The past few weeks, both here and in the US, I’ve been trolling around promoting the collection of these pieces entitled, with rare percipience, PsychoGeography. Author events have a fairly rigid format, and it’s one that I’ve learnt not to monkey with over the years. It’s all very well coming on singing and dancing in a heliotrope jumpsuit, but your average attendees simply can’t absorb such a spectacle: they are like unto the Hungarian peasants, who, upon being shown an early cine film of a train, bolted from their seats lest the iron horse trample them to death.
A key component of the author event is the Q&A session. I always make it clear that anyone can ask me anything whatsoever, whether this be my views on literary matters, or simply a prurient enquiry into my personal life, such as you wouldn’t hazard with your closest friend. Needless to say, what often gets thrown at me is: “How did you and Ralph Steadman begin working together?” I then lie, saying that we met in a brothel in Patpong, where Ralph was squeezing ping-pong balls out of his vagina in order to pay for his drinks. This normally shuts them up, although the other evening in Bath a very proper lady, who looked as if she’d stepped from the pages of Northanger Abbey, did contest the notion that Ralph had ever visited Thailand.
In fact we were teamed by Ian Hargreaves, then editor of the New Statesman, during the 1997 General Election. Ralph had become fed up by the noxious vanity of politicians which meant no matter how savagely he caricatured their venal features, they still asked to buy his drawings. In retaliation, he resolved never to draw a politician’s face again, but only their legs. I was drafted in to do some copy to go with the legs. Ralph’s stratagem worked, and to my knowledge no one bought their leg picture. Ha!
All this is by way of introducing Ralph’s caricature of Hilary Benn in conversation with a pig at the recent UN conference on climate change held in Bali. Benn, perhaps one of our most conscientious environment secretaries to date, declined the £330 per night hotel suite laid on for him in favour of staying in a pig sty, and while the other delegates went on surfing trips, he built an eco-friendly geodesic dome out of pig shit and straw. Of course, such behaviour was soon seized upon by the trendy publicity-seekers who flock in the wake of these global beanos. Apparently Leonardo DiCaprio moved out of his suite and into a mouse’s nest, while Al Gore had to content himself with a lobster pot.
Pessimists, who believe that there’s little that can be done to reduce the human impact on global warming, predictably point to events like the Bali summit as confirming their bleak vision. How can it be, they ask, that flying 15,000 delegates, media types and soi-disant “green campaigners” around the world, in the process dumping a further 100,000 tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, will really help to improve things? After all, this is equal to the emissions of the entire country of Chad for a single year!
This very point was made by a delegate to the summit, and luckily Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, was on hand to offer a timely solution: the carbon emissions of the UN conference could, he said, be completely offset by eliminating Chad altogether from the map of Africa. This proposal received near-unanimous assent from the Conference, the only dissent coming from the Chad delegation, which was unceremoniously hustled out of the venue and put to work by the Indonesian Government planting trees in West Timor.
The excision of Chad was achieved by the US corporation Halliburton, which deployed a scalpel with a blade 500km long, that sliced along the borders of Niger, Libya, the Sudan, the Central African Republic, Cameroon and Nigeria, leaving a neat wound. Besides the carbon offset, an unexpected – but beneficial – effect of getting rid of Chad has been a shake-down in regional political alignments, with stunned power elites and corrupt rebel armies joining together in the common cause: swapping their Mercedes for Toyota Priuses.
I think from the above you can see where Ralph and I stand on this issue: shoulder-to-shoulder and leg-to-leg, as usual. The benefits of pursuing a close collaboration with a fellow artist over many years is that you begin to anticipate one another’s thinking with almost uncanny precision. Sometimes I write a few words and Ralph consents to graphically embellish them. On other occasions – such as this – Ralph sends me a picture that is like a photograph of my very unconscious.