At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.
Read Will Self’s piece, On Big Ben, in issue 7 of The Happy Reader, published by Penguin, £3, here.
We all know the form: a Terrible Political Thing happens – and like many terrible political things that happen, it appears to have been caused by a combination of sheer contingency and human error. An inquiry is established to find out how far appearance conforms to reality (a philosophic question that has bedevilled thinkers for millennia, but let’s not dwell on that) and witnesses are interrogated to see if they either conspired or cocked up. In due course a Report is written comprising millions of words – and eventually (often after many years), it is released to be filleted by journalists in hours then reduced to two or three headlines, such as: “BLAIR EXONERATED” or indeed the reverse.
Soap Street in Manchester is filthy. A thick, decades-old deposit of soot and grime coats the old warehouse buildings, while underfoot there’s rotten fruit, discarded takeaway cups, broken glass: all the casual droppings of the urban herd. At its westerly end, the street – which is really little more than an alley – dog-legs right, and in the crook of this bricky elbow, beside bulging wheelie-bins, This & That resides. A local institution for rising thirty years, it offers a selection of three curries and rice, for a modest prix fixe, either to take away, or to eat in on melamine-topped tables.
In a three-part series on Radio 4, Will Self asks some of Britain’s key opinion makers to share their conclusions about the nature – and meaning – of our existence. In the absence of certainty, what is it exactly that strengthens their convictions, and how do these inform their everyday actions? How do we live well, in service to a higher purpose – and can we find meaning without one?
I once ate three meals in an evening – and how real is that? It was in Portugal, on the Algarve, and I was travelling alone, aged 20. At a beachfront café, I fell in with some German women who were a little older than me. One of them, who was horse-faced in an attractive, three-times-around-the-paddock-cantering-vigorously sort of way, took a shine to me – and took a shine in particular to the way that I demolished my steak and chips. “Mein Gott!” (or some other stereotypical German exclamation) she cried, “You are having the most impressive appetite – this is very sexy in a man!”