One of the more bizarre changes I’ve witnessed over the past 20 years or so has been the vast increase in the numbers of Indian rose-ringed parakeets on my manor. Commonly referred to as the ring-neck parakeet, Psittacula krameri manillensis is a bird of such raucousness that were I to get my hands on one, I would cheerfully wring its neck.
I do feel some commitment to public service and as one in four people reading this will be obese, while the other three are merely “overweight”, now seems the right time to do some. Service, I mean – because we’ve all been serving ourselves too much over what’s called the “festive” season and January is the time to take stock . . . not make it. In furtherance of your resolutions, I’m dedicating this week’s column to really disgusting meals. Yes, you heard me right: meals of a true revoltingness such as to turn the stomach of the most hardened gourmand – so sit back and . . . retch.
I well remember the 2011 riots. On my manor, in south London, things really kicked off at Clapham Junction where, summoned by BlackBerry direct messaging, the crowds assembled and laid waste to the Arding & Hobbs department store, then set fire to Party Superstores, which went up in a whoosh of synthetic-onesie-fuelled flames. Sitting in our house in Stockwell, we watched the evening news and saw the computer graphics depicting the rioting creeping like sepsis along the arterial routes. The crazed mob had reached Clapham High Street and was headed our way.
Like a million other baby-boomers I’ve been revisiting the soundtrack of my early adolescence this week – I confess, although no great rock fan nowadays, I cried when I heard David Bowie had died. Cried for all sorts of reasons – not least, because unlike so many famous people in this era when medical science is our religion and disease is diabolic, Bowie had refused to go public with news of his cancer, or offer us ringside seats while he “battled” with it. (A ridiculous metaphoric construction – and no doubt one Bowie himself, with his fine lyrical sensibility, would’ve eschewed.) One minute he was, if not present, at least immanent in the way of all great and influential artists ? the next he was gone.
The method of loci was a mnemonic system developed in the classical period as an aid to displays of rhetoric. By imagining a series of discrete loci and conceptualising the facts needed to be recalled as a number of objects placed within these locations, the orator could gain access to his memories by visualising himself walking from place to place and retrieving the tropes, figures and other information that he needs.
Repurposed as the “memory palace”, the method of loci makes an appearance in Thomas Harris’s paean to successful psychopathy, the 1999 thriller Hannibal:
It’s spelled “Chipotle”, as in the Nahuatl name for the fiery jalapeño chilli, but pronounced “Chi-pôte-lay”, which a recent ad campaign for the chain apparently makes great play of. We’re talking the Chipotle Mexican Grill, here – and frankly that’s about as Mexican as the outfit gets, given that it was the brainchild of a professionally trained chef, the child of a pharmaceutical exec who was born in Indianapolis, raised in Boulder, Colorado, and found his inspiration scarfing Mexican street food in San Francisco’s Mission District – although he was working as a sous chef at Stars, an über-tony eatery, at the time.
Baudelaire writes, “Mainte fleur épanche á regret/Son parfum doux comme un secret/Dans les solitudes profondes.” And George Dillon translates, “Many a flower has bloomed and spent/The secret of its passionate scent/Upon the wilderness profound.” I stand outside La Belle Équipe on the corner of the rue Faidherbe and the rue de Charonne staring down at the great tattered mess of handmade cards, poesies, rotting bouquets wrapped in cellophane and hundreds of little aluminium sockets that once held the stumps of tea lights. A fortnight ago, at about 9.30pm, two gunmen opened fire on the people who were sitting and drinking on the café’s terrace. When they stopped, 19 were dead and nine more were critically injured.
Last year I bought a copy of JG Ballard’s last novel, Kingdom Come, a dystopic tale of the near future in which bored suburbanites descend into anomic violence as they retreat inside a giant shopping mall. Predictably, I bought my copy at the Bluewater shopping mall in north Kent, on the outskirts of London. Bluewater held the title of Britain’s biggest shopping mall for a number of years and it is surpassing large: a huge circular corridor that has become a destination. I asked a police officer where the Waterstones was and discovered she was a good old-fashioned bobby-on-the-beat – her beat having been, for seven years, to walk slowly around and around . . . Bluewater.
To the Cereal Killer Café on Brick Lane in Shoreditch – at the very epicentre of London’s hipsterville. Yes, yes, I know, I probably should have hied me hither a few weeks ago, immediately after the establishment had been subjected to an all-out attack by two hundred anarchist rioters wearing pig masks and carrying flaming brands, who threw paint and, err . . . cereal at the whacky eatery. I hung fire because I suspected the cereal riot might be the beginning of a widespread revolt against foodie absurdity, and why waste ink and pixels on such a sideshow when Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay would soon be flambéed at the stake in Trafalgar Square?
Here’s how Louis-Ferdinand Céline characterises travel in his trippy 1932 novel, Journey to the End of the Night: “An infinity opens up just for you – a laughable little infinity; and you fall into it.” Maybe so, yet sometimes – just sometimes – the falling into that laughable infinity is enough to justify all the very grindingly finite journeys we take in our lives; for if one thing seems beyond dispute, it is that no sooner has the circumnavigation of the kitchen table been completed than the man-haul to the kettle begins.