I am very put out by the death of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was an acrobatic beauty

Before the war, there was a cartoonist called Strube whose reaction to a crisis was to draw the world as a head with a tragic expression and a sticking plaster on the trouble spot. He'd have needed yards of plaster at the moment. Things haven't been as bad since Hitler was on the rampage.

We're all much more aware of it, too. Humanity has thrown up many hypnotic monsters, but now they bear terminal weapons, while television brings the bad news to us as fast as Puck, sometimes while it's still happening. The events of 11 September were both real and symbolic. How many times that day did we watch the second plane, like a small and murderous rapist, deflower and then destroy the second tower - and bring down the first with it? And if you regard the footage of the war against terrorism as the main dish, it is one that has been well spiced with clips of starving black babies crawling with flies, the innocent dead and their self-justifying assassins, African corruption only mildly rebuked for politic reasons, desperate refugees turned back at ports, deadly germs delivered in the morning post.


In theory, I boil at all this, and I would have done so in practice only a year or two ago; but now, if I'm honest, I'm shocked at my comparative indifference. After some thought, I've reached the conclusion that, at 75, it is because of the approach of my own death. I'm by no means obsessed with it, but about two years ago I had a brush with "that slightly dusty child" (Aragon), "the man in the bright night-shirt" (W C Fields). I was suffering from what might have been terminal and is in fact chronic bronchitis, breathing through an oxygen mask, and visited by a procession of friends whom my wife, Diana, had warned that I might well "leave the building". I didn't then, but in retrospect I am much changed. A lot of energy has seeped away. Sleep, at one time an interruption, has become a pleasure. Sex is now a memory, although a treasured one. I am both much more forgetful and slower to grasp the point.

Yet I still enjoy a great deal. Drink remains a good-bad friend. I get pleasure from nature and art and, as in Walter Savage Landor's envoi, thrill to watch a trout rise to a fly. Visiting certain towns, especially Liverpool, my birthplace, I am more and more aware that the trip could be my last. As to my contemporaries, dear friends - alive or dead? If the latter, I go to their funerals; if the former, I usually see them there. I stare throughout the "service" at that packing-case and think of what its contents said and did when they yet walked and talked.


I'm glad, however, to confirm Bunuel's "I'm still an atheist, thank God!" It seems to me that faith is unprovable and that religion, of most denominations, has been responsible for more untimely deaths, tortures, wars and the suppression of pleasures than any other factor. Less central, perhaps, but very irritating in this country, is the Church's support of royalty, those pathetic but useful anachronisms who remind me of the animated dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum.


You can see I retain some venom, but not much. My late friend, the artist and writer Tony Earnshaw, described himself as an "armchair anarchist". I'll settle for that. I remain in love with jazz in general, Bessie Smith in particular, and loyal to surrealism in its principles. I can't change the world now, and will soon be unaware of it, so let them get on with it!


And in the time left to me? I find I watch more and more telly but, recovering from an eye operation, read less and less. My tastes in relation to the box are wide. I love nature documentaries and programmes about antiques, but have no prejudice against "dumbing down", at least in the realm of fantasy.

I am, for instance, very put out at the recent death of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, the gifted product of an American high school unfortunately built over one of the gates of Hell. She is (or was) a heartbreaking, abnormally acrobatic beauty, armed with pointed stakes, guided by a cool English teacher (the man in the Nescafe romance) and helped by some loyal chums including a young white witch and a punk demi-vampire who was in love, understandably, with Buffy.

In the last episode of the present series, in order to save the world from demonic chaos, Buffy hurls herself into Hell itself, thereby sealing off the gates. It seems to have had little effect in our world - and anyway, I know that she's coming back for another series. I can only hope I'm still around to watch it and not too gaga to understand it. If I am, I will have to revert to my first obsessive enthusiasm on the box - the Teletubbies. Poor Iris Murdoch's mental collapse was tragic but, for me, the comfort she derived from Laa-Laa, Tinky Winky, Dipsy and Po was entirely understandable.

It wasn't, I suspect, simply the circular Art Deco house set in a surreal golf course with its lethargic giant rabbits and artificial flowers, lit by the baby-faced Sun, nor even their happiness.

I suspect that it was based on their palpable love for each other, expressed now and then through a mutual embrace terminated by them throwing themselves separately on the turf and kicking their multicoloured woollen legs about. That reassuring, unpretentious voice which occasionally comments, states the obvious truth: "The Teletubbies love each other very much."

It's a shame we don't.