Saturday, October 20, 2012

Salmanella Poisoning - and My Recovery

The BBC bills them as “Austerity protests”. 

What on Earth are they when they are at home? 

I am sitting in a bar where the TV is turned down and I am watching thousands of people with banners talking to anyone with a microphone who will stand still long enough to listen. All of them are grossly overweight, so whatever cuts they are protesting against, rest assured it’s not one to their food budget.
I confess to never having taken part in any kind of demonstration in my life. I once stood outside News International during the printers’ strike at Wapping, but that was only in the hope of bumping into a journalist with whom I was in love at the time. When I was at university, I also bought a Save the Miners badge, but that was only because I was in love with a philosophy lecturer, whom I knew to be a Marxist and thought my showing willing might prove an aphrodisiac (it didn’t – well, not until 15 years later, but that’s another story).
I’m not against marching per se; I admire people who will take to the streets on a wet weekend morning to shout about something they stand barely any chance of being able to influence. I like their passion and enthusiasm and marvel at their bad taste in clothes and footwear – it’s like Fraggle Rock taking to the streets.

It’s just not for me. I don’t like getting my hair wet (most demos take place in the rain), I don’t like being flat-footed because it draws attention to my five foot height (when Jimmy Choo brings out a Built for Demo sandal, I might change my mind), and I don’t like people shouting. I suffer very badly from misophonia – literally, a hatred of sound – and being engulfed by marauding complainers really is my idea of hell.
It’s not that I don’t have beliefs – but my excuse for not taking to the streets in my Wellingtons is that I’m a writer, and anything I have to say I put on paper and, hopefully, get into the marketplace through the printed word. But then many writers have been and still are far more pro-active than I could ever be.
Take Salman Rushdie. It was speaking out in print that got him into trouble in the first place, and it didn’t stop him. Me? I’d have keeled over without so much as a “Yes, yes, I renounce the evil ways of the West and where can I buy a burkha?”
I met Salman quite a few times when I first came to London in the early Eighties. At one point, we had the same agent, and I met him at a party, where he accused me of “rambling”. “Hah! That’s rich,” I responded. “Coming from a man whose books you can’t even read further than page 3.” I could smell his contempt.
When he was under cover following the “fatwa” declared upon him, you couldn’t go to any literary event without bumping into him. I knew his bodyguards better than I did my own family, and their appearance ahead of the “star” always alerted everyone to Salman’s arrival in ample time to muster up a battalion and prepare for attack.
One such occasion was a Jonathan Cape Christmas party. I am an ex-ballroom dancing champion and, seeing Salman standing morosely at the side of the dance floor, whisked him away for a jive. He must be dying for a dance, I reasoned. How he would love having a slice of normal life. Reader, he walked off the floor. Walked off the floor! From me! A champion dancer! He said I was not doing the jive to his liking.  
He was bloody lucky he had any sodding legs to do the jive, let alone any sodding jive according to his liking, I tried to argue, but it was to no avail.
So maybe it was my early Salmanella poisoning that bred in me an abhorrence of anything smacking of dissidence.
Or maybe it has more to do with my having been brought up with a terror of authority. Doctors, vicars, teachers, the police – I was brought up to believe that these people, my elders and people in a position of authority, were right about everything, and to cross them would cast me into the outer reaches of hell, never to return.
We now live in an age in which we know that many people in authority power abuse that power and that blind trust is . . . well, not to be trusted. I like to think I had good instincts when, on a youth course when I was just 13, I was not one of the youngsters who crowded around a creepy Jimmy Savile as he tried to ingratiate himself amongst us on our church youth club annual holiday.
So maybe I’ve just never liked being part of the crowd. Although, growing up, it was something I thought I craved, it is always something I have avoided, consciously or unconsciously. I am suspicious of mob mentality, banners and flat shoes marching in unison.   
Just give me my pen, my desk and the telly showing me fat, wet people, whose Wellington boots I am not fit to lick.

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