The End Of The World
Week 4

James Leavey's


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By James Leavey

The other day, somebody asked me if a pea could last a thousand years. "For a man with prostrate problems," I replied, "it certainly seems that way at times." Then he wondered aloud if female frogs croaked. "They do," I assured him, "especially if you hold their head under water for several hours."

Talking of gallows humour, I was once in an American one-act play as a portly prison warden who grants a condemned man’s last wish – for a quick one with a female prostitute. The young actor playing the prisoner kept forgetting his lines and was rapidly driving us to despair in a Dormobil. "If he does it one more time," the edgy female director muttered to me, in the wings, "take that rope and hang the bastard."

Then there was that sad day in London when Jeffrey Bernard told my wife, one of the district nurses who had been looking after him, that he’d had enough, what with no longer being able to drink, smoke or even look out of his flat’s window in Soho (his wheelchair was too low). He had decided, he told her, to top himself by pulling the plug on the medical equipment that was keeping him alive – a tragic final task which he succeeded with later that week.

Unfortunately, Jeff’s timing was off as Princess Diana had died the previous day. We were about to nip over to Cowes for a week and my wife, who was used to Jeff’s mood swings, didn’t believe him. "Don’t do it, Jeff," she said. "You’ll get no publicity."

Years earlier, I interviewed a young lady called Felicity Bird who enjoyed singing opera while skydiving over the Home Counties. "If you’re going to make a parachute jump, how high should you be"" I asked her. "Oh," she said. "A week of steady drinking should do it."

A friend of mine, a non-drinker, alas, told me only the other day that he often feels as if he’s enacting a scene from Crime Watch, especially when he’s taking a late-night jog in Wallington. "And as the victim walked past the dark alley, little did he know…" kind of thing.

Having been close to death a few times (crunchy peanut butter and banana on dry toast almost does it for me, every time), I’ve often wondered where I’ll be when I make that one-way trip that has been booked for all of us.

The last place I’d want to die in is the Brazilian shanty town I found myself in last year, at 2am, attending a real voodoo ceremony. What struck me as incongruous were the white plastic garden chairs, that looked as if they’d come from a sale in B&Q, inside the hut, facing the altar and the chickens. Then the wrinkled voodoo priestess came loping out of the shadows, leading a conga-line of blank-eyed dancers, most of them smoking cigars as long as my arm.

"Why do they keep puffing on those huge stogies," I asked the musician from Bahia who had led me to this cheerful assembly. "To ward off the evil spirits," he replied.

With a good idea. I’ve decided to cut and ignite my last Bolivar double corona. Don’t know what I’ve been saving it for…

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