In which the author finally loses it completely

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The Independent Culture
Amateur psychologists: feh. Curse of the age. I met one the other day, by accident. "Your self-image is sooooo negative," she said, as if I had asked her opinion. "Life is a garden of myriad possibilities but you must be self-actuating; think of yourself fondly and imaginatively. Stand in front of the bathroom mirror and say to yourself each day: `I am not such a bad chap and my life is OK.' "

Well; I think we can do a bit better than that, don't you? If I have to go to the effort of thinking of myself fondly and imaginatively, I might as well go the whole hog, and to hell with the bathroom mirror. And you know what? It works.

I know it works because the Matins bell awakens me each morning. I am invariably in the precise position in which I went to sleep: arms folded upon my breast, a slight smile playing about my chiselled lips. I make my obeisances to the exquisite Cellini crucifix above the chimneypiece; rise; bathe; dress myself in a simple robe of white silk and descend to the great Gothic chapel. The men cross themselves as I pass by; the women modestly avert their eyes; I bless them all, impartially. The morning office is, as always, graceful and eloquent. My choir sings divinely; I flirt delicately with the notion of showing special patronage to the newest soprano. Only the finest Muscatin frankincense burns in the thuribles. Afterwards I breakfast on a sweet orange melon and a glass of green wine, before stepping out into the soft morning air.

My fireman, Nobby, is waiting for me outside. Rain gusts up the modest terrace streets in the gale blowing from the steel-grey river. We walk to the engine sheds in companionable silence. The firelighters have been at work since before dawn, and the mighty Castle class locomotive is already steaming as we climb on to the footplate ready for the day's work. A touch of my muscular arm on the regulator and the great engine pulls out smoothly. The passengers have troubles of their own, happen, and for all their money and fancy clothes there's not one of them as happy a man as me: finest driver on the line, two lovely kids (lad's just started on t'railway and lass's engaged to Percy from t'Bank), a good wife (never been tiddly nor looked at another bloke), house may be small but it's paid for (more'n you can say), a job for life and a pension and my garden at the end of it.

The train pulls into the busy terminus and immediately I see, waiting on the platform, Poppy, elegant and slender and somehow fresh and clean, a promise in her fathomless blue eyes. The tiredness of months - terrible months, hunting those evil Nazi swine across the mist-haunted valleys of Carpathia, so that at times I thought I should never see England again - seemed to fall from me, and I walked towards her, tall, broad-shouldered, deeply tanned and confident that, in my travel-stained but immaculately cut tweeds, I looked absolutely tickety-boo. Poppy threw her arms around me, almost sobbing with delight. "Jorkins, your faithful retainer, is waiting outside in the British Racing Green car," she said; "You know, the Bentley straight-eight with the special turbocharger. I thought we could go back to your little flat just off Piccadilly with the entrance above the Chinese restaurant, which you'd never find if you didn't know it was there." Home! The word conjured up a thousand pleasant sensations. Cheery costermongers and bowler-hatted city types, taxi-drivers muffled up against the thick fogs, jolly old Buckingham Palace and fair play and decency everywhere you looked. "By the way," said Poppy, "the bank manager telephoned and said that pounds 1m had been deposited in your account and what was he to do with it?"

A million pounds! That would be the fee for the operation I had performed on the Arabian potentate's favourite wife, an operation so technically challenging that I was the only man who could do it. I remember it well. I walked into the brightly lit room, and there she was, lying there, trustingly, under the bright lights. "Do it, big boy," she murmured, and her words were taken up by technicians ranged around the room. "Yeah, do it, Big Boy," they sneered. But I was unconcerned. Was I not Big Boy Bywater, the Porno King, the international stud who could command $50,000 for a morning's work? Was I not inundated daily with offers from the world's most beautiful women to fly me to their palatial homes, just so that they could experience in reality what they had so often yearned over on the screen?

As always, I gave the performance of a lifetime. The money was pleasing, but the surge of applause was the real reward. I deserved it, of course. Immodest?

No. I realised long ago that false modesty had no place in the life of a great conductor, and my performance of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony had proved it yet again. I turned and bowed deeply. The warlord bowed back, but his tiny eyes, sunk in rolls of fat, were cold and merciless and the gaze of his bodyguards unswerving. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the emergency transmitter. A touch of my bronzed muscular finger on the button and the mighty jet engines spun into life. We were free! Free, once and for all, of the chain gang! I breathed deeply. By God, but the oxygen tasted good. Only now could I admit to myself that there had been moments when I thought we would never raise the Titanic, but there it was, gleaming in the sunlight as it broke the surface. How they cheered! The deciding goal, scored in the last second of extra time! It was the crowning moment of my career: the only reigning Pope to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics. But there would be time to savour the triumph later. The Princess was waiting for me in her wedding-gown; both engines had failed and I had to deliver my next best-seller or the international banking community would collapse. "No problem," I smiled; and the bathroom mirror smiled back.