Tearstains on life's envelope: William Donaldson's Week

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The Independent Online
ON THURSDAY, I let myself down, I'm afraid, and, which was the worst of it, in front of Debbie Mason, whom I think I want to marry, and her staff of attendant crisp young women - the latter busily, and adorably, punching whatever it is that crisp young women punch these days into their desktop hardware.

One minute I was as right as ninepence, and the next I was screaming, 'I can't handle it]', bursting into tears and running down the stairs into Argyll Street, where they're not accustomed to sights like this.

Well, it's the little things, isn't it? You think you're over it: the shock; the sudden loss of any sense of yourself, caused by the abrupt withdrawal of care (love, surely, is a bloated sense of one's own existence); the dull, ever-present, ache-like fear; the swings of mood - fluctuating between a settled melancholy (listening to country and western songs, eating alone in self-service restaurants) and murderous, satisfying thoughts of GBH against yourself and others.

Gradually, unless you're so mad by now that you prefer to recover in a clinic staffed by counsellors who are at least twice as mad as you are, you begin to treat yourself at home, decide to write it out of yourself in a painfully honest novel, and shortly discover that it's easier to spend long hours copying passages from Canetti on to the backs of envelopes (not from Auto da Fe, of course, but from The Human Province). Happily, I have the envelopes to hand. Here's one:

'Some people can love only with a strong feeling of guilt. Their passion ignites on whatever they are ashamed of. They want to be afraid and they love a person only if their fear of him never dies. When he stops reproaching them and does not punish them for anything, their love dies and everything ends.'

Eh? Eh? Pretty appropriate, that. Someone will be reading that at home and thinking, 'Good gracious, that's me.' And here's another, I'm glad to say: 'It's a writer's drive to deceive the people he loves - deceive them of what they would get from everyone else. They, however, long for the nourishment of the most ordinary life, and ultimately they have to hate him bitterly for its withdrawal. He, who once loved them and cannot face what they are now, decides to fight with words. Without words, he could have accomplished everything.'

Sooner or later, you tire of writing stuff on envelopes. Instead, you rehearse the beloved's faults, recall times when they let themselves down with a sudden asinine remark. OK, it was exciting, you tell yourself, but excitement is famously self-defeating; more accurately, defeats everything else; like certain drugs, drains meaning from what else matters; casts a present, future and retrospective gloom over the rest of life. Next time, you think, you'll choose someone more settled and mature; someone with whom you can pass boring, almost silent evenings sitting at opposite ends of a sofa as long as a cricket pitch; someone who, on the rare occasions that they speak, manages to suggest that they've understood almost half of what you've said.

You think you're over it, then some half-forgotten trifle - a photograph you thought you'd binned, a silly precious gift (sand from the Seychelles, perhaps), a sweetly misspelt note, the memory of a private joke - sinks you again under a tidal wave of grief.

All right, you're ahead of me. You've guessed already that I've been jilted again by Pete the Schnoz - and not, this time, for an older man (which was cruel enough), but (which is still more hurtful) because he wants, like Garbo, to be alone.

'I need space,' he said one awful day a week or two ago. 'You're too demanding. You suffocate me. I'm off to Salisbury to discover who I really am. You'll have to do Root without me.'

Me demanding] Me suffocating] That was rich. Pete the Schnoz is the most demanding, the most childishly manipulative, the most - no, I mustn't start. I mustn't give him the satisfaction of knowing how much he's hurt me.

I tried to collect my scattered wits, went through the 12 steps to recovery described above - the shock, the fluctuating moods, the deep reading in Canetti (the second passage best highlights my mistakes, I think, but how was I to know that he craved a less cerebral relationship?) - and shortly discovered that what I missed most were our little private jokes. Each day when we sat down to work, Pete the Schnoz would settle in front of his computer and, like an airport check-in girl issuing boarding-cards, he'd say: 'Smoking or non-smoking, sir?' - and every time we'd fall about with laughter.

For a while, of course, I couldn't think of this without wanting to get back into bed and pull the covers up, but then I began the slow alienation process. Was he so clever, after all? Quick, yes, but didn't he skate too fast over the surface of things? Certainly, Micky Love had been a masterpiece, but hadn't its success been due largely to brilliant direction by Nick Hamm, and to Rik Mayall's astonishing performance?

Pete the Schnoz wasn't the only pebble on the beach. What I needed now was a partner with a settled private life, a Geoff, a man with his money on deposit, a man with a ginger wig and a broad bottom, a man who had already discovered who he was.

Accordingly, and within days, I went to work on Root with my old friend Geoff Atkinson, who has an office at Kudos Productions - the outfit run by Debbie Mason, whom I think I want to marry. And on our first morning, Geoff settled in front of his desktop computer and said: 'Smoking or non-smoking, sir?'

It's the little things, you see. I'll only be off for a few more days, and I don't suppose any great harm's been done. I'll be back at my desk on Monday, explaining that my bursting into tears was a sudden allergy brought on by one of the crisp young women's scent.