Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

When I'm not working and being creative, I feel like I'm losing my grip on the real world
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The Independent Online

I was sitting in the bath last week, actually having a bath, which is a thing I don't do very often. The reason I don't is because my bath is giant - in fact it's big enough for a giant, and the only time I have a bath is when I reach rock bottom, exhaustion point. Which is always pretty dangerous, because nine times out of 10 I find myself slipping down to the end of the bath in a semi-comatose state.

Anyway, as I lay there in the warm waters, I was contemplating such grand issues as whether or not I should shave my legs - and how many miles I've swum in the last 10 years. I tried to make the calculation simple, by doing it in kilometres. The average pool is 25 metres, so 40 lengths is a kilometre.

It takes me one minute and 10 seconds to swim a length and turn (a really demented-looking breast stroke that makes me look like a turtle, because I hate to get my hair wet), so I know that whatever the length of the pool, as long as I swim for about 45 minutes, I'm covered. I've been swimming a kilometre on average five times a week since 1995. You work it out.

Oh, it's fun having a bath with me. Anyway, there I was, and I heard this scraping noise, I stuck my head out of the window to see reams of ivy rolling away from my next door neighbour's house. Like an advent calendar, our heads leaning out of our respective windows, we started to have a conversation. "Hi, how do you. I'm Luis, shrub, bush and tree surgeon, at your service." And I thought: "Wow. It's amazing what you wish for."

What is hedonism?

My problem this week was too many men's birthdays. Men who I really love and adore. Steven Webster, jewellery designer. Willie Lamarque (none of us really knows what he does. I say MI6. Willie said I'm the one who would make a great agent). Eric Wright, fashion designer. Hamish McAlpine, film producer (someone asked me: "Is it actually Hamish's birthday on Sunday?" and I said: "No its actually 12 December, but it didn't stop him having a full-blown party, and he got tons of presents).

As for Steven Webster, 12 go mad in Kent - an amazing dinner, caviar and sturgeon. It was only halfway through dinner that I realised the caviar came from the sturgeon. I started to get really upset, saying things like: "Fuck, we're eating her potential babies." Then Steve pointed out to me that we had actually eaten her.

Eric, meanwhile, who was 50 yesterday and had never had a birthday party before, will say things to me like "Hey sweets, what is hedonism?"

Some people think I'm a hedonist. But I'm not - I don't have the stamina. Plus I'm a workaholic. To use the cliché: work hard, play hard. I have very little respect for lazy people, or for people who moan and whine about their work. When I'm not working, thinking and being creative, I feel like I'm losing my grip on the real world.

I'm in an exceptionally lucky position - I only do what I want to do, I never have to do anything for money. But I have in the past. Fish and chip shop, chambermaid, eye-level toast cook, Sasha shoe shop in Oxford Street, Guilders in Oxford Street (they used to throw coat hangers at me, but I was 15), sex shop, cloakroom attendant at Gaz's Rocking Blues (where every night Bigger the Bouncer would say, "You're late" and I'd say, "Well, you're lucky"), youth tutor for Suffolk council (that was one of my better jobs. But you see, I'm lucky - none of those jobs was prostitution. The closest I ever got to that was designing a range of handbags for a well-known luggage company.

It gets better ...

When I was 14 I slept with this bloke in the Nayland Rock hotel in Margate. He was 26 and a complete tosser who thought he was the bee's knees. The sex was atrociously bad (small dick's an understatement. That's why men of 26 sleep with 14-year-olds - it took me three minutes to work that one out). Anyway, after he passed out, I left the room, taking his money, his fags, and his lighter. I should have taken his watch, but I thought that was going a bit far. But I would never say that was prostitution - I would say it was self-preservation.

I've been shagging since I was 13. Take 13 away from 42 (the age I am now) and that leaves 29. I've had sex with a total of 35 people, so on average that's 1.2 people per year. I guess the 0.2 per cent must represent those who weren't up to par. But then I did have sex with 15 people (not in one night) before I was 15. So in two years, that works out at 7.5 a year, which is 0.6 a month. But from the age of 15 until the age of 30 I had sex with 17 people, and from the age of 30 until the age of 42 I had sex with three people. I'm confused. I've run out of fingers. I really do need a helping hand.

Yep, it definitely gets better as you get older. Can't wait until I'm fit at 60.