Condemned to live

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The Independent Culture
HELLO TREES, hello sky, we'll meet again, with a smile and a song, and I think to myself, what a wonderful thump crash wallop, knuckles crack, nose bursts, blood blossoms all down Mr Portillo's little blue shirt, and you know what? I don't even have anything against Mr Portillo at the moment, and as for his shirt, he's always struck me as quite a well-dressed sort of a man. It's just free-floating rage. Juvenal would have understood, but then Juvenal is also dead, so to hell with him. Can't you just see him - smell him - nearly two millennia back, condemning the vices to which he was most drawn, slouching past the racetrack with his big old belly and his pout and his lousy teeth, snarling at the lip-licking popsies up on the Palatine with their fancy scent and their smooth, smooth thighs, and their rich bastard "protectors" ... once you got to a certain level, then as now, you could move up from fornication to cubiculation, trade the rat-shit arches of the Colosseum for the scented couch of a senator. The bitches! The bastards! And never mind that your man Juvenal is himself straight from the bath-house, slick with the venerean sudor of that self- same senator's wife. Times change, and we ... we remain the same.

This message of hope comes to you from one snatched from the jaws of death. What? Me, you fools. I mentioned my heart last week, and how it seemed to have got better on its own, and I spent much of Monday on a treadmill, wired up, being goaded by cardiologists, who then made me strap on the 24-hour monitor which records every heartbeat.

How dull my life suddenly seemed. They give you a little Patient's Diary, Time, Activity, Symptoms. Don't have any symptoms and my time's my own, but the activities. Oh dear. 13:25: Lunch. 14:00-15:15: Nap. 17:35: Wristwatch fell off. Picked it up. 04:25: Creepy dream. 08:15: Woke up with start (doorbell). Pathetic, really. I wanted to have an interesting life, one where the cardiologists would say "Blimey, no wonder his heart's packing up." 13:00: Lunch - steak tartare, Ch Beychevelle 1966, Viagra, three Siamese lap-dancers. 16:00: Arrested for public order offences. 17:35: Shared Siamese lapdancers with policemen. 19:00 - Solved cold fusion problem. 20:15-23:30: Award ceremony dinner. Received Lifetime Achievement award. 24:00-03:00: Cocaine, wrote short story, Viagra, Welsh lapdancers, fried- egg sandwich, fought. 04:00: Up. Kick-boxing. Cocaine. Jigsaw puzzle. Hashish. Woman from downstairs flat. Woman from downstairs flat's dog.

Now that is a Patient's Diary a man could be proud to hand in. But my own little effort? Pfoo. They'll look at me and think "Dull sod, why does he bother to go on living?" And I shall. Go on living, I mean. Because it looks as if whatever it was that was wrong with my heart isn't wrong with my heart any more.

I should be relieved, but I'm not. Not really. There's no mileage in it, no grandeur, no pathos, and, most of all, no prospect of all the things I always believed came with getting older. Experience? I think not. Experiences, yes; experience, no. "Here lies Michael Bywater," it will say on my gravestone, "None The Wiser". And that about sums it up, because there's no real sign of wisdom, either. What passes for wisdom seems to me merely a sort of creeping sloth, a lack of capacity; if I no longer fight, fornicate, drink until dawn, it's merely because I cannot be bothered. Discernment? Nope. My critical faculties are as bolloxed as they ever were; I may be better- informed, but I still burst into tears over Mahler even though I can see exactly how he pulls off his cheap tricks, and when some beautiful woman invites me back to her place for a bit of how's-your-cubicularum, I refuse not from decency or ethics, but because it all seems too much effort and I can't face another morning waking in a strange bed, going out to get some milk, and realising as I leave the shop that I have no idea of her address and all the streets look the same.

But what I resent most of all is that for the past however many years, I have been terrified of dying and never realised it. I only realise it now because the threat has been lifted, and it's a grave - hah! - disappointment. Timor mortis conturbat me said the poet, and it added grandeur, depth and texture to life. But once you realise that you've suffered timor mortis and it left you about as conturbed as popping out for 20 Dunhill and an Evening Standard ... well, one feels somehow diminished, a man of little sensibility and even less wisdom. The truth, I think, must be that I am shallow, vain, and condemned to live a superficial life, dying, eventually, in invincible ignorance. So I suppose I'd better stand for Mayor of London. See you on the Millennium Wheel, and watch out for the River of Fire.