Finally, proof that there is life after death

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The Independent Culture
MY POSITION on prizes and awards and honours - not to mention houses and cars and expensive skiing holidays, and all the horrors of having lots of money and a business manager and an entourage, and women gazing up with a mad glaze of lubricity in their eyes - has always been one of lofty contempt. But that's balls. I've been lying. I yearn for money, fame and achievement awards. It's just that I don't get them. Ever.

But this year will be different, starting with the Columnist of the Year award. The smart money is all on my friend John Diamond, who writes for that newspaper which Mr Murdoch has to more-or-less give away to undiscerning, shouty punters in unwholesome "city" trousers. John writes in the paper every Saturday and, for much of this year, has been recounting, with honesty, wit and humanity, his nasty experiences with cancer.

This will weigh heavily with the judges, not because he's made such a good job of it that he deserves to win - that never bothered judges one way or another - but because they will be thinking: "Better give it to old Diamond; he seems to have got over it all right, but you never know and what if the bugger croaks?"

Well: tough. He's out of the running now, and will just have to come to terms with it. I have suddenly surged ahead - admittedly from the very back of the field ("Bywater? No way. It's not about anything. It's just bollocks") - and I now regard myself as a dead cert.

Literally. Because while the best Diamond can muster is that he may or may not, at some unspecified point in the future, kick the bucket, I am already dead.

Dead. Yet writing about life every week, as though nothing has happened. And if that's not award-winning professional valour, what is?

I first discovered I was dead by an act of sheer vanity. Just like you, I look myself up on the Internet from time to time to see what people are saying about me, and there I was, not just in the usual newsgroups ("I don't like his stuff at all. He is just an arse"), but in the Library Association Record, Vol 99 Number 4, April 1997. Rather impressive, I thought. Less declasse than Who's Who, I thought. Stringent criteria for admission, I thought. I pictured to myself a committee of solemn, horn-rimmed Librarians, dressed with elegant negligence, smelling of Russia-leather bindings and Acqua di Parma, seated around a vast oak table in the panelled elegance of the Association Record Room, debating my case. Finally, the chairman clears his throat. Instantly, with scholarly courtesy, the room falls silent. "We shall Record Dr Bywater," he says. Wild cheers from my supporters, while my detractors slink silently away, despair etched upon their wolfish chops.

So I clicked on the hyperlink and within seconds, the Contents Page of Vol 99 Number 4 unscrolled itself onto my screen. And there it was. My name. Under the heading: Obituaries. I know what Obituaries mean. Obituaries mean they are nice about you, praise your achievements, your personal style, your intellect, your irresistible charm, and the hundreds of weeping women queueing irritably to fling themselves into your grave. I could hardly wait to read it; but, not being a Librarian, I wasn't allowed to. It was a secret.

Then I remembered the other thing Obituaries mean: Dead. Dead. Since April. I don't actually remember dying, but that fits in with the way physicists are currently thinking. The theory is, as I've mentioned before (but I know you have memories like a strainer) that the whole Universe divides at every event. Not strainer. Sieve. So if I died in April, the Universe would have split at that point, one continuing just as though I hadn't croaked, the other carrying on quite happily without me. Obviously I could have no knowledge of the one in which I was dead, so, whatever happened, I would assume I was still alive, and here I am to prove it, thanks to some unexplained inter-cosmic leak or something.

Death, I have to say, is much better than I had expected. I have lost a bit of weight, it's true, and I find I get tired more easily, but by and large it's a blast, crammed with opportunities. We're used to the dead being well-behaved. Most of them just shut up completely, and the few that don't tend to confine themselves to rather camp Gothic manifestations, groaning and walking through walls ... and the reason is, I suspect, that they have not been properly informed. I, on the other hand, knowing the truth about my condition, intend to exploit death to the full.

The trouble is, it's just occurred to me that this is a double-edged sword. True, now that I am dead, I can do all those things I said I'd rather be dead than do: write for a Murdoch tabloid, oil up to greasy, snipe-faced media executives in the Groucho club, write blockbusting Hollywood action movies, sleep with porno actresses, hang around nightclubs wearing a black silk shirt and a platinum wristwatch, treat people as commodities and ignore their inviolable humanity, drive a Ferrari, live in a penthouse, take up skiing, drink things with more than two ingredients, wear Gucci shoes, Armani suits or Versace shirts, have a video camera in the bedroom, install electronically operated curtains, or ever, ever say to anyone, let alone a group of three girls young enough to be my daughters: "Hey, babes, you want to come back to my penthouse, drink champagne in my hot tub?"

On the other hand, unfortunately, were I to do any of the above things, I would be equally obliged to do the other stuff I always said I'd rather be dead than do: go to bed at a sensible hour, eat properly, cut down on the cigars, find a nice sensible normal girl and settle down to raise a family, buy a property which will hold its value, pay my taxes, stop being a clever-dick, get my suits from M&S like everyone else, keep my voice down, stop preening myself in front of the bloody mirror and, above all, act my age.

So how do you act dead? What's a poor stiff to do? Just lie down, shut up and take it on the chin? Or have a hell of a time and end up being exorcised? One thing I won't do is the dreary old compromise, drifting about in the twilight moaning and whining. How utterly desolate; you might as well be alive.