Ralph claims that this picture (right, in the Independent newspaper) faithfully reproduces a life-threatening encounter that he had with a grizzly bear during his most recent sojourn in Canada. According to Ralph, he drove the devilish bear off with his ink pot. It’s all lies, of course. I know because I’ve just been in Canada and I heard the whole story from several eye-witnesses who saw Ralph and the Grizzly together.
So, it’s not that Ralph was entirely deluded on the contrary it was inevitable that he would meet up with a grizzly sooner or later, as with global warming disrupting the environment of the far north, the ranges of the former (Artificer cantankerous) and the latter (Ursus arctos horribilis) increasingly overlap. We’ve all read tales of troublesome grizzlies venturing into North American cities, rifling trashcans for food and attempting swift – but brutal – congress with SUVs, just as we’ve all also read accounts of English satirists entering North American cities and pestering their inhabitants with visceral and disturbing graphic works. Most of us probably considered what might happen when the two species met up – although no one anticipated that they would fall in love.
I don’t know why Ralph is so coy about his inter-specific love affair with Griselda (for such, I have ascertained, is the name of “his” bear), because the previous year, during his time at the Harbourfront Festival in Toronto, the two of them were inseparable. Jim, the driver for the Festival (he says “Hello”, Ralph, by the way), picked them up together at the airport and drove them into town.
For the next three days, except when Ralph was required onstage at the Festival, he and Griselda were shut up together in Room 2146. Neither bear nor artist were seen to mingle with the other authors who gathered in the hospitality suite on the penthouse floor – leading them to suspect that Ralph was being huffy and stand-offish.
All except Kazuo Ishiguro who saw Ralph and Griselda swimming together in the hotel pool. “To be honest,” he told me recently, “I was a little bit fried. I’d pulled an all-nighter with Margaret Atwood. We got pissed and she used this computerised ‘long pen’ device that she’s invented to sign books at remote locations, to, ah, y’know, pinch people’s bottoms in European bookshops and otherwise generally molest them. It was childish behaviour, and I’m not proud of myself. Anyway, I thought I’d sober up with a sauna at around 6am, and went down to the spa on the fifth floor. There were these two enormous bear-like figures frolicking together in the pool …
“They seemed very affectionate. Steadman was sort of lifting the bear out of the water and tossing it about – or, as they say in Canada, ‘aboot’ – and from time to time he’d twang the strap of its bikini top. I was amazed, because I’d been for a swim in the pool myself, and the chlorine was so strong I’d spent the next four hours half-blinded, yet neither Steadman nor the bear seemed in the least discomfitted.”
“Discomfitted”, eh? I think the use of that very term alone confirms this indisputably as the authentic testimony of the Booker-prize winning author. But if any further verification were needed, we have the copies of Ralph’s room-service bills at the Westin Harbour. In three days, Room 2146 ordered up 27 club sandwiches, 18 cheeseburgers, 27 porterhouse steaks, 17 full breakfasts – and even requested the concierge that he simply “bring the goddamn wheelie-bin up from the kitchen”.
It’s fair to say that Canada is no longer the society it once was. Gone are the days when the entire culture was crimped by a dour – if polite – Presbyterianism, and sexual activity of any kind whatsoever was frowned upon. Nowadays, the Conservative Premier, Stephen Harper, is often seen at state banquets completely naked save for a strategically placed maple leaf and with a fetching beaver on his arm. Canadians explain their re-evaluation of all values with reference to changing climate – it never freezes anymore – and the high rate of immigration: Calgary is now the biggest Brazilian city in the world. In the US, those mad Manicheans would’ve put a stop to Ralph’s goings on, but such was the atmosphere of tolerance in Toronto, that he returned in September of this year, hoping to rekindle his passion. Only to discover that Griselda had run away with a Major League Hockey player, whose build was more to her taste. Hence Ralph’s defamatory drawing, and wish-fulfilment fantasy – both the work of a demented and rejected suitor.