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– ON CHRISTMAS –

the Rorschach blots of moist plaster and a tiny picture of Kleist, the German Romantic writer who killed himself in a suicide pact at the age of thirty-four.

In this unprepossessing environment I smoked a water pipe made from a large mayonnaise jar and a length of shower fitment; when I drew on this, the .002-scale plastic soldiers I’d put inside the bong – US Marines as I recall – would roil and moil in a vortex of hash smoke and fluid, looking like the doomed in John Martin’s apocalyptic painting The Fall of Babylon. When I wasn’t haranguing anyone who’d listen on the subjects of nihilism and my own rampant anomie, I’d listen to Joy Division on my tape recorder (remember those!), or watch films on my four-inch black-and-white television – epics for preference. There was something immensely satisfying about the juxtaposition between Land of the Pharaohs, and that upended shoebox of a room in Jericho.

You get the picture: I was a regulation scrofulous and disaffected student, in those happily miserable times before higher education became fixated by the ridiculous – and mercenary – idea that it was part of a career path, and that pliant youths should be forcibly moulded into productive units for use in the burgeoning economy.

It was cold that winter, and scuzzy rime built up inside the tall, ill-fitting sash windows. Even with the noxious gas fire continually twittering on in the corner my room felt exposed to the winds blowing from the

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