AMONG all my irrational desires, perhaps the silliest is my desire to write, polish up and memorise my last words, and recite them dramatically when the time comes. But is this truly so illogical? Any actor can tell you that the quality of the exit is at least as important as the quality of the performance that precedes it. Naturally, when my time comes, I'm hoping for some lingering Hollywood-type Love Story disease with no symptoms which leaves me strong enough to utter a pearl or two on the way out. Either that, or the chance to address a firing squad after being arrested as a spy for some noble cause that I've yet to sign up for. Recently, despite a relatively clean bill of health, no outstanding warrants for my execution, and membership in no organisations more subversive than Friends of the Earth, I've been doing some research on parting comments. We should, after all, learn from our betters. Few mistakes are as irreparable as botched last words. Among the requirements for our last statement is first of all eloquence. Think of the epitaph H.L. Mencken composed for himself: 'If, after I depart this vale, you remember me and have some thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.' These were not the great writer's last words, though. When the end came he said, 'Remember me to my friends, tell them I'm a hell of a mess.' The right tone is important. For sheer snideness nothing beats what Rabelais wrote in his will: 'I have nothing. I owe much. All the rest I give to the poor.' Few things detract more from the gravity of the situation than a misunderstanding of the moment, such as that possessed by the American brothel-keeper Jim Averill when they strung a rope around his neck, and he said, 'Stop your fooling, fellows!' It is also advisable to avoid preciousness altogether, unlike the Reverend John Bewgill, an English clergyman who said as he drowned, 'Oh dear, dear, dear me. We are dead.' Likewise, we hope not to dull the moment with knowing or unknowing false assurances, such as those of Haydn, Havelock Ellis, and the senior Douglas Fairbanks, all of whom uttered a variation on 'I'm just fine.' France's Henry IV and Italy's Humbert I, who were assassinated, both managed a last 'it is nothing' before dying, thus capping their lives with a trivial falsehood. Better that, though, than being caught out as the American Civil War general Sedgwick was, when he stuck his head out of a parapet and said, 'They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist ...' If one wants to be remembered, be eerily prophetic, like Baron von Richtoven, who said to his mechanic, 'Don't expect me back.' At the very least be ironically prophetic, in the manner of American millionaire Anthony Drexel who, while demonstrating a new pistol, said, 'Here's one you never saw before,' and then shot himself. I, for one, hope that my last words will not be as dull as my career. This was certainly what happened to the American president Millard Fillmore. Millard, who is more famous for being a forgettable president than he is for being president, is on record as saying, 'The nourishment is palatable.' On that note, we also pray that we will not be caught in a complete irrelevance, such as the American gangster Albert Anastasia, who got his in a barber's chair after shouting, 'Haircut!' Nor should we protest, for it is inelegant and might be mistaken for cowardice, as with Mussolini's 'But, but, Mr Colonel ...' Humour helps. The murderer William Palmer stepped gingerly on to the gallows platform, and asked, 'Are you sure it's safe?' That kind of one-liner is pretty rare so close to execution time. Usually we get something more philosophical, such as Sir Walter Raleigh's 'Tis a sharp remedy, but a sure one for all ills.' When my time comes I hope for pure, unadulterated brass, the kind of grit that lined the entrails of the outlaw Cherokee Bill, who was hanged in 1896. When asked if he had anything to say, he replied, 'No. I came here to die, not make a speech.'