A fine smir of testosterone wavered about the bobbing heads of the jogging boys – or at least, that’s as I remember it. Oh! Where are the changing rooms of yesteryear? Where are the gracile bodies, the downy pelts, the helium squeaks of larynxes tossed hither and thither by the hormonal flux? We come to consciousness of our sexuality among the naked forms of our peers – and no doubt once this painful awareness has finally ebbed away we’ll find ourselves once more: bare, forked things, laid out in a row on the mortuary slab. I found the crowd in the boys’ changing room a torment: it didn’t help that, like so many pubescents, I yearned to excel at sports but was at best adequate. Nor was it helpful that I was a late developer – boys like Bullock and Gordon had a full pubis of hair while my assemblage still resembled an unfurling bracken frond; as for Nattawallah, at the age of 13 he had a handlebar moustache, the ends of which he could actually twirl.
Watch Will Self and John Banville in conversation with Carlo Gébler dissecting the ins and outs of James Joyce’s Dubliners here.
It was one of those incomparable early June days you get in the far north: bright sunlight drenched the heathery Orcadian hillsides and the choppy blue waters of the Wide Firth. Driving at speed along the road from Kirkwall to Finstown, I kept taking sidelong glances at the island of Gairsay to the north. Twenty years ago when I lived in Orkney I was friendly with a local builder, Simon, who told me that a single family occupied the old farmhouse on Gairsay: a paterfamilias, a matriarch, and their hardy brood of six or seven offspring. Simon said that the Gairsay islander was so tough that when one of his children fell ill he’d rowed them across five miles of the firth to the doctor’s surgery in Finstown – and this in midwinter. But Orkney is for most of the time a bleak place, where men are men, while skate – on account of the supposed resemblance between theirs and human female genitals – are terrified.
Waiting for the District Line Tube out to Becontree, I gazed at the poster curving up the sooty wall. “Wake up to the Wild”, a slogan daubed on a stylised piece of driftwood read, and beneath it, hovering over an illustration of a rocky, sandy beach, was this come-hither: “With one of the largest tidal ranges in the world, Guernsey’s coastline offers a new experience each visit.”
Read Will Self’s take on the new visitor centre at Stonehenge from the Guardian Review here.
Watch Will Self talking about death at an RSA event tonight at 6.30pm.
Listen to Will Self talking about psychogeography and London on the RTÉ Radio 1 Book Show.
‘A few years ago, I was walking with a friend in some fields on the southwest coast of Rousay, one of the northern isles of Orkney. There were a fair amount of cattle about, but we weren’t paying much attention to them and nor were they to us. True, one beast did look significantly bigger than the others, and I said to my friend, “Oh, d’you think that might be a bull?” at the exact moment that this rather larger kine lurched into a trot and began heading our way.
I’m in Orkney again: it’s a micro-society up here off the north coast of Scotland, where the preoccupations are farming, fishing and the sort of intense human interactions that often occur when folk are compelled to rub along together a little too vigorously. True, there is the annual “Ba”, or town football game, wherein a benighted bit of leather is fought the length of Kirkwall’s main street by snorting, roiling gangs of islanders, but overall these sparsely populated islands are not where you would expect to find evidence of the odd delusions that grip humanity en masse.
To Simpson’s-in-the-Strand for dinner with my old pal Martin Rowson, the cartoonist. It’s said of cartoonists that they always grow to resemble their caricatures (or perhaps it’s vice versa) but Martin bucks the trend. As the years go by, his politicians’ faces become either more oleaginous and orange or more brownish and creased; he, meanwhile, has the sea-green complexion of the truly incorruptible. Martin likes a restaurant – for a while now he’s been campaigning to save the Gay Hussar in Soho, which is in danger of going out of business.