My twice-in-a-lifetime experiences

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The Independent Online
I HAVE a new literary agent - Eric Hall, no less, whose other clients include, or have included, Terry Venables, John Scales, Ray Houghton, John Fashanu and Lloyd Honeyghan, and who, because of the vigour with which he represents these and other artists, was rebuked recently in the Murdoch press by Mr Vinny Jones.

That's not why I joined his team, however, playing sweeper behind Scalesy in an attacking Christmas-tree formation. What impressed me was not just his style - the size of his cigars, the colour of his suits (mauve, as a rule) - but the aplomb with which he takes the MC's chair on karaoke night at Scribes, the dinner club he owns with Terry Venables.

CatLedger, my last temporary literary agent, always dressed becomingly and while I do not think she has ever been rebuked by Vinny Jones she did once cause Mr Mouse to say that rather than negotiate with her again he would remove his appendix with an oyster fork. She does not, as far as I know, have a share in a dinner club, however, and if she does I would be surprised if her jokes and singing are as life-enhancing as Mr Hall's. Indeed, I doubt if she can sing at all.

Meanwhile, and talking about life enhancement, I expect you were as interested as I was by Roger Cook's article in the Independent's 'Faith and Reason' column last Saturday. Writing about the phenomenon of 'near-death experiences', Mr Cook said that many people have 'died' on the operating table or as a result of cardiac arrest and have reported seeing themselves from above.

'Some find themselves travelling down a long tunnel towards a bright light which envelopes them with feelings of warmth, love and joy. Finally, understanding that this was not their time to die, they have returned to the world of normal, everyday life.'

Leaving aside the question- begging phrase 'normal, everyday life' (what would count as a normal, everyday life: mine or Scalesy's?) this is interesting; though not as interesting, I think, as the related phenomenon of 'near- life experiences', of which the Corpse at the BBC has had none, as far as I know, but of which, as regular readers of this column will know, I have had no fewer than two in the last seven years.

I should explain, perhaps, that I am not referring to those fleeting, encouraging moments - running into Mr Amin's and crying: 'Up the Reds]' the day after they've been stuffed by Leeds - when for a while one seems to hover above the brackish puddle of mere existence. Mr Bernard Levin can experience these, he says, by listening to Schubert or by confronting a perfectly cooked oeuf en cocotte. Nor am I referring to the various small strategies by which one makes life endurable for a while - most happily expressed, perhaps, by Mr Adrian Mitchell's beautiful poem, Celia, Celia:

When I am sad and lonely,

When I think all hope is gone,

When I walk along High


I think of you with nothing on.

(Having rung Mr Mitchell to check that I had this right, I asked him if he had other devices up his sleeve of this sort. 'Nailed by a bore at a party,' he said, 'I pretend he's a comic actor playing the part of a bore; then I can happily admire his technique for the next two hours.' I wonder if one could reverse this; if, trapped in a theatre, one could pretend that the frightful English mimes on duty were real people pretending to be actors.)

No, by a near-life experience I mean something transcendental, a moment when one feels that existence is not after all absurd, and, as I say, I have had two of these. The first, you may remember, occurred in Ibiza in 1988 when, after my baby and I had taken some Ecstasy, it seemed to me that Dummett's argument for God was irrefutable. After it, I was strangely purified, and on returning to London felt obliged to tell various married women that their husbands had been unfaithful to them, and more than once.

I take this one with a pinch of salt, however, since it was achieved on drugs and didn't last; nor can I adopt Mr Mitchell's strategy, since I have been told by Mr Alway that to think of my baby with nothing on would, for some reason, be contempt of court.

My second near-life experience occurred on karaoke night at Scribes, when Frankie Fraser's lovely Marilyn sang 'Stand By Your Man' and John Scales, watched with such unselfconscious love and pride by his beautiful Ruth, sang 'Rhinestone Cowboy'. A short time after it, I rang up Isabelle, who, you may remember, wants me to be Comus.

'Have you ever had a near- life experience, except on drugs?' I said.

'Yes', she said. 'I recently followed a girl all the way to Switzerland only to discover that she was depressingly hetero. I clipped the bitch for pounds 40 and sought inspiration up a mountain. I felt very positive after that. What about you?'

'Scalesy singing 'Rhinestone Cowboy' at Scribes,' I said, 'made me think that life was all right.'

'For Scalesy, perhaps,' said Isabelle. 'But you don't look like him, you can't sing, you haven't got the beautiful Ruth and Eric Hall isn't your agent.'

She was wrong about that, in fact. Unbeknown to her, I had palled up at Scribes with Mr Hall's delightful grey- haired mother; indeed, I had linked arms with her and sung 'We'll Meet Again' in unison. Later, and judging me to be a promising young writer, she had instructed her boy to sign me up.

So there you are. The Corpse at the BBC will have a near-life experience and all, when my agent Eric puts a cracker under him.