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The first column I wrote, in 1998, just after starting at Positive Nation.  

lazarus 1: born again 

My Lazarus moment, the exact minute I realised I would live and not die, was when, speeding on the vampiric fix of six pints of other peopleís blood, 48 hours after being barely able to walk into the ward at St Bartís, I found myself singing on stage at the Black Cap pub in Camden.

The Sunday afternoon drinkers were unappreciative; they wanted the stripper, not some gloomy songwriter. I didnít care. I felt like my own monument, at once as crumbling and as indestructible as the Sphinx. I had risen. I had survived AIDS.

The week had started with a sick headache and a thundering pulse in the back of the neck. The effort of climbing stairs made me vomit. By Thursday my skin had turned chalk-white. Awareness wallowed in a buzzing fog. ďYouíve got AZT anaemia,Ē said my doctor, prospecting under a lower eyelid for residual haemoglobin.

There was a gig on the Sunday. Since I can persuade someone to let me sing in public about once a year, I was going to do it, even if I had to wheel the drip stand on stage. It was not the first time in my career as AIDS victim that I had apparently clawed my way out of the grave, but it was by far the most surreal crisis, and, I sensed, the last.

I felt two completely opposite things.

One emotion was just dandy: a lust for more existence that didnít feel like courage, or determination, or self-congratulation, or any of the things people whoíve never had a shotgun wedding with Death imagine his jilters feel.

No, it was rage. Pure, organic, toddler fury. How dare a virus - or its treatment - annihilate me before Iíd climbed Kilimanjaro; or had Leonard Cohen cover one of my songs; or got successfully fisted (none of these achieved yet, but trying).

The other feeling, though, like the dark shadow of the first, was one of infinite weariness. There was no more snap in the elastic. Christ, I was 41: my life might only be half way through.

Since then, living has felt like a vertical crawl up the same cliff I had gratefully dived from several years earlier - or, like the obstinately limp dick of the stripper as he fluffed himself next to me in the dressing room, it has reflated to something like its previous size, but still droops. Why this lack of stand-up-and-spit?

Well, firstly: middle-aged man, out of the job market seven years, nasty gap in the CV. Maybe I should have just committed one of the more enjoyable crimes - running a brothel, say - and spent the time inside. The effect on the job prospects would have been the same. ďThe successful candidate will have had AIDS.Ē Yeah, right.

But that can be overcome. My self-analyst - The Shrink Inside - says that the real trouble is that, having descended the Death Escalator, I have no puff left to run back up again. The Death Escalator is the idea that dying people run through a predictable series of reactions in dealing with their mortality. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance - a sequence now so familiar that they make jokes about it in The Simpsons. In my own lumpy way, with many protests and reversings, Iíd gone pretty far down this path, to the place where I was discussing, with total equanimity, my own funeral with my mumís vicar.

Unfortunately there is no model for the reverse of this process. How do you dis-accept? Re-deny? How do you stop your head ringing from the hammer-blow of fate, like Tomís after Jerry has frying-panned him?

The gradual, grinding attrition of AIDS really is like war, and I felt like a hair-trigger Vietnam vet. You donít trust peace. You know the snipers are still there in the trees. The result is a kind of existential anaemia. Every step up towards health feels, paradoxically, like itís going to kill you.

But also, if Iím honest it was because AIDS was fun. Iíll say it again. Having AIDS was fun.

Before the martyr corps start waving shrouds and quilts and dead lovers at me, I would just like to say, all that happened to me too, actually. I watched a handsome lover shrivel to a twisted shadow and die at 29. I too awoke in my own shit too many times.

But in between times - when the doctors had mixed their antibiotic cocktails just right and the anti-squits medicine was working - it was a delicious early retirement. Oh, Iím too driven a character to have blown it all on holidays. No, I went on this new age self-improvement jag. Swimming with dolphins, wild men drumming in the woods, bittersweet tears at encounter groups. What larks!

And the freedom. How do I feel today? A little fragile, but still interesting. So Iíll have a late breakfast, hop into my free government car, pootle down to the Darby and Joan club, I mean the HIV centre, have a gossip and a free lunch, a bit of gym, a cruise with the dog in the park. Life was sweet.

And as for the invincible self-righteousness...I may be a maladjusted queer but Iím a dying maladjusted queer, and that makes me better than you. Iím Wise Before My Time, it says so in this book.

And now here I am back on civvy street, slaving for pennies, baggy-eyed with stress, floundering through the swamp of office politics. Give me one good reason why I should feel better. AIDS, like war, was hell. But it was the time of my life.  

 Afterword: The Lazarus effect is reaI. I was talking to Pepe Catalan, chief HIV psychiatrist at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London about it only the other day, and he said heís seen it time and again: hideous fear and depression striking people exactly at the time they start to physically recover.

AIDS strikes people at the time in their life they are starting to become powerful, make money, to achieve, to shrug off the follies of youth (which, in their case, has given them HIV). Instead they become this little sick old person. And then they become well or well-ish again Ė with those years of achievement snipped out and having to start again on the lowest row of the snakes and ladders game, with a bunch of pills to take and a stigmatised monkey on their back.

I know so many people who donít even try, but instead stay in a permanently arrested Aids-druggy-on-the-dole mode. And I donít blame them. Coming back to life was the hardest thing I ever did.

Since I wrote this, however, as youíll see elsewhere on this site, I have climbed Kilimanjaro - Gus   

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