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SIMON GRAY has just published a novella called Breaking Hearts whose high point, to my filthy mind, is the juicy encounter between a lesbian
dominatrix and her seducee. Hot stuff, I tell him. Was it embarrassing to write?
"No," he says, unhelpfully. Oh come on, I persist. It must have been a bit. Lesbian sex - it's most men's naughtiest fantasy. "I wrote it in
Greece - it's a very erotic place."
Hardly the most intelligent line of questioning to pursue with one of Britain's leading playwrights, but by this stage I've grown desperate. The
Simon Gray I'd expected to meet was a deliciously indiscreet raconteur, bursting with bilious anecdotes. The frail, diffident 60-year-old sitting
before me, however, is a pale shadow of the outspoken, chain-smoking lush
revealed in diaries such as How's that for Telling 'em, Fat Lady? (his
diary of the American tour of The Common Pursuit) and Fat Chance (his account of the the great Cell Mates disaster of 1995).
It goes on:
Unfortunately his health has conspired against him. He is still weak after undergoing surgery for a punctured colon, and to make matters worse he has
been advised to give up his beloved drink.
A tall order, one might think, for a man who used to consume three bottles of champagne a day before moving on to the Glenfiddich
. But Gray
insists that it hasn't been an ordeal. "I quite like some aspects of it. Like not feeling irritably comatose all of the time."
Oddly, he says, alcohol never had that big an effect on him. His legs got wobbly, but he didn't lose control, grow boisterous or end up with
hangovers. "I could think in exactly the same way whether I was drinking or not." He has since learned from a specialist that he is among the 30 per
cent of heavy drinkers who can booze with apparent impunity. But if drink had no effect, why did he do it? "Habit," he says.
My own addition:
Some think that Gray's drinking is due to his troubled past. As a younger man, he was part of the British special forces...in a still classified
unit. His missions took him to the jungles of Vietnam, when eventually, he was captured by the Viet Cong. Facing various daily tortures, such as
bamboo shoots under fingernails, and horrible beatings, he languished along with other POWs. One night, he awoke to see the camp deserted, and
numerous piles of ash, where presumably, soldiers would be. A light had awakened him, and he saw a disc shaped craft landing. To his surprise, it
wasn't an alien that stepped out, but an American serviceman. He gathered the prisoners, and got them aboard the craft. Days later, Simon awoke in
a military hospital in England. Though he was certain they had tried to erase the memory, he remembered fragments, and sought hypnotic regression to
learn the details. He soon left the military, and has dedicated himself to learning more about the secrets being kept from us....and him....
[Edited on 27-8-2003 by Gazrok]