At the start of this journal, Simon Gray is diagnosed as suffering from a tumour in his lung that will probably kill him within a year. This naturally lays him very low. Back at home he imagines his cancer to be a grinning man, now crouching in a dark corner, soon to be lunging forward with a knife, meanwhile turning his comfortable house into a cheerless prison.
He has similarly hostile visions about the various doctors who have the unpleasant tasks of breaking or confirming the bad news of his condition. One who looks like a ladies' man, he gleefully imagines being struck off the medical register for interfering with his women patients while they are under anaesthetic. When he develops a neck tumour and the doctor tries to comfort him with exploratory results that show no sign of throat cancer, Gray takes a masochistic pleasure in forcing him to admit that this is not good but bad news. It means his more dangerous lung cancer is spreading. He dreams of shooting and stabbing another doctor who looks relieved when he has managed to give out a nervous estimate of Gray's short lifespan from the side of his mouth.
This mood of angry railing at fate does not last long. Quite soon, Gray is wondering to himself how to commit suicide in the event of a really painful decline. It proves frustratingly difficult, partly because he is allergic to some drugs, but mainly because he wants to shield his wife, Victoria, from any legal risk of complicity. Besides, he does not seem to be the suicidal type, and by now he is in a practical frame of mind. He begins to make plans for what remains of his life, juggling social engagements, the work still to do, and a final vacation in Crete with Victoria.
Not until halfway through the journal does he consider what for many writers would be the first question on hearing the doctor's verdict: what will posterity think of me? After some hesitation he makes a claim that is both modest and bold: "I think I'm better than my reputation. Possibly I'm the best playwright in English of the second half of the last century, well, at writing the sorts of plays I wanted to write..." Those plays were "in a sense, Chekhovian", plays like Quartermaine's Terms, Close of Play, The Common Pursuit, The Rear Column, The Late Middle Classes, Japes. These plays "leave audiences with the experience of having looked in on other lives, other conditions, and have them see much that's the same and much that's different from their own lives."