If this is life, can I get a refund?

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The Independent Culture
What You do is, you come downstairs in your dressing gown; the scratchy woollen one with the moth-holes and the parrot-stains, not the heavy silk brocade one because you don't have a heavy silk brocade one. Which is odd, because it was always a heavy silk brocade one in your imagination, when you were 20, looking forward to life. Scratchy wool played no part in things, nor did 87 Dunhill pipes, 12 different guides to the Internet, all out of date, three broken answering machines, and a pile of dead luggage mostly stuffed with dead flying gadgets: out-of-date maps, broken in-flight computers too cumbersome to be used in flight, one-eared headphones, one- lensed sunglasses, inexplicable things with oil-stains.

It was a pleasant time, being 20. You could look forward to life without life itself tapping you on the shoulder to say: "No. Wrong. Forget it entirely." You thought that because you were so smart, you would be rich (odd that you never hear anyone say, "If you're so rich, how come you ain't smart?") and your life would be a mixture of wild self-indulgence and effortless self-discipline. Things would organise themselves as you passed along, like soldiers coming to attention. Fate, when it was not actively smiling upon you, would forget about you entirely. The Inland Revenue would never cotton on, or, if they did, would say: "No. He's too special. Let's give him a break." Money would come in but never flow out. People would omit to send in the bill, or send it in then suddenly die. Women ...

Women deserve their own paragraph. They would be delicate yet ardent; mysteriously, secretly sorrowful, yet possessed of an almost balletic equipoise. They would never, ever say: "Oh God I've tried so hard but you've spoilt everything and it's too late now" or "I'm not going on like this" or "You've ruined my life". Sometimes, it is true, they would weep softly, but it would not be your fault, nor would you ever find yourself weeping frantically in return, choking and howling and doubled over with pity and guilt.

They deserve two paragraphs. In bed they would be mysterium coniiunctionis, the perfect homoousion, simultaneously (a) biro-slender, delicate, smelling of carnations, cool as chocolate and poised as angels and (b) loud, demanding, perverse, insatiable, uncompromisingly corporeal: flesh and heat and musk and barnyard abandonment. You would be the best they had ever had, ever, and they would gaze at you with huge astonished eyes and send round their friends because something so wonderful just had to be shared.

That's what your life was going to be like. You were going to rise from the linen sheets at sunrise, leaving your womenfolk entwined in satiety, and walk out onto your terrace with a glass of Badoit and a nectarine. Below you, your manservant Snivelsby would be hoovering the beach. Otherwise, silence, save for the waves on the distant reef, the ching-ching of the wind in the halyards of your boat, and the murmerous drone of lawyers insisting that it's not hoovering but Hoovering, not biro but Biro. Showered, shaved, dressed in simple canvas trousers and a silk Charvet shirt, you would go to your workroom, heavy with the scent of bougainvillaea and mimosa, and sit down at your computer, weighing out each word as if it were gold. Your agent would ring with news of movie deals. Rain-drenched politicians back in England would call to solicit your approbation. Sometimes dishevelled and bewildered journalists would come to interview you; on those occasions your women would drift into the room, smelling of sunlight and showing a lot of leg.

Ho. Well. It didn't turn out like that, did it? There you are in your ratty old dressing gown, with your mug of cheap instant coffee, hunched over your keyboard and juddering with fear because of your six mutually in- compatible deadlines. You have no ideas in your head. What you really want is lunch but you only have pounds 1.76 and no prospect of getting any more until after the weekend, so it's either lunch or fags unless you smoke that throat-ripping shag you bought last summer in Corby and have been saving up ever since. You try to concentrate but there's a horrible little ledger clerk in the back of your head who keeps adding up your debts and sucking his teeth. The phone rings but you don't answer it because it's someone else who hates you because you've let them down.

But are you downcast? Do you mind that you have to pack all your stuff and get the hell out so that your flat can be sold to some harsh, grating lawyer, pack all the boxes of obsolete quarto typing paper, the out-of-date software, the doomed Filofaxes and stillborn notebooks; all the too-tight trousers and too-bright shirts, the leaking duvet, the 19 different patent safety-razors, the suitcase full of rope and handcuffs and floggers and gags, the 377 unlabelled floppy disks and the seven-foot pile of aviation magazines? Are you fretful and overwhelmed by having to sort out your sweaters, cull your collection of 11 typewriters, chuck out the entire filing-cabinet of photographs you'll never look at again, face the fact that it's time to throw away the butter-soft, sculpted Montana leather jacket in which you used to look good but now just look fat? Are you worrying that your cracked plates, your heterogeneous collection of knives and forks, your bent frying pan, your horrible spatulas, your threadbare chairs, your rickety table, your creaking bed, your broken-backed mattress, your tear-stained desk, your ear-stained telephone ... that all these things would look hatefully abused and declasse in your new home, unless it is a claustrophobic plasterboard box in a urine-reeking council block for the distressed and at-risk, which it probably will be? Of course not. "This is life," you say to yourself; "One day I will write about it! And get rich!" And you go back to bed, and hide under the leaking duvet, and pretend you're 20 again, and dream your dreams of abundance and the sea.

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