It has just gone 7.00pm 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 Ŕ 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 models which I carefully selected and cut out from various men's magazines several months 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 purely 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 with them.  However, the most significant thing which now strikes me about these models is that they are mostly wearing some form of clothing, even if only a pair of nylon stockings or the briefest of briefs.  There are only two of them who are completely nude, but they look silly to me, since all you can see, in each case, is a bare rump.  There is nothing particularly individualistic about them - not, that is, unless you were prepared to utilize a magnifying lens in order to study the minutiae of their respective behinds.  Of the rest, a few are pretending to indulge in what my little Oxford Dictionary defines as 'self-abuse', their fingers busily probing between their legs.  To judge from the smug expressions on their heavily made-up faces, you would think they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.  But I'm not altogether convinced.  Or, rather, I don't understand how any person, even a woman, could get worked-up like that over so insignificant a sexual commitment.  Doubtless they exaggerate their pleasures in order to make personal sex appear as satisfying as possible, to create a sort of irresistible bait - the pleasures of 'self-abuse'!

     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!



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