Friday, 22 July 2011

Speaking the truth on Bhopal

I'm currently reading Indra Sinha's Animal's People. It's tremendous.

The book is set in Bhopal, India after the disaster; a fact which I knew before I opened it and which had put me off starting: I'd imagined it would be a sanctimonious over-worthy book full of moral principles that I agree with, and devoid of artistic merit.

How wrong I was: Sinha manages to directly tackle the truly dreadful tragedy that is Bhopal post-disaster without loading his flatbed full of pious and moral indignation. Of course there's plenty of scope for moral indignation at how Bhopalis have been treated but moral indignation rarely makes for good literature, and it won't win too many new backers to the cause.

Instead Sinha mines a trove of truly spectacular vulgarity and crudity to produce a novel that is artistically stunning, morally accurate and, at times, hilarious. My favourite quote so far:
Zafar's lot never write what they really feel which is FUCK YOU WICKED CUNTS I HOPE YOU DIE PAINFULLY FOR THE HORRIBLE THINGS YOU DID TO US AND THE ARROGANT FUCKING CRUELTY YOU'VE DISPLAYED EVER SINCE. They write high-sounding shit like JUSTICE FOR [BHOPAL] and KAMPANI MEEET YOUR LIABILITIES but in a few places freer spirits have been at work: HANG [ANDERSON] and DEATH TO AMRIKA.
That's how to do it! Warran Anderson, you horrible man, read and weep.

* * *
I want to add a little word of approval for another recent read: Aldous Huxley's Island. As a novel it's not the finest - Huxley himself said it was too ideas-heavy - but the philosophising which weighs it down is also intriguing and inspiring.

Perhaps what is best about the book is the unashamed idealism with which it is filled. Who's idealistic these days? We're all so damned cool, the ultimate accessory a sigh of world-weary amused detachment.

The man Aldous is having none of it. He's dreaming of a world where Mahayana Buddhism informs the spiritual practices of a meditating, contemplative populace; where magic mushrooms expand the mind in rituals of spiritual exploration; where children are shared between multiple parents; where manual labour is a part of everybody's daily life; and so on and so on. It's a great vision and kudos to him for sharing it. I'm inspired.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

My friend S

A couple of weeks ago I got some bad news: a friend in Australia, S, has just died. Grieving from afar is a difficult process: on the one hand, nothing changes, day-to-day life is utterly as before; on the other hand, I have an ache, a little tender spot that flares up whenever a memory of her comes to my mind.

Writing about her is a way of processing this for me... and it allows me to pay tribute to a terrific, hilarious, and greatly loved friend.

I met her about 12 years ago when I went to live in the Western desert, near Wiluna, Western Australia. She lived in Wiluna and was a regular resident at the station where I lived on-and-off for two years. She was a Mardu woman - that's the tribe round there - and that's why I can't mention her name (or post a photo) as this would be a disrespect.

I got to know her through the medium of Emu Export. God, what a horrible beer. But it's the poison of choice in Wiluna and on the weekly trip to town we would wait patiently for the 2pm cut-off to arrive so we could buy a block of the stuff (30 cans) and head down to the creek for the afternoon.

I was, still am, a dreadful drinking lightweight so I would join these sessions only intermittently and would never last the full distance. But while I was there I was usually with S. Those afternoons were a weird mix of the companionable, the hilarious, the tragic, the unsettling, and (gradually overwhelming all the others) the incoherent.

I remember those times fondly. S was a great person to go drinking with. She was charismatic and, when in the mood, loquacious. She could also be fantastically cantankerous, and cheerfully devious too - handing out cans with a wry twinkle in her eye.

When I think of her I invariably smile for I think she was perhaps the most hilarious person I ever knew. She didn't crack jokes, she just spoke her mind. I see her now chewing on a blade of grass, her jaw jutted out and her shoulders hunched while she gazes into the distance. Then she spits, shakes her head and sighs "fuck dat".... But the twinkle is still there.

It's the lack of pretension that made her so funny I think. Like many people out there she saw the world very clearly - without the scales that fog the white man's eyes - and when you look at modern life square on you can't help but shake your head and curse. Our world is absurd - she saw it, and with a shrug of her shoulders she let me see it too somehow.

Writing about her now I miss her dreadfully. I've hardly seen her in recent years, but, still, for me, a light has gone out. Rest in peace, dear friend, rest in peace.

Monday, 4 July 2011

TV Chef at Royate Hill allotments

It seems like TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall must be watching my youtube vids (apologies for the irritatingly enthusiastic commentary):

Inspired by the magnificent piece of film-making above, HFW has decided to bring his circus to our community allotment at Royate Hill, Bristol. He'll be doing some picking, some cooking, some eating, and some filming. That's right, HFW will be cooking beans and peas THAT MY WOMAN, MY BOYS AND I PLANTED (along with many others). I shall spend the rest of the day basking in the reflected glow of celebrity-chef-glory.

If you want to see some more pics of our beautiful bit of paradise click here. (In particular there are some pics of a rather cool caterpillar that has been munching its way through our mullein plants.)

For the record I have more or less no clue who Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is. However my good friend the Harringtoinette has informed that he is cool because he kisses other men when he greets them.