You could’ve knocked me down with a semi-transparent pop-up ident of a feather when I got an email from Bill Gates. To begin with I thought the scrambled syntax, banjaxed grammar, and dubious content was yet another spammer: “C’mon Big Boy see my lake glistens 4 U. All Xs pays bi me if U cum kwik.” But later I was called by an assistant who informed me that the multi-billionaire software tycoon wasn’t trying to sell me Viagra, but rather wanted me and Ralph Steadman to join him at his $97m lakeside eco-mansion for what Gates terms a “Think Week”.
… You take my impotence for example. Up until a few years ago, the old todger was as big as a bloody battering ram: I used to fear my erections. Since then, well, I blame Nigerian traffic wardens. They come over here, can’t speak the lingo and strut about the place slapping tickets on anything that moves – it’s intimidating.
Crumbling the progesterone into Cyril’s Pedigree Chum worked, and a litter of Jack Russell puppies duly arrived. Staying with Cyril’s human “owners” in the Vale of Pershore, my 10-year-old got up early and spent the morning with the little bundles of joy. He battened on to the spunkiest one of the litter, a bite-sized doglet he dubbed Maglorian. Why Maglorian? Well, the child has a considerable – and in my view, misplaced – affection for the works of J K Rowling, and apparently there’s a centaur called Magorian that lives in the Magic Forest adjacent to Hogwarts. However, Magorian, he explained, “sounds too gory”, so the “L” was inserted so that “he can be ‘Glory’ for short”.
On a recent plane flight from Heathrow Airport, London, to Glasgow, I entered into a typical – but for all that grindingly depressing – altercation. I had been assigned the window seat, while the aisle was occupied by a man two decades younger and a head-and-a-half shorter than myself. I pointed this out to him and suggested that he might have some compassion for his elder, taller, better but he demurred, saying that he wanted to “get out quickly” at our destination. “What are you,” I snapped irritably, “a bloody brain surgeon?”
In July, when the ban on smoking in public buildings was introduced in England, I was in Brazil, a country where men are men (although often they have the secondary sexual characteristics of women), and they like to smoke cigars the size of Amazonian trees. They smoke them in restaurants, they smoke them in offices – they smoke them anywhere they damn well please. It’s as difficult to imagine a smoking ban in Brazil as it is a moratorium on commercial logging.
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.
Lewes, East Sussex, where this column began all those horned moons ago. As I walk from the station under another horned moon I spy, standing outside a cosy-looking pub, the cuddly dolmen of Matthew De Abaitua. Thirteen years ago, Matthew – who is now a talented novelist in his own right – spent a six-month sojourn as my live-in amanuensis and secretary. It was a thankless task: so far as I can remember I was completely spark-a-loco. We were living in a tiny cottage in Suffolk, and I was given to harvesting opium from the poppies that grew wild in the field margins, then driving my Citreon deux-chevaux across the same fields, solely by the light of a horned moon, Matthew placidly crammed into the passenger seat.
At the Seneca Hotel, on Chestnut Street, Chicago, things are not going well. I’m without stoicism: my room is a chilly suite with glass-topped tables and a tomb-like kitchenette, wherein the elements rise up from the stove in sinister curls. When I turn on the electricity, they reek of burnt hair. If I don’t get out of the Seneca and walk, I’m going to do something gratuitously inhumane — which would be doubly bad, given that I’m here to attend the Chicago Humanities Festival.
“When I see a guy lighting a goddamn cigarette as I come round the corner, I see a guy who ain’t taking the bus into town!” exclaims the bus driver, a competent black woman, who even as I feed my four one-dollar bills into the machine, is ramming the big, whooshing box up the ramp on to Route 101, heading north for San Francisco. “City of Industry” is the slogan picked out in big, white letters on the hillside ahead — presumably it’s some sort of riposte to “HOLLYWOOD”, but I doubt the Los Angelenos can read it at this distance.
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.