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 ten o'clock 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

 

Occasionally, when the fancy takes me, I abandon the local milieu for an evening in the West End.  I catch a bus there, have the cheapest meal I can find, and then take a stroll through its busy streets, the scene of my former clerical life, only to return, as often as not, full of loathing and disgust for the way things tend to drag-on in the same old day-to-day fashion year after solitary year, with nothing unusual happening, failure and poverty staring me in the face, and no-one to whom I can turn in the hope of securing any confidence or friendship.

     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 persistency 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 refuge within the chaos of these busy West End streets.  How diverting, for instance, to stand this tiny newspaper vendor on his head or to make strange faces at the curly haired woman dusting shoes in the window of that graceless shoe shop!  Now I come to think of it, I haven't worn shoes since I left school several years ago; I've mostly worn boots, moccasins, and sneakers, so I needn't pretend to find anything particularly admirable on display there.  But if I stood in front of the window pretending to admire something and then suddenly began to pound.... No, on second thoughts that wouldn't do, would it?  I have limits, after all.  I mean, if I've decided against any such aggressive policy it is in order to prevent the potential victims of my immediate contempt or frustration from taking offence and subsequently chasing me around the streets with a view to venting their anger on me - possibly even to the extent of having me locked or beaten up.  It would be extremely foolish of me to draw such critical attention upon myself, to find myself either fighting or evading other people all day.  No, I have chosen these limits as a safeguard against the possibility of such a misfortune, as a criterion by which to evaluate and protect my freedom.

     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!

                        

                  

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