I'm often asked what my readership is. To be honest, I have no idea. I only occasionally receive correspondence, and most of it is labelled ''Congratulations! You're the lucky winner of a holiday in the Seychelles!'' To be honest, I have always hoped for a somewhat less gracious and upbeat kind of reader, so you can only strain to imagine my happiness at receiving the following piece of ''Reader Mail'' from a Mr. ''I've planted something in your garden!!'' of ''the brief and bitter past''.
Please, if you have something like the following to contribute, don't hesitate to acquire my home address and send me it in a blood-flecked envelope.
Dear Madam or Dog,
Life seems to me to be a gauntlet through which I must dash, my trousers perpetually falling from my waist towards my scattering ankles. Other than when I am in seclusion, peeping from behind the snug folding of my house's curtains, I am constantly in the grip of a petrifying fear. This is the fear of making a fool of myself, of presenting myself to the cruel eyes of others as an object of scorn and disgust.
I have been known to deliberately burn myself in the summer sun, so as to render my entire body the colour of a blush. Sometimes I staple a couple of tea-towels to my forehead my head, so as to draw attention away from my shameful face. Once, when I sneezed on a public bus, I was so ashamed at my sudden nasal plumage that I was compelled to ball up the goo in my fist and hold it there, seeping, until I could find a sandwich to stuff it in.
I remember the first time I embarrassed myself – it was on the day of my birth. I have seen a video of my birthing and I shall tell you (though it pocks me with shame) now that I slid out of my mother in a horrible state: covered in blood, weeping and completely nude! I see how quickly the doctors clean me, wrap my genitals away in a towel and tell me to stop crying. I see the look of pain on my mother's face, as if she has squeezed out a jagged flint or stone and not a smooth baby boy.
Then too, there was when I was watching ''University Challenge'' with my parents. I was 3 at the time, and recently dis-balded. The quiz-master asked the students how the earth was first weighed, and I was suddenly squirming in the clasp of my ignorance and embarrassment. I lay on the carpet muttering to myself for, well, it must have been at least ten seconds, and I still couldn't think of the answer. My parents were silent, undoubtedly waiting for me to calmly come out with it. Out it did not come.
As it turned out, they took a diameter of its height and cubed it.
A long time ago, I sent away for a book that I saw advertised on the wall of an underpass I was crawling through. The book is called ''Flame That Shame!'' On the cover there is a man, closely shaven and tied and shirted, hanging a jacket over his shoulder and smiling all his teeth out. I looked at him agape. He looked so dynamic and graceful! So admirable! So worthy of emulation!
Cowering before him, I hastily stapled a tea towel to his forehead and wrote down the send-to address on my wrist with the edge of my tea-spoon. Several months pass before they install the chap with the lumpy neck behind the counter at the newsagents and I am able to buy an envelope and stamps without urinating.
The woman at my local post office is so beautiful that I fear her most terribly, more than I fear torture or a sudden death. I am only able to communicate with her through manipulating my penis into the shapes of letters with my trembling hands. But this only seems to compound my status as a misfit, and I am only able to spell out ''P.L.E.A.'' before the sirens begin to whine and I am forced to flee.
There are websites for people like me – the shy guys. One site that I frequent and pay some of my money to sends me secret-camera videos taken at cocktail parties and in offices. The music is awful – slap-bass pogoing amidst a traffic-jam of saxohphones – but I am drawn, shamefully, towards the pictures. They show people talking to each other, over pasta and nibblets, about the ''2p Tax'' and ''Cheryl Cole's status as a feminist icon''. They talk in a number of positions, each more socially intimate than the last, and even use props (mobile phones, napkins, olives and spectacles). It is abject stuff.
I hear they are made by caterers and maids, making a little money on the side, sewing micro-lenses into their nipple-ends and leaving a button off. I started on Facebook at first, innocent enough stuff. I set myself up on there as ''The 02 Arena'' and I now have over two hundred thousand friends. I pored over their photos for days and days, feeling a tremble slide down my stomach every time I came across a salacious snap of a man standing on a beach in the top-nude, or of a person standing in a night club smiling their face. The only trouble is that many of my friends keep messaging me to ask when ''Kanye West'' will be performing inside me.
Later I grew tired of the tamer stuff, and moved on to the sites I have described, and to other sites that I cannot bear, even here – face to screen, screen to face – to describe. Peek through the cracks of wooden clamour that I have nailed around this hades of my awkwardness and you shall see terrible things – a woman, on her knees and surrounded by swaggering men, smiling falsely as one by one they ask her where the ''Teach yourself Spanish'' books are kept. A dead-eyed nymphet, walking a slobbering dog into an outback building, therein ordering an orange juice and crisps from the hairy-armed barman. A handsome man, walking out in front of an audience of half-drugged, starry-eyed subjects, delivering with great gusto and spittle, a speech about the benefits of state ownership. A Justin Timberlake music video. A couple – and here I must force my heel-dragging fingers over the precipice of my destitution – sitting at a table together, stripping themselves of their overcoats and lipsing each other in front of the murmuring crowd and the indulgent smirk of the waiter.
Many times I have hobbled to the basin after watching such flickers and splashed icy water over my sweat flattened skin, trying to drown the daydreams and nightmares.
Well, I had to put a stop to all this. Imagine, I suddenly imagined yesterday, if my computer was to be found by a person, and it was discovered that I entertained thoughts of not being embarrassed? The shame of it! I have decided to destroy my computer after I have sent this missive. I am going to go down to the cliffs of Dover and push it, in a shopping trolley, over the edge into the sea. I fear that somebody will recognise me by my clothes, so I shall have to do it naked, wearing the type of top hat that I would never wear – the luminous green type. I hope this disposal does not itself result in some unforeseen embarrassment, though I'm sure there is no way of completely guarding myself against it. Life is a gauntlet, you see.
I fear death. Yes, I fear it. Do I fear getting to the gates of heaven and tripping over the outstretched legs of James Dean, landing face first in St. Peter's packed lunch? Or meeting Lady Diana and shaking her with Camilla on my lips? God will probably ask me who my favourite member of Take That is.
Or is it hell I fear? Heaven's chariot shall fly past every day, no doubt, and stop a hundred yards from me. I shall run for it, and it will begin to pull away just as I reach the apex of my sprint. I shall have to pretend to Hitler and Khan that I was jogging. But they'll see through that. There are no curtains in hell, cloth or otherwise.
No. It is not that I fear.
Rather, I fear that I will bleed on someone's new shirt. Or that I will rot for a while and get up the nose of a pretty girl somewhere. What if, when I am found in a few days by the landlord with my head in the oven, I have cooked myself for too long, and I am charred and tough? What if, when they find me in the noose, the knot has been tied rather badly and my shirt has lifted slightly, so that they can see my chubby belly swaying about like a bag of custard?
Oh, how I fear ridicule! I should like to disappear entirely, from thought and memory. That is why they will find me, eventually, painted completely red with a three-pronged plastic fork and horns stapled to my skull. How absurd it would look, after all, to find a corpse emblazoned on its face with a dying blush!
lots of love,
p.p.s. You will join me in the silent sepulcher soon, you bloated worm!!