Sunday, June 27, 1999

`The publisher needs all copy by August, so I am having to write about the end of my life now'

It's the bloody book that's done it. The moment I croak, these columns will be on sale for £16.99 a pop to a lot of people who've already read them. But in order to catch the Christmas rush, the publisher needs all copy by the end of August. So I am having to write the end of my life now - committing myself to what I'll be doing, how I will feel about it, and my exact method of blapping my lulu. It's driving me nuts.

Of course, I could make it up, but then I might as well lie about my suicide, too, and stay alive. What the hell would be the point of that? The whole idea of Time to Go is that I kill myself. Otherwise, all this writing will be quite valueless.

I've also rejected the idea of giving scripts to friends to make them say what I'd said they said. So I've been trying to predict what my life will actually be like then. My first thought was that I'll be utterly suicidal. I imagined the dreadful day when I can no longer derive the faintest pleasure from my Paul Smith polished berunia condom applicator.

But, then again, I might be rapturously anticipating my life as a sunbeam, singing tra-las to the season of mists and kissing the pates of the ludicrous. Or what if I've been run over, pierced by a spear of frozen piss from a passing airliner, or stabbed by one of The Observer weirdos who've set up a daily Geefe vigil in the pub on the corner?

In turmoil, I faxed the editor a selection of starts for my column for 22 August. He hated them all. `… what the fuck's this: "I've been wondering this week whether sharble should be the word for a grain of instant coffee that hasn't dissolved by the time you drink it"?' I told him that would be what I'd write if I'd come to terms with my death to the extent that I no longer bothered to mention it at all.

He told me to write about my new TV show. `You know exactly how that will go - you're making it now, aren't you?'

Not quite. Channel Five, who've clearly heard of me but never read my work, have approached me with an idea called It's All Right - He's Got Cancer, in which the presenter pulls unforgivably cruel stunts on innocent people but gets away with it because he has cancer and is therefore understandably twisted. I pointed out that I have the big S not the big C. They've yet to come back to me on It's OK - He's Vowed to Top Himself.

`Richard, if you're desperate, why can't you just do something about your suicide method?' I told him I'd seen a very touching art movie in which a man jumps off a first-floor balcony repeatedly until he perishes - just in case at any point he wants to change his mind.

`Very moving.' `It took him 42 jumps.' `Will you do it?' `Well, the publishers like the idea - it's photogenic and there's time for camera crews to arrive... but I think I'll use this gun I've bought.' `Oh God, no Richard, please,' he said. `What?' `You know about Will Hutton's history of firearms convictions - he might be offended.' `Oh, right, but it would be OK for me to die in agony by hurling myself into an amphora of puff adders?' I said. `Yes, I don't think that will tread on any toes.'

In the end, I decided that to make those last weeks entirely predictable I should spend them in bed injecting heroin - taking each dose from a separate timed safe so that I could not OD. The publishers seemed delighted. Very noir, truth in smack, safe smack, too, mmm controversial, maybe some coffee table book-style photos of the paraphernalia.

But guess what? The editor blew his top and said no way - taking heroin is a sackable offence at The Observer. Actually, it's perfectly acceptable to take heroin at The Observer if you write about it here. It's only sackable if another paper mentions it first.

We rowed, of course - like cock ferrets. He said I'd better not botch it now because, apart from anything else, he has a 50 per cent interest in the book deal. What?!! Well, he said, my suicide pact was his idea after all. Well, fuck me. This man, who I've known since we were 19, who saw me through my very worst years with Tears for Fears (keyboards in the `Seeds of Love' phase) casually turns round and tells me that the one brilliant thing I've ever done was his idea. I told him he could shove his nuts in a mangle and I'd take my last 12 weeks elsewhere.

I phoned the Sunday Times: sorry old chap - love the column but we've got a reporter who's just taken out a contract on his own life and is writing some terrific stuff about living in fear. The Mail on Sunday have an accidental injury man who gets something dropped on him or falls out of a window every week. And there's a female writer at the Sindie who's agreed to have her child kidnapped. I'm so fucking marvellous, they're all ripping me off. So I'm stuck here.

Perhaps you'd like to know that I have at least now written my ending. And what the editor doesn't know yet is that on 16 November we play Russian roulette with two fully-loaded revolvers and he fires first. I, of course, follow with pangs of remorse about the futility of it all… oh, yes, I do sir, most definitely.

Sunday, June 20, 1999

`There was a touching card from Harold Pinter, and Julie Burchill had sent me next year's diary (ho ho)'

What the hell have I done? By January 2000, my obituaries will be yesterday's tramp wrapping and the public weeping will be all but over. I've been calling the editor a lot, explaining that I'm having second thoughts. `Of course, of course, excellent,' he says. `Write it all down.'

If I persist, he explains how a friend has told him only this morning that being made to cry by me every Sunday may be saving his marriage.

How? I ask. `Well, they've started having sex again,' he says. I ask him if he's seriously suggesting I should top myself so his friends can cry themselves into bed. `Yes, yes,' he says, `yes' and then, suddenly, he gets very firm and reminds me that I've signed a contract and I can't back out now - not now there's a book deal.

The documentary crew love all this. They say my face looks great when I'm losing an argument. They're filming me for a week. It's a promo tie-in with the book. On Tuesday morning, they chanced upon the perfect Water Cooler Moment. They like to film me opening my post. There was a touching card from Harold Pinter, an immaculate little black coffin from Nick Cave and Julie Burchill had sent me next year's diary (ho ho). Then some handwriting that I recognised. Bridget. A small parcel. And, inside, a pregnancy test stick with the diagnostic end snapped off.

Now Bridget hasn't spoken to me since I revealed here how I ruined our friendship with deceit, booze and horribly misjudged (but rather good) mercy fuck. She has, however, let it filter through to me that she thinks I'm being a jerk. So was she really telling me that as a result of our one chonk she is now pregnant? Or was she playing with me, trying to give me a motive to live, and thus to renege on my newly revived promise to the world - and to you, my readers. The scheming, fat-armed cow, I think you'll agree.

I phoned to let her have it. Ansamachine. I ranted incoherently to the chip. The phone went as soon as I hung up.

Not Bridget but my life-insurance company. They seem to have a problem with paying me any of my money up front, even though I can guarantee the exact date and manner of my death. Tossers.

All morning, the documentary boys filmed me pacing about - unsettled by Bridget's stick. Idiot sunlight was smashing itself all over my loft. I had a hangover worse than Gulf War syndrome.

Then my Blue Monday remix doorbell went off like an earful of cattleprods. Christ, I thought, I don't want to see her. And I didn't want her to see me or, more particularly, the all-too-visible evidence of other women.

I might as well tell you that a wailing torrent of grief bangers rolls through this place day and night, turning my groin into a blur and my pillows into a Dianarama of blubbed kohl. In fact, most women I know have stopped wearing knickers just in case.

So imagine you have all that going through your head as you tentatively open the door to find not your possibly pregnant ex-best friend, but that tick Johnny Depp greeting you insouciantly with a `Hey Rich. Can I hang with you for the day? I'm playing you in a movie?' I told him to sling his hook and piss up a rope.

The crew missed that. The tape had run out. Johnny was too busy pissing up his rope to come back and redo it. So they started blaming me. They demanded more action shots. I said I'd already staged a scene in which a distraught phone call to my mother ends with me beating up the sound recordist (I mustered the violence by imagining he was Nick Broomfield). And at that point Bridget really did turn up.

She looked alive. And angry. Oh God, wait there I said, I'm just, er ... she waited. I pleaded with the crew not to film her. I couldn't give a toss about me but I didn't want Bridget invaded by crappy camerawork and botched in the edit. No way, they said, this stuff could make a water- cooler day. She rang again. I had to make a deal. Hidden cameras. After all, they said, the film wouldn't go out till after I was too dead to bollock; they slipped me a two-gram sherbert to seal it.

When you see the programme, I expect there will be quite a good shot through a crack in the kitchen door where I cry as Bridget tells me that she really is pregnant and is going to have the baby.

I heard a muted cheer from the kitchen being stifled with a saucepan. I crushed the lapel mike they'd hidden in my Nehru collar and whispered through tears that I would change my mind. I would live for the child. And her. Perhaps we should get married? I nearly said I loved her. She softened deliciously but said nothing. Then she nodded very slightly, turned and ran out.

I phoned the editor. `I'm not doing it! I'm going to be a father.' `Richard,' he said, `have you thought this through?' He assured me that the child would learn more from my writing than he ever could from me as a living person.

What's more, he said, The Observer has a bond of trust with its readers, who are now relying on me to commit suicide and would rightly be appalled if I said I was going to live after all. And I began to see that morally, and in every other conceivable way, the editor was actually right.

Sunday, June 13, 1999

"A week of firsts"

I now have five and-a-half months to live. Although I am easy enough with my looming demise to discuss it over dressed crab with my mother, it seems in some way to be laughing at me. With a cruel irony, even Xobephenes would envy (to avoid poison, he refused to eat and thus starved), it seems to be creating me a completely new life.

This has been a week of firsts. For instance, I had never been invited to address a group of students before. On Monday, I gave my first talk, `Wrestling with Angels'. At the end, I fielded questions. A lot were about suicide methods. I had taken the trouble to discover more about this since my botched attempt last month (based entirely on that sod useless Final Exit book). Did you know that there is a website that sells the kit for car-exhaust suicide? Different vehicles require different lengths of hose.

And the most popular length is the one that fits people carriers? I told the students that I actually found that offensive. The selfishness of someone who owns a people carrier - clearly someone with a family - deciding to commit suicide appals me. It's bloody irresponsible. If you're single, alone and fucked up like me - and most of those students - well hey, join me in Hades baby. Otherwise, bloody well grow up.

I was also pleased to find most of the audience agreeing with me about the terminally ill. Some specced-up babe with a voice like a Guardian reader asked me if I didn't feel insignificant alongside those writers who've had illness and death inflicted upon them - like some random `tax disadvantage handed out to the socially excluded' - I could see written all over her uselessly thoughtful, still pretty but soon-to-be-crazed-with- worry-lines face.

Of course, I feel insignificant, you fucking moo. Even a crashing dung brain like Jeremy Clarkson could tell you that a sense of insignificance might just be linked to suicidal tendencies. And as for the terminally ill. Well, at least those people can blame something else - their genes, their god, their luck. All I can blame is myself. My condition is no one's fault but mine. You may say: `Yes, but that means you could stop it all tomorrow' and you know what? All I can do is shake my head sadly and say: `I know… that's what makes it so ghastly in here.' Can you imagine how loud they clapped?

My first celebrity invites have also started to flutter in. I am not talking about junket stuff sent out to slipstreamers like Baps Raven. I mean exclusive screenings of Eyes Wide Shut at the new Bullring Imax [Yentob not asked], to playbacks of new cuts by Richard Ashcroft featuring Madonna on drums at the Town House.

So on Wednesday, for example, I found myself at a private viewing in a blanco-ed Hoxton artspace, standing still among the we-crowd while conversations formed around me, typically: `Richard, I just wanted to say your work reaches out to a beautifully sad place in all of us' followed by a soft gaze to see if I said anything. So I said just anything to fill the silence. And pretty soon they were all going: `Yes oh yes, mmm, and you're so brave'.

That was another first - realising how brave I was. When 40 independent strangers tell you how brave you are, it is difficult not to suspect they are right. And when one of them is perhaps the most intelligent man in Britain, someone, who though scarcely 32, no longer introduces himself by name, in fact has given up speaking altogether, but has a uniformed nuncio who respectfully announces him as `the greatest living playwright of his or any other generation', who writes on a note pad: `You are wonderfully brave' and then shuffles off in a preternaturally humble way, when one of them is him, you just know beyond mistaking that what they're all saying is true.

So there I was, surrounded by famous or just plain beautiful people, while David Bowie fiddled alone with his sarong in the corner. And through all this, I had no inkling that my next first that evening would be going to bed with three women at once. OK, so they may have been sobbing empathy boffs but who cares? The convulsions of tears only seemed to heighten their many, many, many, many orgasms.

I also managed for the first time to trick Thad into letting me out of the house alone. Thad is the vulcanised velocipedophile whom this paper has placed in my flat to stop me killing myself ahead of time. Do you want to know why they've take such care? I'll tell you. When we struck the Time To Go deal, I insisted they pay for all 25 columns up front and the last thing they want is for me to snuff myself after only five, thereby setting a record rate of 15 grand per thousand words.

And perhaps the most shocking first actually occurred within the last hour. Every week, a columnist has to crash through a wall of embarrassment that says `How dare you take up a thousand words in a newspaper writing about nothing more than yourself?' You get used to dealing with your own lack of importance. But this week that didn't happen. Now I have a bigger problem... when you actually do become genuinely important, how do you deal with that? I am only just beginning to find out.

Sunday, June 06, 1999

"Suicide is no picnic"

I've lived with the vow to end my life this November for two weeks now. That's time enough to know that the decision is, on balance, a good one. I'm almost easy with it. Though easy is a long way from happy and there are downsides. But I'm learning to cope with the sudden, dreadful pangs of why me? that strike unbidden when I'm alone or looking in a mirror. Some of your kindly e-mails and letters have helped there. At least the ones that don't try to dissuade me. As a general note, if you can't leave it at sympathy and tears, I don't want to know. There have been small changes like the cigarettes. People do give you a wider berth if you're smoking two or three at once, but tant pis. The only real problem, I think, is a worrying erosion in my social behaviour.

Last weekend, I was sitting on a blanket in a field by a river. It was the fourth or fifth time I'd been out since I left hospital and the first time I'd left London. I was with friends. We'd done this before. It had been almost exactly the same the last time except that Bridget was there. There were also fewer children. And of course there wasn't the infuriating knowledge that this picnic had been arranged specially for me. I can't blame them for the idea. That's how a group of friends responds to having a hole blown in its side. I attempt suicide and they act from the old script until they are convinced and comforted by the resulting, messy scar. Of course, when I put it like that, I absolutely can blame them. Particularly when I overheard someone saying, `Yes, Richard has been rather piano recently.' Piano!? You'd be toto bloody sordino if you were in my shoes, darling. A guy tries to kill himself and you organise a picnic? Come on! But of course in the photos, this picnic will look just the same as all the others. And that for them is the point.

But it was pleasant enough. Cold beer, skirts (an extra-mural fat one, good west plantation skunk - mild but bone-deep), nude bathing complete with a standing fluvial micturition from Rebecca to annexe 50 yards of bank for us.

Considering the sense of acute isolation I feel all the time now, things were ticking over quite painlessly until I reached for the last smoked cod's roe cracker. I was explaining to Helen that a recurring childhood nightmare had returned for the first time in 25 years. In it, I pretend to be dead so that I end up being buried alive to punish myself for causing my parents' split. I wasn't actually looking when my fingers met the plate so I was surprised to find no biscuit there. I turned my head to see the morsel disappearing in the grasp of a four-year-old git called Ivan.

A darting grab and it was mine again. But he wouldn't let go. Helen was still forming a platitude about poor me and my dream. I prised Ivan's fingers from the cracker and growled `get off'.

`Mummy, I want the biscuit; get me the biscuit,' he whined.

`I had it first,' I heard myself saying - more loudly because Helen and everyone else had stopped talking. Out shot his little hand again. I dodged back and hissed: `Get lost, you fucking little rat.' Half open mouths told me I was plunging over a line.

`Richard...' said a shocked bloke's voice as Ivan made a more successful lunge. `I had the thing in my HAND! It's MINE!' I shouted as I rolled the little twerp on to his back, pinned him to the tartan blanket and yanked the crumbled morsel from his fin. Things became static for a moment. An early wasp settled and pumped on the quince cheese.

Ivan's parents were too stunned to speak. Those who weren't gawping at me were staring at the floor. Then Rebecca spoke with a teacher's sing-song castigation. `Now then Richard... Why don't you be nice to Ivan and give him half the biscuit?' `It's mine,' I mumbled. (You'll be glad to know I'm actually cringing as I write this.)

`Richard…' said Rebecca, really milking the dot dot dots. I looked up at her. In my peripheral vision, I caught the ring of expectant eyes.

`Say "please", Ivan,' said Rebecca.

A pause. `Please.'

I looked at the damaged fishy crisp in my hand, then slowly turned back to Rebecca... and stuffed the whole thing into my mouth. Ha ha ha, now eat that, you fucked-up little c***. (No inverted commas there to let you think, just for a moment, that I didn't actually say it.) Then with giddy clarity I noted four sharp breaths and three disappointed soughs, one of which became a boreal `Oh Richard'. In the short gap before Ivan's shriek finally trashed the idyll, I heard myself announcing flatly that I was going to take a swim.

As I wandered away, I heard Helen say: `Things are really hard for him at the moment, you know', and one or two murmurs of agreement. Someone was bollocking Ivan massively. A slap was involved. But what struck me most as I ambled towards the chattering river was that my shame was vestigial and merely theoretical. This all mattered, and yet in some much bigger way it didn't.

The thought that occurred to me as I plunged into the weir was that I had been excused because of my `condition'. What the hell else will I be allowed to get away with? That worries me far more than the simple prospect of quaffing the bleach in November.

Sunday, May 30, 1999

"Last week, I decided to end it all. No one understood me. No one liked me. And here's why…"

The editor writes: `Last week, The Observer learnt that columnist Richard Geefe had attempted to take his own life. Despite his need for rest and medication, he insists that he continue writing and I have, after much thought, agreed. We will, of course, review the situation continually, in line with Richard's true interests. For The Observer, prurience is and always will be inexcusable. We have also agreed not to alter his work in any way, however uncomfortable that makes us feel.'

I guess the only reason I can write this at all is that the humdrum-rattle of a hospital is easier on the mind than the crucifying black anxiety of those last few hours in my flat. If I could have written anything as I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling for the best part of 10 days, it would have read like this.

There's a stack of unread mail in the hall. Newspapers, magazines. It doesn't matter; I can hardly see them. The last thing I did before going to bed was paint the walls and windows black. Methodically daubing the treacly floor paint all over the architect's white and grey glaze walls, the waffle-textured bamboo wallpaper, the skylights, the portholes, the glass, bricks and the panora-fenestrals. It's not a neat job. The bleached wood floor is covered in tarry splats. They said my loft was light and airy.

Well I'd love to see the face of the agent showing someone round this bituminous catacomb now. That's one reason to live I suppose. To see that face. Not a very strong one since they'll only show the place when I've gone and then I won't be able to see anybody's face. That's what happens to anything that feels like a reason to live at the moment - it glimmers for an instant - easy to see because it is alone - and then vanishes like a mirage...

This time two weeks ago, I was in bed. Panic attacks had given way to a smothering, toxic dread. My voice had dwindled to a pathetic quaver. If I answered the phone, my friends would say: `Is Richard there?' I, of course, would say: `No' and hang up. I think I went to bed on a Friday. Two hours after getting up. I was simply unable to do anything else. For days, I lay in a waking paralytic hell. The ansamachine quacked with calls I would never return. I remember being vaguely intrigued by this since I'd chucked it in the fishtank to shut it up. Such destructive acts often rise from extreme paranoia - the drivelling, sweaty foreman of bipolar disorder. But experts say I am categorically unipolar. I remember sinking the machine in a rageless, blank trance. Just as I clearly recall tipping ink in after it to stop the fish looking at me.

I don't remember reaching the point where taking my life seemed an answer. I simply became aware of it as I was burning various personal effects to avoid anyone finding them after I'd gone. That was just after I'd phoned my 12-year-old son for the first time in eight years in order to say goodbye. I was surprised to recognise his voice. `It's Dad,' I told him. After a short pause, he simply said: `Go away' and hung up.

I've contemplated taking my own life before but it wasn't like this. I was 23, watching my girlfriend destroy herself with heroin and had just lost two friends in a road accident. Why did I stop myself then but not now? I had more reason to die then. But maybe grand reasons stop you because they excuse your mood. Reasons are not the reason. You decide to kill yourself at the point when the momentum of being born simply runs out. Spiritually we're all born at different speeds. A few of us reach the end of the arc before we plough into the blades of car crashes and coronaries. And at that point, we decide to kill ourselves. I am probably not explaining this very well. Sorry.

Anyway, at 4am last Wednesday, I necked the requisite number of barbiturates and slugged half a pint of absinthe and a bottle of Day Nurse for good measure. I placed a bag over my head and waited. And to kill time, I checked into a chat room. I asked the kids in there if I could sit down and if they minded if I didn't get up again. Someone called Bushbabe117 (no doubt a bloke) asked me what I meant and I told her she was hard to read through the condensation on the bag. She told me to take it off. I wish I hadn't. A short while after, I passed out - the wormwood must have made me sick.

I woke up in a bright room. Some insufferable creep in the chat room had called the web server. They'd broken the confidentiality of my contract agreement, looked up my address and called an ambulance (and doubtless spent the whole week with a bulbing great high moral hard). I had even signed off a note with `If I am revived, I shall sue anyone who aided in this', like the good Derek Humphry says. All the rest was crossed out because it was meaningless, self-serving guff - like this column. The ambulance crew said they didn't see the note. My lawyer says that gets them off and, anyway, he won't represent me any more.

Since then, I have received cheery visits from friends, most of whom would like to think this was all an accident. My family have tried to be kind in a way that just makes me embarrassed for them. And the editor of this paper brought flowers and chocolate from colleagues (and Lewis Wolpert's latest blubsheet from the biggest twunt in journalism who I have named here: if you don't see their name, it has been censored and our no-cuts agreement already lies in ruins). I would like to say for the record that the editor did not dissuade me from my decision to take my own life, though touchingly, he tried till he wept (bet he keeps that in), but he did suggest that I delay it for six months and this I have agreed to do on the spurious grounds that some fucker (probably him) may benefit from my burbling. Nor incidentally did he even mention the idea of my taking a lodger - a minder - into the loft. He just sent someone round to clean the place up and they haven't left yet. His name is Thad. He has some kind of jazz beard.

And I hope he can lift my dead weight without popping a hernia (or a slithering, goatee'd turd) into his Shinex cycle shorts.

Next week the Observer begins a new series of columns unprecedented in all journalism. In Time To Go, Richard Geefe will chronicle what remains of his life - a life he has vowed to end on 16th November 1999.

Sunday, May 16, 1999

`I've started following sad foreign women. I'm not a stalker - I just love their exquisite erotolachrymalia'

There's an idea. Out there. I haven't got it. I did have it. But now it's gone. That's how it's been all week for me - and actually for longer than that. You see, I was going to tell you about a problem I've got with a friend who is dying. The problem is that I have started to fancy her. But only because she is dying. So what? Well, I've also started to fancy another stricken girl I talked to on the same ward. Without being particularly attractive in a Mercutio Banadzani kind of way, both have infinitely more allure than all the non- terminal bints in the world. In short, I have become a moribunderast. So I was going to tell you that, but I couldn't remember why.

Then I was going to tell you about my habit of following sad-looking foreign women on the Tube. I don't bother them, you understand. I just stay on the train for as long as they do so I can bathe in the exquisite tragedy of their remote erotolachrymalia. Does that make me sound like a stalker? I don't think so, but I realise that if I go on about it you will think - she doth protest too much, La Geefe. So instead I will tell you about how much difficulty I have had getting up in the morning.

I've become a past master at shaving time off my day. We all procrastinate most of the time. How else do you contrive to stay in a relationship for 10 weeks longer than you should? How else did Nato manage to pick the worst possible moment for action? How else do writers like Allison Pearson, India Knight and Julie Burchill produce such witless tripe except by waiting till the last possible moment before they drivel out their columns? All right, one of Melvyn Bragg's berk psychologists will probably argue that procrastination is a valuable facet of the human mind, perfectly evolved to some arcane end. But no one can persuade me that staying in bed all day is a good thing. If you've done it (and you're not ill), I flop my Homburg to you. It's an achievement - albeit a bloody depressing one.

The shock of realising you've done it two days in a row is actually scary. You have to do something to break the cycle. I phoned a friend and asked if I could work at his office. Next morning I set off on foot at a respectable 11.30. What exactly happened next I can only partly recall.

I remember feeling drowsy and deciding I needed a coffee. In the absence of an honest Italian café that wouldn't try and fob you off with a cappuccino made with filter coffee, I entered a shopping mall. American strongbean and cardboard franchises may be less welcome than chillis up your pisser, but they do use espresso and so strong you can't taste the toxic waste. To the exquisitely nasty soundtrack of Tears for Fears' `Sowing the Seeds of Love' (a band for whom I played keyboards in a shameful but well-paid lapse in the Eighties), I browsed around the plaza. As the dead hits tape broached the section in the song that is ripped off from so many other tunes it can destroy your love of music in one hearing, I stumbled into the glass-fronted cliffs of the Coffee Colony.

Now it's all very well charging £1.80 for a cup of coffee but when will someone spend less time dreaming up the perfect combination of halogen light and stainless steel, and more on the taste? You may have the perfect Skimmy Frap Precaff Enormo charmingly served by a foreign teenager but do we need the chocolate on top to be made out of plastic? The stuff smells like polystyrene sprue under heat stress. (Boys: remember Airfix kits - wiggling and waggling and sniffing the frames?) And does it need to be served in cardboard? The whole point of espresso-based coffees is to drink them out of chunky little miniature toilets that make you feel like you're sipping with a punched lip. And who, please, needs to be told that the contents of the cup are hot? Anyone with a shred of common sense, let alone a basic education in physics, could tell you that after you've seen steam channelled fiercely through milk for a minute the stuff might have a few celsius to spare. Don't people learn physics now?

For fuck's sake and come on! Our physics teacher may have blathered on about the regulator on his dynamo failing and his headlights blowing up (we were doing solenoids) but, Christ, we came away with firm views on heat transfer. Sure, sure, the engine's snore went four four but don't you send me to see your mummo in that dark room where the drunken shit unclimbs his podgy little conquests with a dagger pooh whoo good morning sir.

Now here comes the bit I'm not so sure of… although I remember ordering the coffee, I have no idea whether I drank it. The next thing I can clearly recall is getting out of a bus feeling sick, and staring hard at a reflection of myself in an oily puddle. At some point, I may have felt a pang of protective sympathy towards Sinéad O'Connor, but the rest is a mystery. God knows why I'm telling you when I haven't told a single friend, let alone a doctor. And the truth is that the more I write, the more I feel like I did when I was telling a friend how I was bottling all my bodily produce and storing it in a freezer and I suddenly realised that I should stop.

Sunday, May 09, 1999

`She is my best friend, my only friend and I have screwed her every which way. I am sewage'

I'm sitting with Bridget and I can't believe what I've done. That's not an idle phrase. I literally cannot believe what I've done… what I'm doing… you see I'm not actually sitting with Bridget, I'm sitting near her. She's unconscious and I'm half drunk.

It started when Bridget announced she was in love. This doesn't happen often. Her affection is fierce and beautiful but in the wrong hands she bleeds through it. Loverboy was someone I used to work with. A particularly efficient swivester called Bruno. In the old days he would win bets on impossible lays. Now he was doing accumulators. That's what he claimed at the party where I introduced him to Bridget. Usually when swordfish like Bruno hit on Bridget she memorises their lines and makes everyone else laugh at them. She doesn't end up banging the glans off the author in a bathroom and flashing her tits from the window. It lasted the weekend. That's practically a marriage for Bruno. Predictably, two days later Bridget started leaving him messages he didn't answer. When she told me she wasn't worried, I thought: `Yeah, sure - nor is a smackhead kangaroo in a minefield'.

So I decided to return Bruno's calls for him. Just to let her down gently. I knew I could do his voice because I'd once called his home with the `Mum, it's your son - I'm gay' routine. I knew Bridget didn't know my office mobile number, so I used that for `Bruno'. I still expected her to rumble me. We would laugh, she'd call me a bastard and I'd explain what a stain Bruno was anyway. But she love-bombed me. And I found myself flirting back. With every second I dragged myself further into a lie I couldn't possibly defend. We do this, don't we? Mmm… but why?

Bridget's vulnerability spurred me to protect her with a lie and at the same time fuelled a sick urge to impale her on it. The misanthropy behind this drive is flat and grey - a dead force - but it produces an icy thrill every time the lie takes you further than you thought possible.

Bridget called `Bruno' the next day and told me she'd bought two tickets to Paris for the weekend. I could have owned up then and paid for the tickets. But all I did was make my impersonation of Bruno more caricatured - put the onus on her to work this out. Did she bollocks. We arranged to meet in the pub the next day at seven to choose hotels.

The next evening, I casually `bumped into' her in the pub. `I'm meeting Bruno at seven,' she wiggled. I said I'd have a drink with her till he arrived. And I told myself how clever that was. When Bruno failed to show, I would be there to pick up the pieces and would serve my penance without the need for a confession. So I would never have to destroy the perfect trust that had built up in the between of us. So easy, so Nineties, so shit.

I suppose Bridget started crying about half seven. More drinks. I was perfect. `He's probably just late' segued seamlessly into the what-a-bastard bolero. At some point I switched to vodka martinis. I think I knew I wanted to relish this on a scorched rush - unleaded by copious beer or the blubs of gin. And after seven of these electric olives, she dried up, started to look mended, and the tiniest poisonous emissary of a mercy fuck cleared its throat in my groin. Oh no. Oh yes.

Bridget woke up shy and lovely. I made her toast. She is, you understand, my best - some say only - friend. But as I looked at her and sipped her coffee, knowing that she badly needed my friendship, my deepest dread was that this new turn would sour my planned pool-and-porn weekend with Robert and Jonathan. So what did I do?

I sent her home and phoned her up. Bridget? Bruno. And I made him say: Sorry about last night but he was already in Paris… a work thing… he promised to meet her at Gare du Nord and blow her fanny off. She agreed, of course. With added guilt. Then I just took the rest of the day off and previewed Anal Piss Machine for the boys.

So how surprised am I that Bridget got so slammed on the way back from discovering no Bruno in Paris she necked a bottle of Paracetamol? How unpredictable was it that she would turn up at 2am, announce her overdose, and collapse tear-blown and useless through my Taraquoia resin table. A remedial slug could have told you that, Geefe, you moron. I must have suspected it on some level because I had the sang-froid to heave her on to a couch, sit down and write this - clocking casually that I still had another hour to empty her stomach (if she had told me correctly what time she filled it). The main reason, though, is that I am a genuinely worthless bastard. I have friends who I think should not have been born and my medical record shows there was a time when I tried to kill my brother. But such feelings are as the deepest tender love compared to how I feel about myself. There is something so dizzyingly hideous about realising how callous you can make yourself if you try.

You get used to being objective when you write these columns. Hopefully you find in your own experience reflections of tiny universal truths. But you'll forgive me for failing this week. The only conclusion I can draw now is that I am the sort of fucked-up selfish sewage the world is better off without. And now I feel sick that I told you any of this. But it's 4.30, I'm late filing and wha the hell.

Somebody told me there's a snuff room on the Net…

Sunday, May 02, 1999

`Love of truth = death of love…'

I'm living a lie. We all are. You too. Yes. We lie to get by, smooth things over, keep things straight. Oh yes. The difference is that last week I did something about it. And I am about to fess up. First, here's a pound of truth for nothing.

Whenever I write in this column about `my girlfriend' I'm not writing about my current girlfriend at all. I use incidents that involved previous girlfriends who are in no way related to my current girlfriend - unless (as in one case) they started off as the previous current girlfriend's sister. I do this to protect their identity. I can always say `no - that's not you' though now I suppose there are two sisters who know damn well it is them - so I might as well name them: Lucy and Cillia DeStempel. There. I've done it. I've named two real people and you're not supposed to do that. And I don't care. So I'm not bothered about naming Sebastian and Muni - the couple whose ghastly wedding I attempted to sabotage last week.

I went with Bridget and 150 other people. The tables were arranged in the shape of infinity signs. I was sat next to Aubrecia - a fashion writer with a Burchillian arm wobble - who is often seen with her mouth open in tabloid pictures of famous people at parties. The speeches were full of sentimental bog gas: think of Althorp's Diana encomium filtered through a weeping Kosovan orphan.

Suzanne Moore, or a woman who looked just like her, was yammering all lachrymosy because someone had pointed out quite rightly what an appalling fraud she is. It was that sort of do. Everything was bogus, from the placecards which were love haikus, to the guy swanking round with a bottle of absinthe saying he'd been given it by Johnny so that everyone asked `Johnny who?' allowing him to sniff `Depp, of course'. And at the very heart of this odious farrago, the means of my undoing, a video booth for people to record their pious or merry little forevers to the couple. Bridget, who is used to reading my weather systems, advised me to leave. Instead I got drunk.

The first time I visited the booth, Bridget and I left a perfect little billet doux of hopes and thanks and smiles. An hour later I went back - every cell in my body smashed - and told the truth. Sebastian knew I had been unable to attend his stag weekend. Now he would know why. I'd spent the entire 48 hours with Muni, E-d and V-d to the cortex, gurning and juddering and splashing starch in her foyer. I repeated the message once to make sure it stuck and seven more times because I had no idea what I was doing. Eventually Bridget dragged me out. She looked ravaged. Her version of the truth game had been to go round offering filthy snogs to the soirée gays.

Five days later my copy of the video came through the post. And guess what? My first message with Bridget was there intact. But my second, ugly truth version had vanished completely. The perfect note for the perfect enshrinement of hypocrisy. Now I'm not saying anything new here. We all accept that marriage marks the final relinquishing of our dreams about truth. In real life things are never perfect - so let's pretend. Let's fake the dream. Yet surely when we do that, we die inside because really we cease to believe in love.

OK, so you're thinking what's his problem? We've all been sent nuts by weddings. Well maybe it has something to do with Vanessa. It was 16 years ago and in short it went she: me: love - yes - no. We shared a house. We spent every waking moment together, talking and laughing. I watched a succession of godlike Jasons trudge up and down the stairs and all the time I loved her. One day out of the blue, she kissed me and told me she loved me. She wanted to be with me till she died. And I, because I truly loved her, told her the truth. I said: `You think you love me but you don't - and the reason you don't is because you don't want to wake up every day with someone who is being treated for depression.' It broke her heart. And of course it broke mine.

True love impels you to tell the truth. Yet with Vanessa, the truth made the love impossible. The only way to protect love is with lies and yet lies turn love into indifference. In my late adolescence, I turned this into an equation. Love of truth = death of love. If you divide both sides by love you end up with Truth = Death. I thought that was clever at the time, then for years I thought it was stupid, and last week I realised it was true. Maybe Vanessa knew it too. Death is the one place where there is no hypocrisy and Vanessa died eight years ago. So there is no going back - not without a spade anyway and I haven't considered that since I stopped the Halcyon. Ha, ha - but I'm crying.

So from now on it's the truth and only the truth because the death it brings is better than the living death of lies. Sod it if I lose my friends, if they can't take the truth they're not worth half an air kiss. And in case you're wondering, Vanessa was not her real name, I love(d) her too much to tell the truth about that…

Sunday, April 25, 1999

`We agree that we would one day end up sharing breakfasts of hate'

I've split up with my girlfriend. I'm in a bar talking fast to a woman I've never met before. She's listening intently though I've no idea why. The attention is attractive. I'm betting myself I'll soon be telling her why my girlfriend and I broke up. I win the bet.

It started like this. My weekend mail had included a letter addressed to her at my house. Her name on the envelope - at my house. It was from her bank. A letter from her bank, to her at my house. Now that would have been fine if she'd been homeless, but she's not. I gave up doing that months ago, though I still like to clock them alfresco for fantasy reference when I'm with someone dull but clean.

My girlfriend's letter turned up after two months of her quite happily sleeping at my place but keeping the mail at hers. So I redirected it to her place. And two days later we had the row.

`But why did you send it on to my flat when you knew I'd be at your house anyway?' she said.

`It was your mail.'

`But I'm here all the time!'

Surely she knew the game was up right then. But like all babes whose time has come, she just had to plot every detail of our split, like a plane-crash junkie scouring the wreck for kids' shoes. I tried short cuts. 'Because I was annoyed about my door.'

`The door that I had mended?' She had mended the door.


`But it needed mending.'

`I know.'

`So why were you annoyed?'

`Because it's my door.'


`I don't know.'

Why is splitting up so often conducted on the stairs or halfway between two rooms?

Of course it wasn't just the letter. Or the door. Or the fact that she was getting more messages than me on my Ansaphone (half of them didn't even say hello to me). There was also the terrifying dinner we'd been to the night before.

Two friends who are still married are living apart, together; separately in the same house. They set up this arrangement a year ago. It seems to suit them. And last week they invited us to dine in it.

The house is divided horizontally so that she has the basement and ground floor and he has the first and second. He has since converted the loft, so it's 3-2 to him and she is cross, but he says she has more of the garden because, although they share it, she's closer to it and uses it more. They shared the cost of one extra bathroom and an extra kitchen but now every additional narthex is paid for separately.

Since they'd been moronic enough to have a kid, there is a solitary fugitive trudging back and forth like an Albanian. You sometimes see him being transferred at weekends. Papers, satchels and interparental bollockings are exchanged on the stairs and then he takes up skulking residence in whichever half for whatever time. At school his parents are separated and he has to list the same address twice. He's an ugly little sod.

When they throw a party they have to decide whose half it's going to be in, too. On Tuesday, it was in her half. She is a non-smoker. He isn't. Those of us who wanted to smoke had to do so in his half until she complained that she could smell it anyway.

Since she had done the cooking, he had to do the washing-up. In his half. She was getting up early the next day so, straight after the meal, we all went up to his half carrying the dishes (saying goodnight and kissing her at the interconnecting door that has a bell on it). We sat around drinking and not smoking until she phoned upstairs and asked him to keep the noise down. Then we left.

We had seen an ending. Two people trapped in a frozen scream. In a house an estate agent would have to sell as `ideal for a couple of co-habiting divorcees'. And the next day we had the row and agreed to finish.

The girl in the bar laughs and sympathises in all the right places. Her face is becoming an increasingly mesmerising gavotte of charcoal-lashed bluejohn, raven wisps, and freshly slapped black cherry. She sees what I am saying. She knows that when Agrestes said to the judge: `It is the future not the past that haunts our present,' he was not just going to die, he was right.

Can you see where this is going? I am staring straight at her. I am buying her another drink. We agree we agree we agree…

But we don't leave late and we don't leave in each other's arms. We agree that we find each other attractive. We agree that if we took it further we would one day end up sharing breakfasts of hate. And that the cost and pain would be unavoidable and senseless. And that we will meet again next Tuesday…

Sunday, April 18, 1999

`The door of my flat is opened by a bird in T-shirt and pants. I'd forgotten about her'

I'm staring at a door. It is my door. The door to my new flat. It is grey, metallic, stylish and industrial. The flat is a loft. There is much glass in its complex fenestrations. Some of it is made from hemp. Not too long ago, before the conversion, it clanged with machines that conveniently masked the sweaty weeping of slaves. Ah who knows, they probably loved it. I'm rambling here but it is a Sunday. I am very hazy. It is 2pm and I'm not long up. And the point is, I'm staring at the door because I am locked out.

Perelman says there are five types of being locked out - the act of God, the act of a landlord or girlfriend, `I thought you had the keys', `I thought I had the keys', and psychotically, deliberately shutting the door when you know you don't have the keys.

But as I stare dumbly at my door, I couldn't give a fly's tit how I've been locked out (went for milk, forgot the keys) - I'm just furious. After some light cursing and a couple of kicks, I opt for ruining a Visa card. I'm twisted in a weird hunch against the jamb, attempting keyhole surgery with my flat spastic tool, my tongue slewing through a cretinous wince, when a neighbour emerges on to the landing.

She's about 34, smart and professional. Plain as dust, but will do for a nightcap. `Can I help?' she says. I ask hopelessly about master keys. `I'm sorry, do you live here?' Oh gawd, she doesn't remember. `Yes, we met last weekend. I was being sick into the tree pot on the lower gangway.' No recognition. `I was with a crying woman.' Still no flicker. Dammit, she's one of only two people I've met here (the other is Paul, aka DJ Cattle Prod, who shared some lethal new-wave skunk with me the day I moved in).

I press on, wondering if I might gain access to the fire escape via her flat and climb in through my window - but I'm not surprised when she heads down the stairs. When I call: `Can I use your phone?' at the top of her gitty little parting, she informs me there's a phone box in the square. I find it next to the Vaclav Havel café (no-profit food, radical conversation, all furnishings from skips - oh wake up, you dreamy fucks and tell me you won't be a Starbucks by Y2K!).

There's plenty of time to slag off the area you have just moved into if you're waiting for a Sunday locksmith. Time goes viscous and gummy. The only thing you can do is take out a notebook and write down rubbish like `time goes viscous and gummy'.

It's like exercise-bike time. Each minute contains about 500 seconds. It is also related to missed connection time on trains. Except that when you travel by train, deep down you actually want to be stuck for hours on an island of concrete in Rugby - probably because you are married.

The locksmith arrives after 90 minutes. On the phone, he assured me he was a Banham expert but he gives the lock a rather ESN look. `They're real buggers,' he says. He then says he can either drill through the lock - full replacement cost £120 - or he can `have a go with this': a strip of plastic from a washing-up liquid bottle. My sleeping Anne Robinson yaps into life.

I tell him he secured the job on the strength of being an expert and had better do something bloody special with the plastic or he isn't getting paid. As the cocky locky tries to snake around the anti break-in chicanes in the woodwork, I ask him what there is to stop him performing this service for a thief.

`Nothing,' he says brightly, then explains: `If there's any trouble, I'm miles away by that point.' Which is wrong, because at the top of the stairs behind him appear two rozzers. `Problem, sir?'

I explain I've locked myself out. They look sceptical in an unintelligent way. They ask locko if he has verified that I live here. He says no. They say another occupant of this pad stack has reported a stranger trying to break in. Right. So gruel-lips opposite won't lend me her phone to call a locksmith but she will use it to grass me up. I make a mental note that she'll be getting 20 pizzas she didn't order delivered at four in the morning. Just then Cattle Prod appears. `Hey jumpstick!' I greet him hopefully. Roz 1 asks him if he knows me. He eyes us warily, makes a fuzzy calculation, and says: `No way, man.' Cheers, you scabid little slacker - I hope your decks blow up inyour balls.

But just when it seems to have gone the full pear, my door opens. Or rather is opened - from the inside - by a bird in T-shirt and pants. I'd forgotten about her. She'd spent the night on the bathroom floor, you see. Ill. She's looking bleary but in a slightly Kim Basinger way. What she says, though, is not so clever: `… sorry she only just got the door… very sick … something she ate … the big one with the dove on it … Tris said it could have been smacky …' And the looks all round become significantly more significant.

Then there is one of those split seconds during which three things happen. The cops suddenly lose interest, locko starts to charge me a call-out fee even though he's done nothing, and I decide that this is yet another woman, all gorgeous and pointless in her pants, who in the end just will not do.

And that is when I am seized by Perelman's fifth wave of madness. I reach for the stainless steel handle of the door and knowingly, deliberately, firmly pull it shut.

Sunday, April 11, 1999

`I would light up Gitanes. She would beg for horizontal Baudrillard in a sand dune'

I'm drinking in the pub with Bridget. Moderately. I need my wits because I'm trying to explain something tricky. If I get it wrong, Bridget may end up a less good friend because I will appear to be telling her that a woman is no more important than a can of diesel.

I want her to help but I don't really want her to understand. And she thinks she wants to understand, but if she ever does, she'll wish she could somehow re-ignorise herself until I am de-understood.

So I can't help thinking that I would actually do less damage to our friendship if I inexplicably stopped talking and gave her a smack in the mouth. Yet, like some feckless Colin, I blunder on…

`I lost my dream girl,' I say.

`That slim, black-haired thing from Russell Square?'


`How can you lose someone you haven't even started going out with?'

`We are going out.'

`Well, how can you say you've lost her?'


And that's when I have to reveal that this has something to do with cars.

I happen to own a 1970 Citröen DS. I am unashamedly proud of its wayward machismo. It is sleek, French, vigorous, black, noir, and French again. It has self-levelling suspension, bench- seats and headlights that swivel when you turn corners. And it is moody. Sometimes, it leaks its hydropneumatic fluid. That is why I occasionally borrow Bridget's car for dates. Particularly for girls that don't matter (that much, I mean. Of course they matter - but you know).

Actually, there was one girl who really didn't matter at all, and I took her out in my then girlfriend's car and we consummated our evening energetically, despite (or maybe because of) the giveaway clutter of moisturiser lids, glitter sticks and hats in the back. Lauren, however, mattered a great deal. She mattered so much that for our first date, I wanted to take her out for a whole day, out of town and definitely, quite absolutely, in the DS.

She accepted. I would pick her up on Sunday morning. We would swish to the sea, my Pierrot le Fou to her Anna Karina. I would light up Gitanes and exhale clouds of Baudelaire. And she would beg me for horizontal Baudrillard in a sand dune.

Except that at 4pm on Saturday, the DS gave out. So I turned up in hired wheels. The only one they had left. A great, lacquered git of a Vauxhall Carlton. I waited outside, noticing the seats. They are fatter than they should be, and the tanned, bovine dermis is crenellated around the stitching so that the whole landscape resembles the scarred and raided wasteland of a skin-donor's bum.

Lauren slithered into the fleshy wash next to me. She teased me with wit and restraint. How perfectly Gallic. And the very Frenchness of it set me off.

Usually, I'm pretty slick in a hire car - handle it like my own - but in the creamy fudge of the Carlton's lush interior, I lost it. I fluffed gearshifts. I hooted to indicate. My body flatly refused to perform the repertoire of cool moves that normally grace my control manoeuvres. Sure, I maintained an effective enough stream of banter, but inwardly I screamed as my dream gasped and turned blue in the Sarin waves of Feu Orange.

There was worse to come. After 20 miles or so, I realised I was beginning to enjoy it. I warmed to a numb thrill, a diazapammed, cruise-in-the-fast-lane tingle. And beside me, Lauren's aphroditic presence was overwhelmed by the sexless, air-conditioned pudge that suggested, at best, a muted little suburban orgasm.

Still, we ate fish. We talked. We laughed. We even kicked up dust in a dune. And we drove back. Sort of gorgeous. But for me it was a gorgeousness haunted by the dry slee of a plastic steering wheel through my palm, and the feeling that every time I moved, I did so with the smug swish of a fat uncle.

`So how did you lose her?'

`Like I just told you.'

`When did you last see her?' asks Bridget.


`So what's the problem?'

Pointlessly now, I explain that Lauren had unavoidably diminished on contact with the Vauxhall's plastic wooden fascia. That the panoramic vanity mirror had sucked some of the beauty out of her face and reflected her as an ordinary bird in an ordinary car driven by an ordinary man. That while the sex had been great, it would have been so much better with a trace of hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension fluid in our hair.

Bridget starts a roll-up and sighs. `Lighten up,' she says, `it's only a car.' Yeah, I think, and you're only a woman.