead," I respond, scarcely bothering to look-up from my dinner.
The young man reaches across the table and, as a bony hand clasps the saltcellar, I can distinctly smell some sweetish aftershave lotion from his face and neck.
"Thank you so much. I won't be a minute!"
Good God, what's he getting all apologetic about? Anyone would think I was doing him an immense favour!
The fluffy haired girl opposite him throws me a conspiratorial glance, the implication of which is clearly derogatory, but I don't commit myself to a response of any kind, primarily because I am too busy thinking about my generosity. Also I can see out of the corner of my left eye that he is virtually swamping his dinner with salt. He shakes the saltcellar much too vigorously, it seems to me, though its hole might well have become partially blocked. Now he is coming back again.
"There you are." He repositions the saltcellar with the utmost care, as though afraid it might break or that something might get knocked over in the process, and then, noticing the pepper pot, says: "Sorry to be such a nuisance again, but d'you think I might borrow the pepper as well?"
This time I say nothing, since it seems unnecessary to answer such a question, particularly in view of the fact that the pepper pot doesn't belong to me personally and I am hardly in a position to refuse him, even if he wasn't already in a position to take it. Once more I get a whiff of aftershave lotion from him which mingles violently with the savoury smell of my shepherds pie and the acrid aroma of the old man's tobacco. Looking up, I notice that the young man, on reaching his table, gives the pepper pot almost as vigorous a shaking as the saltcellar, but for what reason I can't fathom, since there appears to be no obstacle in the way of the pepper as it cascades down upon his shepherds pie in cloud-like prodigality, a prodigality which has the not-entirely-unpredictable effect of causing him to sneeze, and to sneeze so vehemently that a large globule of snot shoots out from one of his nostrils and lands smack in the middle of his dinner. I abruptly look away in disgust. This really is the limit!
But I'm not saved from my disgust, however, because the old man has just started coughing, probably on account of his evil-smelling cigarette, and without having the decency or presence of mind to cover his mouth, so that I can plainly see his false teeth joggling about.
"There's your pepper back. I shan't be needing anything else. Thank you so much."
The girl throws me another conspiratorial glance, the sort of glance I had been half-fearing she might throw, but this time its derogatory implication is so brazenly unequivocal that it completely ignites me and I burst-out laughing to myself without the least compunction. I laugh so loud, long, and convulsively that I am more afraid of choking and possibly throwing-up my dinner than of disturbing anybody else. I get the impression that everybody is now staring at me, in any case, but it doesn't bother me in the slightest; in fact, it only serves to rekindle my amusement. For all they knew, I might be about to do a dance on the table or to verbally insult them all. Indeed, my amusement changes up a gear, with this further consideration, into a wonderful gutsy laughter that completely obliterates everything, the sort of humorously cathartic experience I haven't had in years, which seems to release all my pent-up emotion, all the repressed humour of my lonely existence. Then, all of a sudden, without my in the least willing it, the convulsions cease and I quickly calm down again, remorsefully recollective of the fact that I was only laughing at some trivial incident sparked off by a half-wit to my left.
For a moment I feel almost penitential; I should like to apologize to someone - possibly the target of my outburst. But, strangely enough, there doesn't appear to be anyone I could directly apologize to, since all the nearest customers, with the notable exception of the old man, have resumed their eating or talking as though nothing had happened. Even the pompous poofter to my left is now shovelling what I can only presume to be snot-coated shepherd’s pie into his big wide mouth without the slightest sign of embarrassment. Being the kind of prat he is, he probably hasn't realized why I was laughing. Unlike the fluffy haired bitch opposite him who, despite the slightly flushed look on her face, has returned to something approximating civility. The old man has stopped coughing and is now observing me with a resentfully stubborn expression. He probably imagines I was laughing at him, the old bugger! Well, what of it? Isn't that a good enough reason to laugh?
I stop eating for a moment and observe him with a sort of detached amazement. There is some damp tobacco on his protruding lower lip and also on his double chin. His face is a mass of lines, of deep wrinkles which run in every direction, reminiscent in a way of my Grateful Dead brochure, whilst his hairy nostrils project upwards in an unabashedly retroussé nose. There isn't much hair on top of his head, but what little he still possesses is of a distinctly greasy texture, streaked with bits of off-yellow that blend-in with the preponderating greyness in a way strongly suggestive of a compost heap. His ears are big and lumpy, as is his nose. His eyes, diminished by two incredibly thick lenses which must weigh a ton, appear dull and lifeless - virtually dead. In fact, they look more like the eyes of a fish than of a man and are also slightly bloodshot, with an appearance of instability in their sockets; one gets the impression that he blinks to keep them in place or perhaps even to stop them from tumbling out.
Since I don't wish to continue my observation of his ugly features, nor to run the risk of having to enter into conversation with him, I look away in some disgust and address the puddle of tea which has slowly formed in my saucer. I have more or less finished eating without really having enjoyed anything. It was a wonder to me that I didn't throw up. But this ugly old fart who now wears a vacant expression on his face, as though he had withdrawn from the world into a private chamber of the mind which is closer to death than to life, has started me thinking along other lines, and I am wondering whether I wasn't correct in my assessment of old people the other day, after all.
As far as I can now recall, it began when I visited the local grocer's and noticed a hideous-looking old crone seated near the till and talking to the man behind it. I had noticed her there on several previous occasions, always seated in the same place and either talking to the grocer or to herself if he was busy, but I hadn't paid her much attention, probably because she seemed so perfectly ordinary and unassuming. On the occasion I'm thinking of, however, I could tell that the grocer - ordinarily an extremely polite man - was at some pains to remain patient with her, that her presence and continuous chatter had become an oppressive burden on him, and that he would have preferred to be left in peace to serve his other customers, including me. So when, in a pretence of listening to what she was saying, I took a good look at her, I perceived that she wasn't as innocuous-looking as I had previously imagined. On the contrary, she seemed positively wicked, in fact so conspicuously wicked that, had she been wearing a high conical hat and holding a broomstick instead of a walking stick, you would have had no difficulty in taking her for a witch.
Well, that was what started me thinking more seriously about old people in general and, if I'm not sadly mistaken, this enfeebled specimen of organic degeneration in front of me has corroborated my suspicions. Admittedly, what can be seen on the outside isn't nearly enough; there is much more to him than meets the eye! But I know for a fact that this man is decadence personified. He has fallen so low that it would be virtually impossible for a young person like me to ascertain the true extent of his decadence. In order to get anywhere near a realistic assessment of his condition, it would be necessary to examine the workings and/or not-workings of his mind as well as his body, to plumb the depths of his subconscious in search of buried material - for instance, remnants of former selves. Needless to say, we are unlikely to achieve very much in that regard. But we can at least hazard an intelligent guess as to the efficacy of his cunning and perseverance in dealing with the many problems, frustrations, shortcomings, etc., which life has hitherto afflicted upon him, a guess which might indicate that his lengthy existence on earth has taught him as many dodges as he needs to know in order to survive, and that his experience in dealing with people has often obliged him to be shamelessly wicked, ruthless, immoral, treacherous, cantankerous, callous, deceitful, and a hundred-and-one other disagreeable things to boot, so that, through force of habit, he has become quite an adept in dealing with the manifold demands of life.
Indeed, the older one becomes the further into sin one plunges, ever deeper and deeper, as Hermann Hesse puts it, into life until, as an enfeebled old sod, one is compelled to pay one's dues, as it were, and one's ultimate moral and physical dissolution is wholly justified. From a tot reared on Jack and Jill to a sot besotted with Ulysses or Tropic of Cancer to a dot who doesn't read at all ... is just a matter of time. As the personification of innocence, a baby is generally worshipped by its parents, especially its mother, whereas an elderly person, say, a grandparent, receives no worship at all. In fact, he/she is hardly even noticed!
Of course, if you were to put a fresh young sunflower beside a wilted old sunflower, one approaching its demise, you would see clearly enough that the former was superior to the latter, since it was healthy rather than sick, decadent, or an eyesore. There could be absolutely no doubt in your mind concerning the relative merits of the two sunflowers - not, that is, unless you were stupid or blind or, worse still, possessed by a mad belief in the existence of a sunflower afterlife. For, whatever the analogue you choose to adopt in this context, you come back to the same conclusion every time: once one has passed one's prime, one effectively becomes a second-class citizen. One takes a back seat in life, and whether or not he likes it, whether or not he realizes it, this old creature chewing strands of stale tobacco and staring fixedly at the blatantly unattractive legs of the chubby waitress, is inferior to me in almost every respect. He is wrinkled, short-sighted, thick-eared, double-chinned, stunted, hunchbacked, pot-bellied, bronchial, grey-haired, bald-headed, flabby-skinned, smelly, uncouth, toothless (despite or perhaps because of his false teeth), feebleminded, forgetful, vulgar, and a lot of other unfortunate things which I can't ascertain simply from being seated at the same table. But, in the event of an argument on this matter, he will doubtless turn accusative, maintain that old age is wiser than youth, disagree with me on as many issues as he can, condemn my attitude to old people, remind me of 'the good old days', and, to cap it all, intimate that his experiences in life have earned him considerable influence, in consequence of which he has a right to be consulted on matters of importance, to have the final word on things - even to be venerated for his wisdom. To wit, he will even go so far as to inform me that a wilted sunflower is inherently superior to a fresh one! He will conjure up every conceivable ruse that he can think of to daunt me, to dissuade me from exposing him and putting my finger on the painfully unchristian truth. Maybe at this very moment his mind is full of memories, erotic or otherwise, and the older he gets the more important these memories become, the more they remind him of what he used to be, of what he could do about forty years ago, before the torments of a decaying body affected his mind and persecuted his soul. At times he is little more than a walking dream, and those are comparatively fortunate times!
I stoically and perhaps even rudely undertake another penetrating observation of him, but I don't encounter anything new. One would think he was wearing a death mask, to judge by the lifeless expression on his face at present. There is hardly anything about it which would fail to suggest that the seeds of death aren't already sprouting from his pores and slowly draining the life out of him. Admittedly, it's not really his fault if he looks so abominably cadaverous; that was bound to happen eventually. But, all the same, he is a fact, a walking fact, and the least society can do for such people is to treat them with a certain amount of civility, to ensure, as far as possible, that they're not suffering overmuch, and to guarantee the majority of them that when they die, other routes to salvation being blocked, their corpses will be destroyed in a time-saving, money-saving, space-saving, work-saving, health-saving, and superstition-saving manner, freed from the traditional obligation of organically continuing the vicious life-cycle by indirectly breeding millions of superfluous, pestilential vermin, as what passes for heaven degenerates into hell!
No, I don't hate this old man. But I am nowhere near admiring him, either. He simply leaves me cold. Time is steadily rotting him away; he will soon cease to exist. If, by any chance, he happens to be buried, he will eventually be metamorphosed into a seething mass of worms and maggots. The worms will burrow into his entrails, his molecular structure will slowly disintegrate, and the air above his grave will become permeated with the sickly odour of death and decay. Once the life has gone from his body, it will be too late for him to consider moral reparations. He will be completely submerged in a bath of icy darkness from which there is no escape. He won't even have time to regret that he had often been duped by certain things or people whilst alive. Regret, like remorse, is a privilege of the living!
But let us just suppose, for the sake of argument, that a priest has blessed him and sped him on his way to Heaven, encouraging him to have faith in God when, after a life of unmitigated profligacy, profanity, indifference, and ignorance, he had just received the Last Sacraments and thereupon made his peace with the Church. Our old man is granted a good conscience through having been absolved from his earthly iniquities and formally prepared for the inevitable meeting with his Maker. At the very worst he need only fear a short stay in Purgatory, while St Peter's angels deal with his moral particulars. For when he's finally admitted to Heaven, he will wallow in everlasting peace and be permitted, so the priest benignly informs him, to converse with as many former great men as he pleases or, if he prefers (since to judge by the old man's blank expression there is no way that intellectual conversation could possibly appeal to someone of his type), follow any number of beautiful maidens to their resting places, where they will subsequently please him to his heart's content, etc.
To be sure, the priest may soon divine, after a short sermon of this seductive import, that, in his impatience to cross into a better world, the old man can't die quickly enough. Perhaps, who knows? But all his hopes will be to no avail when he eventually stops breathing and is absolutely powerless to determine whether he is in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory simply because there will be no consciousness of anything.
Now if, by some remote chance, he were to return from the dead just as he was being buried, before the first spadeful of earth had thumped against the coffin lid, before the mourners (assuming there were any) had finished mourning or pretending to mourn, and immediately began pounding on the coffin, to be quickly hauled back to the surface and rescued from suffocation, he would probably wonder what-the-devil was going on, why-on-earth they had buried him when his heart was still functioning normally and he had only a short while before received divine absolution. Yet if, to crown it all, the godly flock of mourners then proceeded to question him about life after death, he would more than likely stare at them incredulously, as though they were idiots or lunatics to expect him to know anything about such a thing when he hadn't gone anywhere. What was time when you were dead? Could he seriously be expected to even know that he had died? He certainly hadn't been asleep, at any rate. For when you sleep the mind is still alive, blood is being pumped around the body, you almost invariably dream of something and retain, in consequence, a vague notion of time or, more specifically, of the sequence of events within the dream. But he couldn't remember anything. There had been no dreams because, assuming he had in fact died, no blood was being pumped around the body to keep the mind alive. You can't dream with a dead mind. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, nothing had happened. One moment he was whispering penitentially in the priest's ear, the next moment he was pounding on the coffin lid from the wrong side of the grave. There had been no transition.
"What?" the priest cries out, in horrified amazement. "You weren't taken to meet our Heavenly Father by one of His angels?"
"No," the old man replies, dumbfounded. "I didn't go anywhere."
For a moment the priest is nonplussed. "Oh, my God!" he groans and, speedily recovering some composure, turns to the flabbergasted mourners by the grave and screams: "This man has been dead almost a week and his soul hasn't gone anywhere!" There is an ominous pause before he continues conclusively: "That can only mean one thing. This man is a child of Satan!" And immediately, before the old man can say anything, before he can even attempt to climb out of his coffin and defend himself, the priest grabs the spade and begins furiously beating him over the head in an attempt to return him to the everlasting sleep from which he had so unexpectedly awoken, as though from a nightmare.
Suddenly I come-to with a shuddering start! I haven't gone anywhere, either. The old man is still opposite me and the loudmouthed moron is still to my left. The waitress is staring at me with suspicious eyes, as though to reprove me for having withdrawn into myself at her expense. There is quite a hubbub throughout the rest of the café. Indeed, you would never think, listening to it, that people could possibly be communicating with and understanding one another. It is much too uproarious to be intelligible. Anyway, for the time being, I have no further business here. I need only pay the bill.
Just as I get up from my chair I become unpleasantly conscious of the fact that someone, presumably the old man, has farted. A rising quantity of rectal gas lodges in my nostrils and sharply disgusts me. It must have been a very soft fart because, irrespective of the general hubbub, I didn't hear anything. But whilst I am pushing my chair in, I can distinctly hear a loud one followed, almost immediately afterwards, by a barrage of softer ones which explode in quick succession. A mature woman seated behind him has turned around and is now regarding him with unmitigated disdain. She has evidently found him guilty of a serious breech of propriety! He should have done his best to hold on to his post-prandial flatulence until he got outside, the dirty brute, or at least have allowed her to finish her meal! Not knowing of the woman's proximity, however, the old man appears completely unconcerned about this minor metaphysical indiscretion, which he probably didn't hear or smell in any case, and continues chewing his tobacco as though nothing had happened. A privilege of the senile, after all!
While the plump waitress reads my bill, I take a final look at the over-polite moron with the loud voice. He has finished his shepherd’s pie, presumably snot and all, and is now scrutinizing the menu with intent, I suppose, to selecting a dessert. The girl nearby still appears to be staring at him, though from where I stand I can't see the expression on her face. For all I know she is probably laughing at him under her breath - either that or holding her nose because of the old man. As they say, one good meal a day is quite enough!
WEDNESDAY 29th SEPTEMBER
By the time I had finished recording my impressions, yesterday, it was well into the evening and I didn't fancy doing anything else. For one thing, my eyes ached and, for another, so did my brain. I wondered whether I hadn't overdone it again, or was suffering from a relapse and would consequently be obliged to spend the rest of the week in bed. Largely because this prospect seemed more daunting than the actual pain itself, however, I quickly set about finding a method of suppressing it, and accordingly decided on a bath. It was just the right kind of evening for a bath anyway, quite apart from the fact that I hadn't had one in over a week and was beginning to smell a trifle malodorous.
Naturally, an overtaxed brain could always relax with a woman if its master were fortunate enough to possess one, since a little hanky-panky between the sheets or anywhere else, for that matter, would certainly serve to make your personal world less narrow, as well as divert you from the consequences of too much literary endeavour and simultaneously prevent you from falling into the trap of headache-provoking erotic fantasies or, worse still, following in Nietzsche's tragic footsteps and sustaining an irrecoverable nervous breakdown. You would have the consolation of knowing that you were relatively normal, were obeying the voice of nature, concocting a potent medicine, and looking after the health of both your body and your soul. That was undoubtedly another good reason to indulge your sexual appetites, provided, of course, that you weren't misogynistic. But, whoever and whatever you were, you would certainly require diversions of some sort, and the more the better! Well, the most I could hope for, on this occasion, was a bath which, providing the water was hot and soapy, would be something of a tonic, after all. It would at least kill an hour or two.
Since it was only nine-thirty and I had approximately an hour-and-a-half to kill before going to bed, I needed no further encouragement yesterday evening but hastened to my immediate salvation, like a man desperately endeavouring to extinguish burning clothes. Trivial though it may seem to record, I also took the opportunity of visiting the lavatory while the tap was running, not simply because I wanted a shit at the time (though ordinarily I always evacuate my bowels at a specific time of the evening rather than simply leave it to nature's prompting), but also because I fancied that the noise from the adjacent bathroom would drown out the sound of my excretory endeavours, since it was precisely those farts, groans, plops, and wipings which most disconcerted me and caused me, somewhat childishly perhaps, to feel overly self-conscious vis-à-vis the nearest neighbours, two of whom lived immediately under the lavatory in a small room from which the sound of talking and muffled movements could even now be overheard. Once they got wind of my motions, so to speak, there was little prospect of my not arousing at least some cynical curiosity on their part. For it seemed to me that one loud, ill-timed fart or rapid burst of gun-like flatulence would ignite an emotional explosion, on their part, nothing short of hysterical. You could almost swear they were counting the plops sometimes, the way the house seemed to become curiously silent all of a sudden. But neighbours or no neighbours, going to the toilet in this place was usually a somewhat unnerving experience anyway, especially in view of the likelihood of a piss-splashed sphincter from relieving one's bowels either too eagerly or crudely, as the case might be, in the wake of other, less explosive voidings. It was just as well to take a bath afterwards, thereby purging oneself, bidet-like, of these external impurities!
As a consequence of habit, I had taken my radio into the bathroom in order to listen-in to the news. But, since its batteries were running low, I couldn't hear very much above the noise I was making in washing myself, and quickly became more intrigued by the different tones of voice the newscaster and special correspondents were utilizing than by the substance of the news itself which, so far as I could tell, was depressingly predictable. I began to wonder what such people would be like to talk to casually, whether they would prove austere conversationalists, whether the influence of their profession would appreciably affect their diction and enunciation, causing them to talk more precisely and clearly than would otherwise be the case, and so on. In truth, I had often been intrigued by the seeming ability of the principal newsreaders to change their tone-of-voice according to the demands of the occasion, much as though they were verbal puppets or actors who could express condemnation, surprise, fear, compassion, despair, interest, respect, curiosity, and other such emotions at will, by a touch of some invisible directorial string, and now this ability to assume, almost chimerically, a wide and sometimes contradictory variety of emotional roles started, all of a sudden, to amuse me, as I lay in the bath and casually watched some hot steam silently rising towards the ceiling, like a cobra under the spell of a charm. To be sure, these people could sound pretty convincing. You would have thought that they prepared their nightly bulletins days in advance, knew every conceivable intonation by rote, and were absolutely appalled by the hardships and disasters which regularly befell their fellow human beings.
Good God, at the thought of that I felt the desire to laugh, to laugh as in The Cornerstop Café at lunch time - with real gutsy uninhibitedness! Yet, on second thoughts, I considered it inappropriate to let myself go again; for such ill-mannered flippancy would have sounded too much at variance with the generally grave tenor of the news, and I would subsequently have reproached myself for acquiring a sort of spurious amusement at the expense not only of other people but also of my moral limits.
Naturally, it wasn't very pleasant that people were being blown to pieces in some godforsaken urban wilderness, that a coach full of children had crashed with devastating consequences on the Continent, a passenger jet gone down over the Atlantic killing all on board, a cruise liner sunk in the Indian Ocean with considerable loss of life, a volcano erupted to spew molten lava upon unsuspecting villagers on a godforsaken island in the South Pacific, an earthquake claimed the lives of tens-of-thousands of hard-working and law-abiding citizens in some unfortunate Third World country, or a state of emergency been declared in one of the richest and most exploitative countries on earth. No, it was far from pleasant! But such accidents and events were by no means uncommon; they had an all-too-familiar ring to them. You could usually anticipate the kinds of calamities, both natural and artificial, to which people on earth were sometimes exposed, not to mention the kinds of diseases to which they sometimes succumbed. You had learnt to live with that fact by first accepting it and then, as far as possible, doing your level best to either ignore or forget it. You had gradually come to the conclusion that the world was a place where such misfortunes were an integral part of life and that neither worries nor regrets would have any effect on whether or not they continued to happen, since it was largely beyond the power of the individual to appreciably alter anything.
Of course, if you had hardened your heart to such misfortunes, ignored or weathered the presumptuous slander of others, bravely persevered under the strain of unrequited love, learnt that extremities were equally fatal from a human point-of-view, that too much pleasure was no less unbearable than too much pain, then you could hardly be expected to show much concern over the deaths, say, of a few dozen people in some far-off land whose names meant absolutely nothing to you and whose minds were now effectively non-existent. If, however, you did feel some genuine concern, then the chances were that it was because the misfortune or tragedy had special implications for you personally, because you had empathic feelings at stake, and consequently didn't really have any choice in the matter. But to pretend to feel concern, to force your emotions in order to appear sympathetic, mature, humane, responsible, etc., as people often did when in the company of others, wasn't only downright unreasonable but plainly hypocritical, to boot!
For a woman - yes, there may well be times when a woman feels she ought to express a degree of impersonal concern over some disaster, when she feels that her credibility as a woman to some extent depends on it, since she can give release to certain pent-up emotions which not only has the effect of temporarily purging her highly strung nervous system of tensions, but enables her to express a general concern for the well-being or wrongdoing of life at the same time. Naturally, destruction of whatever sort, whether man-made or otherwise, doesn't have all that much appeal to women. In a sense, they are more fixed than men, they have certain very definite limits which a man is scarcely aware of - at least in relation to himself. A pregnant woman is forced by nature onto a sort of conveyor-belt process of gestation from which, short of abortion and/or miscarriage, there is no real escape. She can only create and, ultimately, at a high cost to herself both physically and emotionally. So it should be fairly obvious that a woman who has gone to considerable pains to produce, rear, and assist in the development of her offspring won't be greatly thrilled at the prospect of seeing such offspring and, by some curious maternal empathy, those of other women either killed or injured through some impersonal misfortune beyond her control.
Imagine, for example, how Salvador Dali would probably have felt if, following months of intensive labour on, say, The Ecumenical Council, some religious maniac secretly got wind of what he was doing and, not approving of it, broke into his studio one night and thereupon proceeded to slash the painting to shreds. Even that analogue, though tragically poignant, is ultimately inadequate, and for the simple reason that although Dali has produced many indisputably ingenious, not to say inimitable, paintings, he was originally produced, as it were, by someone else - namely, his mother. Thus it is quite understandable if a woman often instinctively reacts to the news of disasters and misfortunes involving human life as though they shouldn't have happened and the world was consequently at fault, whereas a man, assuming he reacts at all, will be more likely to take a fatalistic view of such things because, unlike a woman, he isn't so much concerned with the amount of hard labour for nothing (although there is evidently more to a woman's concern than that) as with an understanding of the facts or reasons behind their occurrence, in order to justify them in the light of preceding events, ulterior motives, scientific laws, the law of averages, human nature, mechanical failures, and so on. Therefore when I switched on the news it wasn't that I imagined myself being shocked by anything, that the news would suddenly take a turn for the better and my personal feelings about it one for the worse, or vice versa. Au contraire, I merely wanted to hear if any new disaster or outbreak of violence had occurred in the world and, if so, where and for what reasons.
Well, I certainly succeeded in obtaining what I wanted, but, as already noted, it wasn't so much the news that interested me, after a while, as the way in which the human voice was being utilized, the way it adapted to the changing circumstances and contexts with apparent ease, which began to intrigue and even, I regret to say, to perversely amuse me. The news god had suddenly and quite unexpectedly come crashing down from his high objective pedestal, and for once, beneath an outer shell of measured seriousness, sanctimonious aloofness, and apparent concern, I perceived that he was virtually hollow, devoid of a heart, unsympathetically dispassionate. I climbed out of the bath feeling like an iconoclast!
LATE WEDNESDAY EVENING
me, I abandon the local milieu
for an evening in
Sometimes, after the cumulative effects of walking aimlessly around the West End have begun to take their psychological toll on me, I get so frustrated and annoyed by the apparent futility of everything that I could grab hold of somebody and begin shaking him, as though to force some life, energy, and sense into him! I suddenly feel the desire to liven things up a bit, to stand somebody on his head or hurl a few large stones through the nearest shop window, to put my hand up somebody's skirt or run rampant through one of the large department stores, pushing over clothes-racks and pinching things from counters. Even the few people who appear engaged in the search for pleasure hardly seem to be enjoying themselves. In fact, you would think that most of them were going to a funeral, to judge by the sullen expressions on their tired faces! You would doubt that people could possibly enjoy themselves in circumstances where Rimbaud's plea for Noel sur la terre is continuously swallowed-up by the noise of swarming taxis, ambulance/police/fire-engine sirens, overcrowded pavements, cynical films, raucous street theatre, and half-baked pop music, to name but a handful of things. When you encounter people with the appearance of happiness in those circumstances, you begin to wonder whether they're not sick or retarded, whether there isn't a screw loose somewhere which allows them to enjoy themselves in spite of everything, simply because they can't look reality squarely in the face and see it for the competitive hell it has become these days.
In this perplexed state-of-mind you walk down one street and up another, as the saying goes, without particularly caring where they lead and scarcely bothering to look where you're going. Naturally, you can't permit yourself to stare at people, so you glance at shop windows, noting things which happen to momentarily arrest your attention: advertisements, price-tags, shop names, window dummies, etc., which only succeed in further irritating you because you can't help feeling that you should have known better than to allow your attention to wander in such a seemingly haphazard fashion, without cause or purpose. But when, beyond the casual glance, you actually notice products in some of these flashy shops, when you finally notice all the silly 'in' shoes, hats, suits, coats, shirts, ties, handbags, skirts, dresses, ornaments, jewellery, cosmetics, perfumes, and countless other products which evidently appeal to those with plenty of money to spend, you are almost grateful that you're not in a position to squander any money on such things yourself. Indeed, it is only too evident, by this time, that the world has closed-in upon you again and thereby assumed the proportions of a gigantic predatory prison, a maze of web-like entanglements, if your thoughts can be so narrowly confined to the streets and its sullenly pretentious denizens, as you follow a familiar route for the umpteenth time and privately air your anti-commercial grievances with all the futile persistence of a religious fanatic! Is it possible, then, that your only refuge is the single room from which you had earlier fled, that you are partly compensated for its nocturnal boredom by the absence of superfluous bric-a-brac or superficial luxuries?
No, it was absolutely imperative to take a break from that room! Too much of a given thing can be lethal, no matter how acceptable or even congenial it may ordinarily seem for a time. You are not an old crone or a young student ... that you need remain confined to your solitary room every day. At least you possess the residue of a rebellious tendency which drives you out into the street every so often, causing you to heap mental derision upon the demon of boredom, upon a life which seems, at times, to possess as much variety as a sewer rat's!
Yes, you went out fuming over the absence of variety, pleasure, enthusiasm, money, women, company, etc. You have given-up smoking again, because you decided that it was profoundly boring and didn't amount to anything particularly pleasurable at all, especially against the attendant realizations that the nicotine poison in your blood was beginning to encourage the growth of a few-too-many unseemly boils on your hard-pressed face, that your lungs were beginning to function within the constrictive confines of an invisible clamp, while your throat was dry and unpleasantly sore to a degree which suggested the possibility of a lasting sore throat as the next logical degeneration, so that these and other physical drawbacks duly sufficed to convince you of the wisdom of returning to your formerly abstemious habits at the expense of your current folly.
Well, that was a brave
decision, you wise
man! so be brave enough to seek temporary
within the chaos of these busy
If I occasionally blame myself for participating in such a boring existence, if from time to time I get angry over the apparent uneventfulness of my life, over the way things 'do or don't happen in the modern world', then I must also remember that these self-imposed limits are partly responsible for it, even when they have hidden themselves away in the murky depths of my subconscious and I become forgetful of their existence or of why they are there in the first place. So I end-up making verbal war on this apparent uneventfulness without fully appreciating the extent of my personal contribution to it, and thus mistakenly accuse the city and, by implication, other people of being in the wrong.
Yes, that is doubtless partly true. Although there's absolutely no reason for me to pretend that the city is all righteousness either - far from it! I can hardly become overjoyed at the prospect of seeing the same streets every week, a majority of whose shops are so often crammed with the sorts of superficial and superfluous items to which I have already alluded. No, if I am to become overjoyed or at least thankful about anything, it should be with regard to my fundamental disinclination to really transgress these self-imposed limits: to stand a newspaper vendor on his head, to put my hand up some unsuspecting female's skirt, to pull faces at a young shop assistant, or to throw stones through the window of any shop with a conspicuously predatory facade - simply because I have decided to safeguard my personal interests in pursuance of a certain dignified restraint.
If, however, I were to knock a fat bourgeois' bowler hat off his head and then start jumping up and down on it with a view to reducing its bulbous pretensions to a shapeless mess, he would almost inevitably take offence, lash out at me with his spiked umbrella, and quickly draw the attention of other people, perhaps even other dickheads like himself, so that I would become the unfortunate cynosure of much verbal abuse, optical curiosity, social embarrassment, and general disorder. As can be imagined, I have no desire to get drawn into that kind of ugly scene! It would be quite gratuitous. Besides which, it would also be too petty and superficial for me to jeopardize my self-respect and social freedom over so trivial a matter as the destiny of some stockbroker's bowler hat!
Likewise to throw stones through a shop window, run my hand up a pretty stranger's dark-stockinged legs, daub political graffiti across a cinema hoarding, or make a rude gesture at someone on the pavement would undoubtedly amount to an unprecedented event bordering on an adventure for me. But would it really be worth the effort if, in having committed such antisocial indiscretions, I suddenly found myself surrounded by an angry crowd of gesticulating people who thereupon proceeded to turn a molehill into a mountain and denounce me as a vandal, rapist, communist, clown, or anything else which might serve to highlight my impertinence and bring me to summary justice?
Assuming I had decided on a wandering hand, the young woman involved would probably appear deeply offended, she would be having difficulty steadying her nerves, calming herself down again. And if she hadn't been caressed or touched-up for some time, the tone of her confession to the nearest police officer might well be as much a result of secret disappointment that nothing more had happened as of outraged innocence at what had! But she would inevitably be induced by the hostility of the pressing crowd into taking a condemnatory view of the incident in question, into siding with the dutifully outraged persons who crowd around me with threats of violence and accusations of perversion. Her feminine insecurity, sensitivity, and common sense would compel her to side with the stronger party, those morally vindictive males who prevent me from edging away on the sly, who condemn me in the name of decency for having had the unmitigated audacity to step beyond the conventional bounds of social etiquette in pursuance of patently selfish ends! I would be branded a black sheep and a danger to morals, and would probably have to pay for my crime via some form of incarceration intended to deter me from molesting young women in future, especially since this one, having recovered from her initial shock, might subsequently be at pains to forget that she had once been physically assaulted in such-and-such a street on a Wednesday evening in September by a handsome young madman who looked intellectual and confessed to being manic depressive.
So I restrain the foolish impulse to step out-of-line and instigate a scandal; I play the game. I wander around the city with hands limply in pockets like a lost sheep in search of his rightful flock, an outsider who is protected from getting into trouble with the society in which he happens to find himself by his self-imposed limits rather than by any genuine concern or respect for that society itself.
Obviously, I am not afraid of death. I have neither hope nor fear of an afterlife of either eternal bliss or torment. On the contrary, I can often advance tenable reasons why it would be preferable to die than to live right now, even if, following a change of mood or circumstance, I later contradict those reasons by convincing myself that my presence in the world might not be without some significance, and that I ought therefore to persevere with life until such time as perseverance turns into triumph, and the significance of my existence becomes fully apparent. But I don't want to squander my time on trivialities or to excite the anger and envy of petty minds. If by some chance beyond my present imaginings I had just the minute before detonated certain pompous-looking buildings in which a variety of oppressively powerful people were engaged in devising more watertight schemes for oppressing the poor, I would doubtless consider the repercussions more acceptable and even justifiable than had I merely hurled a brick through somebody's plate-glass window in the manner of a common vandal, or knocked a fat businessman's hat off his balding head for no deeper motive than a desire to liven things up a bit! Indeed, it would be almost a pleasure being pursued by an angry mob, knowing that you had done something above the common run and left a significant imprint on society in consequence.
Well, so much for the speculation! All the same, it won't do me any good to give-in to something petty, to transgress the laws of that god of limits who is both my usual source of frustration and of salvation. If he protects me from the violence of the common herd, I must continue to be his hard-pressed servant and wander around within the strict confines of certain predetermined rules. I must never, not even for a moment, step out-of-line at the expense of my freedom. That, after all, would be an unpardonable indiscretion!
THURSDAY 30th SEPTEMBER
I had almost forgotten that today was my birthday. It caught me so totally unawares that it seems I have crossed the threshold into adulthood and a certain indifference to, if not ironic detachment from, the whole idea of celebrating one's birthday. When one is a child one looks forward to such an occasion with an air of enraptured expectancy, as though something near-miraculous were about to happen - not exactly a rebirth so much as the receiving of the most wonderful presents in an atmosphere of love and joy. Today, however, my birthday means scarcely anything to me, having the empty and superficially ironic ring of the single card which, received from my mother (as might be expected), blandly reads: 'Have a wonderful day!' If my birthday contains any particular significance - aside, that is, from its numerical value and my mental registration of the fact that I am now officially a year older than yesterday - it can only be in the sense that, on account of the residue of a few sentimental connotations remaining from previous birthdays, I would like the day to pass without too many disturbances, shortcomings, or indiscretions on the part of both me and my neighbours. As it happens, I am almost afraid that it will be spoilt by a few idiotic and puerile grievances between us. (Strangely enough, I'm reminded of the seemingly futile efforts made by various sections of the industrial working-class to consistently enjoy themselves when, during the course of a three-week summer vacation, they are obliged to make an attempt at doing so, else die of boredom. Somehow, one can never quite elude the impression that they're fighting a losing battle in the face of the overwhelming odds of a hard-working past stacked so unmercifully against them. Perhaps I am in a similar fix vis-à-vis my neighbours?)
Be that as it may, it rather looks as though I shall have to get along with the day's events, come what may. This time next week I'll probably be accustomed to thinking of myself as a year older and be a lot less prickly about how fate treats me in consequence. I expect my mother is even now pricklier about it than myself. Either that or she doesn't really give a toss any longer!
So twenty-four years' existence has led me, Michael James Savage, to this room, this journal, these thoughts, together with certain acquired facts and experiences, a few of which I now contemplate with a distinctly ambivalent frame-of-mind. In attempting to placate her propagative impulses my mother was ultimately compelled to thrust me head-first into a doctor's gloved hands, and no sooner had I woken up to the realization that I no longer had a womb to protect and nourish me than I commenced hollering. Thus life began for me, as for everyone else, from the strictly autocratic point-of-view. Henceforth, I would be obliged to accept and respect my parents. My childhood would be one long orgy of gratitude and dependence.
For a moment, I endeavour to contemplate the notion of my father having his way with a fairly intelligent, though fundamentally lascivious, woman who subsequently became my mother. Coming from a Catholic background, my progenitors were strictly forbidden the use of contraceptives, so it was evident that they would either have to produce offspring or drive each other mad from perversion. As might be expected, they chose the former course, and that is how I came into being. Despite his Bible and rosary beads, good manners and ideals, aesthetic predilections and intellectual preoccupations, my male progenitor was the possessor of a circumcised penis which, as the focal-point of the 'will to life' (in the philosophical sense somewhat narrowly espoused by Schopenhauer), ejaculated semen into my mother's womb, and the long-term consequence of one such ejaculation - probably one of hundreds and not necessarily the first either - was a tiny male baby who thereafter grew to be the young man of twenty four who sits here today sadly contemplating his birthday.
Of course, there is reason enough why it would be almost justifiable for me to heap accusation after accusation upon my progenitors, to criticize them for their apparent lack of foresight, to condemn their delusions, weaknesses, fears, and conventions in the self-righteous name of my current dissatisfactions. But I know only too well that such a procedure wouldn't get me anywhere, seeing that I would only further torture myself in their absence. For, when all's said and done, one is essentially alone in this life and the best one can do, short of seeking asylum in some political or religious organization, is to persevere with it without unduly and foolishly torturing oneself with misgivings, at the risk, needless to say, of regular psychological crises.
To be sure, any criticism of one's parents' apparent inability to restrain themselves from committing the 'supreme folly' (as I think Sartre not unreasonably called it) of propagation can, with equal justice, be levelled against one's grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and so on, until one eventually approaches the source of modern life by discovering, in one's most distant ancestors, the morally irresponsible imbeciles whose origins were evidently more ape-like than human! No doubt, they all acted in good faith, realizing that any satisfactory sexual pleasure to be obtained through their respective partners would inevitably lead to propagation, and that they would consequently have no choice but to tag along with it and obey nature's dictates, since there weren't any serious alternatives in a primitive community, and one, moreover, where concepts like birth control, celibacy, and solitude would have met with ridicule in view of the way wild beasts and enemy tribes preyed upon one another with intent to advancing their own interests at the expense of those weaker or stupider or less ruthless than themselves. But I don't want to go into the history of the world or, indeed, of evolution on my birthday, since it is a thorny subject at the best of times, without the necessity of my dragging it into this literary journal because of a need to do something constructive and even courageous (reckless?) today no less than on previous days. Still, this subject of propagation intrigues me, so, despite my superficial qualms and regrets over how best to tackle it, I think I'll persevere with it a while longer.
To begin with, there is my own life, a not particularly eventful life (as we have seen) but a life of sorts all the same, and then there are the lives of others, a great many of whom are undoubtedly suffering in the most appalling conditions, whether here in England or, more usually, far away in less-temperate parts of the world. Whenever I think in terms of world population, I invariably shudder with fright. For, regardless of the fact that the globe is fast becoming an increasingly overcrowded place, the population of a majority of countries continues to rise, as though nothing were happening and there was little reason to take birth control seriously. Naturally, the chief powers are now building better armies, navies, and air forces than ever before. But all that is somehow relative to the apparent need of modern man to destroy en masse and universally, rather than on a restricted scale corresponding, say, to the Battle of Hastings. There is something evolutionary about it which makes it unlikely that the process could be dramatically reversed. Neither can alliances be made, armaments be sold, manoeuvres be carried out, or forces be maintained, if not increased, unless one is guaranteed an enemy or, at the very least, a potential enemy, so that the world, or a substantial portion of it, can be divided into two or more hostile camps which then fly competing flags in the names of freedom, democracy, communism, fascism, capitalism, equality, nationalism, industrialism, religion, ecology, fundamentalism, liberalism, or whatever. The interrelativity of things is inescapable, and no successful armaments manufacturer can avoid being effectively indebted to the enemy, or potential enemy, for supplying the continual need of defence.
At this very moment, throughout virtually every corner of the world, soldiers, sailors, and pilots are earnestly undergoing preparations for another major war by perfecting the art of martial aggression, whether defensively or offensively or even some paradoxical combination of the two; by learning new combat techniques which will enable them to keep ahead of the enemy; by acquiring new military hardware which is superior to anything the other side may possess and which, when combined with everything else, will ensure that they'll be on the victorious side if and when another war is declared and they suddenly find themselves being rushed into action, called upon by society to justify the expenditure incurred in both training and equipping them, to utilize their martial skills, defend their country, sovereign, principles, rights, freedoms, and so on - a veritable host of magnificent ideals!
Were Hermann Hesse alive today he could doubtless be relied upon to offer a credible prognosis concerning the future course of world events with the same eloquence and perspicacity as if he were talking of Germany in the 1920s and '30s. Since then, however, the world has pressed on again, re-drawn its frontiers, and crowned its evolutionary aspirations with wider-ranging ideological incentives which now require new warnings, analogues, criticisms, and prognostications.
It may seem strange, but a majority of those who daily live under the threat of nuclear or biological extinction are still capable of being reasonably responsible. They sense the war god towering above their teeming populations, leering down at them, mocking their attempts at reform, yelling at the top of his cynical voice: "No life without death, no peace without war, no love without hate, no light without darkness, no right without wrong, no human being without human nature!" and they huddle closer together into various philanthropic organizations, consider compromises, suggest propagation-amendment laws which forbid families from having more than two children; suggest compulsory euthanasia for seriously malformed children, congenital lunatics, dangerous criminals, victims of painfully incurable diseases, geriatric invalids, etc.; suggest state-controlled abortion, state-run contraception, compulsory vasectomy, artificial insemination, and whatever else comes desperately to mind. But well-intentioned though some of these schemes may be, their implementation would probably spark off a violent revolution and thereby defeat their objectives. The existing governments of a majority of countries would be unable or unwilling to authorize such measures, being obliged, instead, to watch the war god looming over the masses in a threatening posture, to let the masses propagate at random, to bludgeon one another in the name of freedom, and eventually to thin one another out by the conventional method of mass extermination - another major war!
No, euthanasia, state-controlled abortion, propagation-amendment laws, and the like are all very well theoretically. But their literal implementation would ultimately conflict with pro-life teachings of the Church and thereby place the entire democratic system in jeopardy. If the worst comes to the worst, another world war will curb the current population of the globe quite adequately. In fact, there'll hardly be need for a plague afterwards, the war will have ...
Damn it! I'm not going to torment myself with any more of that kind of idle speculation. It seems likely, after all, that the world's population will continue to rise for some time to come. There will undoubtedly be more screaming brats and overcrowded flats, more social frustrations and national inflations, more congested pavements and homeless vagrants, more social handouts and moral cop-outs, more long-term unemployment and military deployment. In the main, however, people will continue to take things more or less for granted. Indeed, some of them will even kid themselves that the world is becoming an increasingly better place to live in, that today's youths have far greater opportunities for 'getting on' in life than any previous generation ever had, that the standard of living has improved beyond recognition in recent years, and that the one definitive all-knowing God of the New Testament, not to mention His all-powerful Old Testament progenitor who in some countries counts for a great deal more, is both protecting and guiding the world towards a still brighter future, while simultaneously restraining the impulse to personally intervene, in order that His followers may faithfully continue to work in His name until, ever mindful of the Last Judgement, they die in a condition of optimistic resignation rather than pessimistic foreboding!
Throughout the coming decades, the average man will continue to be so habitually deprived, both materially and spiritually, though especially spiritually, that he will be unable to comprehend or objectify the extent of his deprivation. So much will it have become a part of his daily routine ... that he'll have no real option but to take it for granted. He may even go so far as to consider himself relatively fortunate that habit and insensitivity have largely blinded him to the extent of his personal misfortune, and that he is still 'better off' than certain other categories of people - the mentally retarded, for instance, or the incurably insane. He will get up early, every weekday, feeling utterly dejected at the prospect of having to go to an underpaid and overworked job for some seven or eight hours. He will struggle through the day like a man at the end of his psycho-physical tether, and when he eventually arrives home again to an equally tired, humiliated, and short-tempered working wife, he'll automatically turn to the TV, sprawl in front of it for the rest of the evening, take the most part of what he sees for granted, no matter how vulgar or violent it may happen to be, and, finally, clamber into bed with a filmic hangover, absolutely dying to submerge himself in the inky darkness of world-defying night!
Indeed, he will have become so accustomed to his personal hardships that if a man were suddenly to faint in front of him in the street, one day, he would walk over his prostrate body as though it didn't really exist. He will see millions of cars, buses, taxis, vans, trucks, and lorries, but he won't worry too much about the extent of their combined exhaust fumes or the degree to which they daily pollute the atmosphere. Neither will he wonder where all the new vehicles are going, those being regularly churned-out of their factories on a conveyor-belt process which, once sold, will make the roads an even noisier, busier, dirtier, smellier, and more sickening experience than they already are at present. Oh no! He will have to turn what is commonly known as a 'blind eye'. For once the industrial cogs have started turning (and turning with increasingly desperate momentum as time goes by), you can't just stop them overnight and make millions of men redundant, even if their labour does contribute to making the world a worse place to live in, an increasingly hazardous arena. He will simply have to accept so many absurdities, imbecilities, misfortunes, tragedies, and other regrettable facts of contemporary life ... that any genuine self-respect, personal dignity, or individualistic principles to which he might still lay some sort of attenuated claim will be brought into utter ridicule as an affectation of vainglorious egocentricity - the sort of delusions of antiquated grandeur an easily dispensable and relatively insignificant social pawn shouldn't have any recourse to, no matter who he happens to think he is! Social pawns should be seen and not heard, used and not touched, bought and not sold!
No sooner have I written the above than it occurs to me that, in society's impersonal eyes, I am also an easily dispensable and relatively insignificant social pawn, to be pushed around the glorified chessboard of the marketplace by those who have a vested interest in securing a few extra points for themselves at the expense of all those less well-placed pawns. Admittedly, I'm not being pushed around it very much at the moment, especially with a recession biting the hands of the pushers. But, all the same, I don't have any real say in things and I'm certainly not asked for an opinion as to how best the game should be played, so that, for once, the pawns, and not the pawn-pushers, might be the ones to profit from it. Even if I do occasionally hit upon a solution to a given problem with a conviction that puts alternative considerations beyond doubt, it is a completely gratuitous event so far as the world in general is concerned, something that isn't guaranteed to appeal to the pawn-pushers, and something that, transferred to paper, may well lose much of the cutting-edge of conviction as it undergoes literary transmutation and becomes diluted with fictional lies in the interests of a more commercial presentation, a presentation which even then might prove too unadulterated for the liking of those people whose preference is rather more for blissful ignorance than the painful truth!
Yes, but I have to do something too! I have to dispel time's cruel tyranny as best I can, no matter what the outcome. There is a fair possibility that, even with the vagaries of fate to consider, I may have to live through another fifty or so birthdays before I die and pass beyond their reach to an eternity of self-oblivion the other side of mortal death. During the intervening time, I will doubtless have to keep myself reasonably preoccupied: to write, think, read, listen to music, watch TV, etc., as well as to eat, drink, sleep, walk, talk, etc., in accordance with human necessity. But I know for a fact that I am by no means resigned to the possibility of ever being partly responsible, as a parent, for condemning another human being to 70-odd years experience, whether directly or indirectly, permanently or temporarily, constantly or intermittently, of such places as Crouch End or Muswell Hill, and to such things as constipation, diarrhoea, glandular fever, bronchitis, appendicitis, tonsillitis, peritonitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza, coryza, colds in general, stomach aches, earaches, toothaches, headaches, migraine, eye strain, myopia, insomnia, growing pains, cramps, B.O., nausea, vertigo, mumps, measles, chickenpox, V.D., schizophrenia, cancer, sciatica, halitosis, dandruff, boils, pimples, warts, moles, cysts, sties, blisters, mouth ulcers, stomach ulcers, alcoholism, tobacco addiction, drug addiction, destitution, nightmares, boredom, worry, mental strain, nervous breakdowns, frustration, regret, despair, guilt, fear, hate, suspicion, humiliation, anger, manic depression, depressions in general, neurosis, psychosis, loneliness, unrequited love, anachronistic institutions, graveyards, derelict houses, excessive pollution, traffic congestion, traffic noise, traffic accidents, accidents in general, overcrowded pavements, smelly money, inflation, economic recession, commercial exploitation, cacophonous music, predatory advertisements, political incompetence, noisy neighbours, noisy neighbourhoods, hammerings, drillings, sawings, barkings, dogs' shit on pavements, dogs' piss on walls, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, plagues, wars, famines, droughts, thefts, rapes, murders, perversions, suicides, lies, purges, putches, riots, tanks, bombs, warships, warplanes, nuclear submarines, revolutions, racism, jingoism, deluded philosophers, deluded philosophies, prisons, lunatic asylums, mines, factories, courts, offices, barracks, etc., etc., ad nauseam!
No, I have no pressing desire to propel any prospective child of mine into that kind of world, however tempting it may sometimes be in the light of social and/or sexual pressures. Yet, despite that, I just can't imagine myself being so selfish or weak or besotted as to alleviate my boredom, depression, loneliness, tension, desire, or whatever, at the expense, effectively, of a poor naive young child who wouldn't understand what sort of a world it had been born into until it was too damn late.
Yes, the truth, it seems, is rarely flattering to our egos! Yet for some considerable period of time now it has been the policy of society to coat certain aspects of the bitter truth in sweet lies, in order to propagate universal delusion and thereby mitigate the harsh reality of having to swallow a pill which would otherwise prove unpalatable to all but the most fearlessly honest.
People who are philosophically conscious of striving after the truth, however, have little stomach for the lies with which the pill of factual reality is normally coated, since such things go against their philosophical grain and may even lead to a type of mental indigestion or blockage which would be far more damaging to their souls than ever the truth could be. Such people must look into the various things with which they are concerned as honestly as possible, examine them closely, and then endeavour to formulate rational judgements about them which may lead to a discovery of their true worth.
Thus when I considered what I regard as some of the more unfortunate consequences of propagation, a short while ago, I was attempting to do just that, and I must confess it deeply troubled me to think that, in a moment of mental weakness or under the tyranny of love, of possessive emotional obsession with another person, I too might be forced to follow my parent's example and wind-up condemning an innocent child to a lifetime's sentence in the prison of contemporary reality!
Of course, I know something about love or, at any rate, unrequited love, so I'm aware that, under its pressing influence, a person may commit a child to life without appreciating the true nature of what he has done - indeed, that he may be so powerless to resist the sway of his beloved that anything short of propagation would appear unrealistic, if not downright foolish and self-defeating! But I'm also aware that one day his love will disappear as suddenly as it came, leaving him, in later years, with two or three wretched adolescents on his hands who will probably despise him for having plagued them with modern life. Furthermore, I'm well aware that there are plenty of young women in this paradoxical world whose principal justification for marrying would be the experience of raising children and thereby securing for themselves an acceptable degree of maternal preoccupation, without which their lives, ever subject to menstrual pressures, would doubtless become quite intolerable, since they wouldn't know how else to justify themselves to themselves, and the justification for living with a man would sooner or later be called into question, if not completely invalidated.
To be sure, even today, in this age of female liberation, there are many such women in the world, women who seek in marriage the experience of raising a family not simply as a means of both justifying their natural obligations and exploring their maternal potential in all its ramifications, spiritual as well as physical, but of justifying and cementing their relationship to a man, forcing them to tolerate the vicissitudes of marital life for the sake of their children, with the possible eventuality that, having grown up and left home, these same children will do them proud in later years, and perhaps even protect or support them, not to mention honour their place of burial - assuming they're not cremated - through the posthumous commemoration of their 'deathday' in the fragrant afterlife of floral tributes?
Once these children have grown up and left home, however, the parents may still decide to remain together, in order to be of some consolation to each other during their remaining years. It may even transpire that they will then find time to look back over their earlier years together, to reflect on the nature of life in general, to formulate little prohibitions which may be of some help to their grandchildren, and to frown upon the promiscuous trends of modern society, with its polygamous decadence where some are concerned and polygamous barbarism where others are concerned, neither of which categories would greatly appeal to the monogamous conservatism of our imaginary couple!
Naturally, they'll have the recollection of a full and varied life to console them in the face of the manifold iniquities of contemporary youth, satisfying themselves that they did their matrimonial duty, and that their deaths will accordingly summon the blessed full-stop to a well-executed sentence of living. In their declining years they'll also learn how to preoccupy themselves without the help of children (occasional contacts with grandchildren notwithstanding), much less the panacea of casual sex. But that bridge will have to be crossed when they get to it, and not a moment before!
Meanwhile the world's population will continue to rise and the standard of living to fall, as the cost of survival becomes steadily higher and the prospect of paying it correspondingly lower!
FRIDAY 1st OCTOBER
I am feeling much better this morning than I did yesterday at a corresponding time. In fact, you would hardly think that I was the same person. All that worry about population, propagation, disease, and the like, is as far from my mind today as the bad weather which accompanied it. My birthday, thank goodness, has passed! Though I dare say that my mother is still very much alive and capable, in consequence, of inflicting further birthday cards upon me for the foreseeable future, indirectly flattering herself in the process.
However, with the exhaustion of what I had to say on the above-mentioned subjects yesterday, the benefit of a decent night's sleep, and the sight of so much blue sky this morning, I feel as though yesterday's pessimism was nothing more than a hangover from the previous night, when I didn't get much sleep on account of the upstairs neighbour again. She was making even more noise than before, but making it, I today learn, at the expense of her boyfriend and with a view to moving to a new address - hopefully one as far away from Crouch End as possible! Now that she has packed her bags and emptied the cupboards and drawers of all her belongings, it seems safe to say that, from this evening, things will be a good deal less noisy and I may even be able to treat my ceiling with more respect. I hope so anyway, since there are quite enough blotchy patches on it already!
Well, I am seated in the local café again, waiting for the chef to serve me some breakfast. Since I never order anything but an egg burger, a tea, and a pancake with syrup, all he requires of me is information to the effect that I want "The usual". Sometimes I don't even have to say that; he anticipates it for me, smiling in recognition as I enter the café and going straight to the freezer for the burger meat. Despite some good luck the other day, however, I know in advance that I'll get my allotted quota of sugar cubes as well. In certain respects, this man's memory is like a sieve!
Since there aren't any other customers in here at present and the music on the radio bores me, I have taken the liberty of scribbling these humble lines 'on the spot' - something, incidentally, I don't do very often - rather than at home. Usually I rely on memory as much as possible, embellishing it here and there with a dash of pure invention in deference to my imagination and its respect for a certain 'literary licence'. In the final analysis, one always returns to literature, even in a journal, and, to the best of my recollection, most of the writers whose names mean anything to me are guilty or, depending on your standpoint, enamoured of exactly the same thing. I need only cite the extraordinary length of Molly Bloom's interior monologue in the final chapter of Ulysses, to draw attention to what I mean. Frankly, you couldn't expect anyone to actually maintain a thought-monologue of that length and intensity all night, least of all a woman, and for me that constitutes a significant aspect of the literary licence, if you will, of Joyce's ostensible realism: his ability, inclination, necessity, or whatever, to mix probability with improbability, truth with illusion, fact with fiction, and dialogue with monologue.
Indeed, whenever I leaf through his and other major authors' works, I often encounter the same tendency in different guises; a fact, after all, which is of the essence of modern literature, with its willingness to bend everyday reality towards an illusory nirvana, to mould life according to its idealistic whim or, more correctly, the imaginative bent of its practitioner at the expense of crass realism and any concomitant enslavement to representational objectivity, for which, in any case, the cinema is far more adept, given its pictorial bias. It is as though serious modern literature has become an introverted hedgehog which, like abstract painting vis-à-vis photography, has been obliged to curl-up inside itself under threat of destruction from film, and this curled-up condition is now its only defence against a world which increasingly shuns subjectivity in pursuance of an ever-more intensive objectivity the end-product of which can only be a cataclysmic upheaval of apocalyptic proportions!
Well, even I am guilty or enamoured, in my moralistic introversion, of occasionally twisting things to suit the overall continuity; of recalling conversation and the sequence of events associated with a given scene as though I had taken notes 'on the spot' and thus knew every last detail; of stepping out of the form I originally set myself in order to follow inspiration, add new dimensions to my work, and, above all, make it more subjectively interesting! For without a strongly subjective streak, literature is no more than an amoral representation of objective reality, a shell without a kernel, a lens without a soul, an extrapolation from journalistic impartiality, and thus effectively a living death - as, unfortunately, all too much modern stuff actually tends to be.
Ah, here comes my burger! I could see the chef casting a sly glance at my notebook and then at me, as though to link the two, but I don't think its presence particularly offends or embarrasses him. After all, I didn't bring it in here in order to humiliate him or, worse still, draw condemnatory attention upon myself! Quite the contrary, this is the first opportunity he has been given to see me working, so he'll probably require a couple of days to get used to it.
As a matter of interest, I simply considered a little literary diplomacy expedient in the circumstances of my regular presence here at this relatively unusual time of day. Now he can see that I am not just a mouth that chews his food at a time when most other people are busy doing sums or checking invoices, but a writer as well, and that, by a short stretch of the imagination (presuming he still has the semblance of one tucked away in that ageing head somewhere), such writings also take place outside the café, behind closed doors, on a table, between meals. This knowledge should be enough, if he arrives at it, to convince him that I'm not just an out-and-out wastrel with a lazy disposition, but essentially a culturally responsible and hard-working person with a sense of purpose! It may even help to sustain the cordiality of our simple relationship here.
Before I tackle the syrup pancake, which always follows the egg burger onto my table (and sometimes before I've finished eating the damn thing), I'm obliged to remove the sugar cubes from my saucer. Somehow, I knew he wouldn't disappoint me ... Good God! I hadn't noticed it earlier, but this glass cup is filthy, especially on that part of the rim from which one drinks. Why, there are horrible brown rust-like stains there which smell positively revolting! In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the entire place was contaminated! These knives, forks, spoons, cups, saucers, plates, etc., have been used literally tens-of-thousands of times by now, and most of them are probably contaminated with equally-revolting malodorous stains. I need only dwell on this particular cup a while longer, in such fashion, and my disgust will trigger off a nauseous convulsion which will precipitate the half-digested pulp of my egg burger all over the table, to the immense satisfaction of the resident flies. But this is terrible! One oughtn't to think like this at such a time. That bloody notebook!
In many respects, these past few weeks have definitely been ill-fated for me. Indeed, I can hardly forget that I was feeling almost exactly the same way about the change in my pocket while paying my bill at The Cornerstop Café the Monday before last. If I had previously and rather too matter-of-factly regarded it as my money, then that little realization painfully disillusioned me! Of course, I had often been told that money was the root of all evil, that money stank, etc., but it hadn't occurred to me to take such notions literally until then, when I was virtually overcome by the stench. Come to think of it, I haven't smelt the notes yet, have I? It was only the change that time.... Yes, I have to pay the chef in a minute anyway, so I'll take a quick sniff at them before he can see me and wonder what-on-earth I'm doing, or dismiss me in Pidgin English as a crazy lunatic. After all, it wouldn't do to throw all this hard-earned diplomacy away on account of a few crumpled bank notes - a tenner and two fivers.
Frigging hell, what a foul stench! It's as though all the sewers in London had converged on these hapless notes. Now I know that, much as I've never felt too enthusiastic about money, I shall never feel the same way about it again. From this day onwards, it will have to be quarantined in a small cloth wallet, and whenever I exchange it for something else, whenever I'm obliged to use it, I shall have to take the additional precaution of holding my breath and/or wearing a pair of soft leather gloves in order to avoid the risk of further contamination. Needless to say, that really will be the limit!