They've scrubbed it off now, but until recently the outer wall of Hackney's HSBC bore a weird piece of graffiti. The ugly felt-tip scribble stood out harshly against the whitewashed stone. It consisted of a girl's name (illegible), then the equals sign, and then 'horing buckethole sellpussygal 10p a hour'. When I saw it, I stared at it for several minutes, aware of something intense and elemental being expressed with unusual power: a man's rage. I was enthralled by the muscularity of the words, their bitter and compressed viciousness, their lyricism. There's so much brutal anguish there, and a sort of blowpipe suddenness. And what about the improvisation? Whatever this girl had done, her offence was so vivid, foul and fresh in his mind that the old words had become useless, hopeless. He needed vivid, foul and fresh words - brand-new coinages - to vent his fury. 'Buckethole' isn't a term with which I'm familiar, but even the vilest of its synonyms seems feeble by comparison. And 'sellpussygal' has a withering simplicity. He might have said 'slut' or 'hooker' but those are just ciphers or noises - parcels of air in the throat - when set against the bluntness of 'sellpussygal' and the rank disgust of '10p a hour'. The scrawl stood there for most of the summer, and whenever I passed it I felt a harsh tug of sympathy for this anonymous sufferer. Sometimes I came to a complete halt and would glance around me frowning and making fists. My head seemed to swell, my flesh prickled with an uncomfortable heat and I felt as if there were a threaded barb inside my ribs being pulled at by someone who was giggling. I know how he feels, you see. I wish I didn't, but I do. The poor guy, wounded into brilliance. As for the sellpussygal, well, she sounds like a bit of a laugh to me. If I knew where to find her, I might ask her if she fancied a spot of dinner or a trip to the cinema or some loose change.
The most romantic place in London is the Tube. Romantic and frustrating. I fall in love on every journey. Several times, in fact, because each carriage I climb into seems to contain some mysterious goddess sitting a couple of berks along. There she is. My God (this is the kind of thing I find myself thinking), she's the one. Just look at her, beneath the advert for Leeds Castle, sitting demurely in her mac and make-up, engrossed in Nicholas Nickleby or the latest Wendy Holden. What a vision. Like an Egyptian queen, perhaps, or some enthroned divinity, a being carved from everlasting substances. (This goes on for several minutes between stops.) Her skin is flawless and supple; her glittering eyes skim the page; her moist lips disclose no secrets; the little doves of her hands clasp the book tenderly. I ache for her in silence (as we scream and rock through the tunnels). The purity and quietness of her attitude, her self-sufficiency and her obliviousness of me all intensify my desire. She's so close to me, this utter stranger, and yet I'm perfectly free to stare at her as if we belonged to each other. She's not a human being. She's an angel. She's a ...no, she's off. (We're pulling into a station.) I can't believe it, she's getting up; she's going. My sudden lust for her, my strenuous adoration, has counted for nothing. She's gone. Behind her the doors whoosh shut and, as the train drags itself reluctantly away, I casually swivel my head to get a final glimpse of her before she disappears for ever into the world. A horrible pang runs through me. (Where do these longings come from? Why are they so intense?) And then some other divine slapper sits down in her place and it all starts again. Does anyone else feel like that on the Tube?
To be in love, I have discovered, means signing a compact with fear. Your days are shadowed by ghostly misgivings. What if she were to.... What if the unimaginable happened? Dreadful scenarios dance before the mind's eye. Under a bus. Under a fitness instructor. What if...?
Life seems to be avoiding me at the moment. My female friends meanwhile are pushing babies out of themselves left, right and centre. When a new birth is announced, I always suggest a name. It's cheaper and more practical than some throwaway trinket, and if you choose wisely you'll stand a chance of being remembered. My current favourites are Herod, Bysshe and Kill Sin. So far the mums have ignored my advice, and I don't really like to ask why. Am I being too outlandish or hopelessly unadventurous? I gather it's quite usual at kiddies' parties nowadays to meet three-year-olds called things such as Nimrod, Pythagoras, Helabja, Endorphin, Kilimanjaro, Saturn, Habitat and Big Bang.
I'd love to join in all this rampant creativity, but I may not be qualified biologically. I'm up for it, sure, but up to it? Hmm. Three years ago, during a period of fiscal instability, I found myself in a closet in Guy's Hospital following the thread of a picture story involving a huntsman and an energetic stable girl. After a few minutes the narrative reached a happy conclusion and I handed in my appreciation, appropriately flasked, to a waiting researcher. The sample was to be tested with a view to my being engaged regularly as a hired hand. I was asked if I wished to be informed if the results showed I was brewing decaff. Tough question, that. Bit of a toss-up. In the end I said no. And I never heard anything more from them. I'm now dogged by the horrid anxiety that I may be an evolutionary irrelevance, to say nothing of the fact that my CV, were it a truthful document, would list the following under 1999: 'Radio Two, part-time reviewer. The Spectator, occasional reporter. Applied: Guy's Hospital, freelance onanist (awaiting decision).'
At poetry readings I perform a haiku which is intended to advertise my availability. 'Tall, slim build, wavy hair, green eyes. Born optimist seeks future ex-wife.' No takers so far, I'm afraid. I've composed a more detailed announcement which I plan to place next week in London's evening paper. 'Sensitive, romantic, solvent male, 39, interested in poetry, fine wines, Wagner and the Italian lakes WLTM horing buckethole sellpussygal 10p a hour for opera-going and possibly more.' That should do the trick.