A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 1 1998 3:30 AM


       Yesterday I decided to stop smoking again. This is something I do quite often, but I tend to go back to it in moods of self-loathing, when I want to make myself as ill and disgusting as possible. Actually, I started smoking again this year for a different reason. In the spring, I went to Cuba for the first time and bought some Havana cigars very cheaply on the black market. Learning on my return to London that here they cost something like $35 each, I thought it would be absurd not to try one, and from then it was downhill all the way. But during the past few weeks I have felt a mounting urge to give up smoking once more; and while I was on holiday in New York last month, I prepared myself for the ordeal by buying a box of nicotine patches. Yesterday, just before bedtime, I decided to put one on.
       It had the effect of keeping me awake until 5 a.m. and then sending me off into a most peculiar dream of which, on awaking two hours later, I could remember every detail. In my dream, I was in the middle of a violent pro-Pinochet demonstration taking place not, as one might expect, in Chile, but in Russia. People were running around all over Red Square burning the British flag and battling with Russian riot police.
       I was just a quiet observer of these events, but was nevertheless suddenly arrested by a policeman and accused of having drunk a glass of wine a few hours earlier. I remonstrated that this was a preposterous charge in a country in which most people, including the president, were permanently drunk; but he replied that foreigners were subject to more stringent rules than Russians and that I would be expelled from Russia forthwith. Luckily the dream ended happily, for the policeman had a golf ball thrown at his head and fell to the ground unconscious.
       It was only this morning that I read in the instructions that came with my nicotine patches that if you wore one of them at night you might "have vivid dreams and other disruptions of your sleep." So today I have resumed smoking on the grounds that thinking about Gen. Pinochet during my waking hours is already quite sufficient. The expensive North London clinic where the old torturer has been residing for the past few weeks is now insisting that he leave immediately, saying he is perfectly well and that it is a medical establishment, not a rest home for senior citizens.
       But nobody else in Britain seems to want to take him in. I'm not surprised. Who would? It's amazing how much trouble a vain old ex-dictator of 83 with a stupid face is able to cause. He has divided his own country, set nation against nation, and inflicted on the British government its greatest embarrassment since it came to power early last year. He has even bestowed sudden credibility on the British House of Lords since it ruled the other day that he enjoyed no immunity from extradition to Spain. Hitherto regarded abroad (not to mention in Britain) as a Gilbert and Sullivan institution of purely comic interest, the House of Lords is now being lauded in countries such as France, Spain, and Italy as the begetter of important new principles of international law. What a pest the old boy has become!
       But my immediate preoccupation is less with Pinochet than with people in London--mainly women, as it so happens--who drive large, air-conditioned, four-wheel drive, Jeep-like vehicles to convey the impression that they are grander than the rest of us and have a particular affinity with the countryside, although they never visit it. At the weekend, I drove into the back of one such vehicle in my tiny little car, and the impact left it completely unscathed. My car, on the other hand, was practically a wreck, with its hood dramatically crumpled in an artistic kind of way. Although the accident was entirely my fault, I feel there ought to be a law ensuring equal vulnerability for vehicles competing for space on our desperately congested roads.
       Causing even greater excitement in Britain this week than Jerry Hall's unprintable public insults to Mick Jagger after hearing that he is expecting a baby by a racy Brazilian model (Hall is asking for at least $80 million in a divorce settlement, the tabloids say) is the news that Michael Jackson and Madonna are both planning to send their infant children, Prince and Lourdes, when they are old enough, to exclusive English boarding schools. Nobody can imagine why they should want to do this, unless they have a fanciful notion that England alone holds the key to turning children into little ladies and gentlemen. I fear they may discover that this, alas, is no longer the case.

Alexander Chancellor writes "International Papers" for Slate.