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.