A wise woman has asked me if I am frightened. I think for a few moments and say 'Yes, I am frightened.' She asks me what I fear.
I answer in a long and rambling stream of consciousness that makes little sense yet convinces me that yes, it seems I'm sometimes frightened. So first a wee diversion with a couple of quotes I like:
'Life is a brief and imprudent dash from the cradle to the grave, across open country and under fire.' [Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant 1968]
And for the writers - 'Death is the ultimate deadline. And nobody likes to be rushed.' [Mary Barton, Dying Scream 2009]
Things I fear include the following: Perhaps I have been lied to and that in fact I am mere moments from death and all this treatment is simply to make me feel better and to delay telling me the bad news. Or maybe I am part of a complex medical experiment and am being given fake chemotherapy and drugs in the form of a placebo that will do nothing for me as there is no chance of recovery. And while these activities may be cruel and almost certainly illegal, never mind highly improbable, they become genuine fears in the wee sma' hours with the wind whistling outside, the blinds rattling and far away police sirens wailing in the distance.
I can also fear that my life is over.
Not in the sense that I am dead but that the satisfying, frequently enjoyable, rewarding and creative stable life that I have lived for the past many years will never return. I will be kept alive with drugs, indeed I may be considered to have even 'recovered' but life will be lived behind thick glass, in black and white and monotones, punctuated by daytime television reruns of Midsomer Murders and Come Dine With Me fuelled by Hula Hoops and red wine and sympathetic glances.
So I suppose I fear dying, and probably death.
This is reassuring as in my teens and twenties I assumed that I would not reach the age of thirty. My grip on the alleged wonder and desirability of life was tenuous at best and I lived fast and loose with my health both mental and physical because I did not care enough. I was five feet eight inches tall and I weighed eight stones and five pounds (and for the record, height currently the same at time of writing and weight a healthy fifty per-cent increase consisting mostly of fish and chips). I flung my bicycle down steep hills at breakneck speeds as if it were a runaway horse and rode a motorbike called Dylan too fast in the city, resulting in several spills from which I had no right to walk away unscathed.
I dropped out of two universities in rapid succession and lived for a while in bleak out-of-season bedsits up and down the country, listening to morbid North American singer-songwriters and drinking cider and smoking Capstan Full Strength cigarettes and writing terrible and impenetrable journals. Things clearly, eventually, moved on quite considerably but for a while it was not what you would call 'chez Pollyanna'.
And of course there is no right time to die.
Fifty-eight is no better or worse than at twenty-eight or ninety-eight. My legacy may consist of two unpublished novels, a dozen book reviews and eleven published short stories hidden in assorted anthologies and held forever in the fiction collection of the British Library.
Oh, and an uncredited performance on an Early Music CD.
Yet on the days when I wake from a deep refreshing sleep I do not feel afraid at all. The rowans are still red and the trees are changing to autumn golds and the sky and the clouds are different with every day the universe exists. There is a wealth of music to listen to and to play and I will never scratch the surface of its beauty. There are millions of books waiting to be read and thousands waiting to be re-read and they will never run out. In my mind I can travel the countries I have already visited and imagine the ones I don’t need to visit.
I have known many wonderful people and I still know some of them.
I regret very little, though I would have liked to have trained as a chef. Maybe I still can. I regret how I have treated people who were more sincere than I during my blank and anxious years and if I could change these times I would.
If I learn that I am scheduled to die imminently this is what I will miss. Beloved Suz, my sister and my niece. My friends. Curries. Fish and chips. Playing music. Reading. Getting my words published in the public domain. The chance to write the best seller that I know is lurking. Beautiful highland vistas. Seeing an independent Scotland. My ashes incidentally, should this post prove prophetic, are to be scattered on the north coast following a brief cremation featuring eighteenth century recorder music and some slides of wild places, with a Nepalese buffet to follow.
And already you can see that this has not really been thought through at all.
From life threatening illnesses and the terror of the eternal void to saag aloo and fish suppers? Hmmm. So just to get us in (or perhaps out of) the mood here are a couple more pithy quotes that I like about life and death.
First, the master of the obvious: 'Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.' - P G Wodehouse.
And the always fabulous Dorothy Parker: 'Razers pain you; Rivers are damp; Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp. Guns aren’t lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live.' She also wanted 'Excuse my dust' as her epitaph. Perfect.
To be continued....
Episode 1 can be found here.
Episode 2 can be found here.
Episode 3 can be found here.
Episode 4 can be found here.
Episode 5 can be found here.
Episode 6 can be found here.
Episode 7 can be found here.
Episode 8 can be found here.
Episode 9 can be found here.
Episode 10 can be found here.
Episode 12 can be found here.
Episode 13 can be fopund here.
Episode 14 can be found here.
Episode 15 can be found here.
Episode 16 can be found here.