What sort of devotees does an author such as Irvine Welsh have
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Thursday 20 June 1996
Everything was fine until the questions. Then a disturbance in the throng marked the arrival of a frightening figure: lime-green polyester shirt, early 20s, short hair, indubitably Scottish, astoundingly drunk and more than somewhat belligerent - in other words, a dead ringer for Begbie, the dangerously alcoholic psychopath from Trainspotting. He staggered through the cross-legged audience, clambered on to the stage, slapped Welsh on the back, sat down beside him on the small blue sofa, swigged from a bottle and inquired whether the author thought Scotland would win the European Cup. The blood drained from Welsh's putty-hued features. Security men looked on aghast as though witnessing a kidnap. Further questions from the floor could not compete with the Edinburgh One's unstructured ramblings. When a couple of middle-class readers tried some polite heckling, Begbie Mk II turned a face of mild loathing upon them, asked if they "wanted some", and suggested they take their problem ootside. Mr Welsh seemed distinctly uncomfortable; he has, of late, been used to rather more respectful treatment as the darling of the literary scene. Now he was sharing a settee with a serial killer with a skean-dhu in his sock. Should he reason with him? Threaten him? Read to him? Answer, none of the above. Welsh's new fan declared that Trainspotting was "a grand film" (well thanks a lot), confided that Scotland were sure to win the match and - after a quick face-wash with the remainder of his beer - disappeared into the wings. Sign that man up, somebody; I swear he's got a book in him.
Authors under threat, No 2. I was horrified to hear that Patrick Gale has acquired a stalker. Mr Gale is a young novelist of sophisticated wit and gazelle-like demeanour, whose father and grandfather were both directors of Parkhurst Prison. He explains in next month's issue of Attitude, the excitably sweaty gay style magazine which proved to be the downfall of Philip Hensher, the Commons clerk, that he has been stalked by a fan who tracked him to his home in Cornwall. The fan used to ring Gale to talk with pleasing flattery about his books; but then he started revealing that he was coming to the village and following Patrick around. The last straw came when the caller rang to say he'd been watching Gale buying plants at his local garden centre and had later watched him unload them from his car. He then proceeded to itemise them. "I saw lupins," breathed the voice, "Gladioli, peonies, ipicanthus..." Gulp. Creepy or what?
Authors under threat, No 3. What the London literary world wants to know is: who is the prepetrator of the horrid hoax against Paul Bailey? Following Bailey's less than ecstatic review of Steven Berkoff's vainglorious autobiography, Free Association, the TLS published a stinging rebuke from the talented mime artiste. It seemed slightly upset by the tone of Bailey's critique ("Where on earth did you dig up that piece of desiccated hack to spew off his frustration and venom from a life of miserable flops?"). Hardly had Bailey recovered from this drubbing than an envelope with a "London E14" frank and an air of menace plopped on to his Welcome mat. On headed ("East Productions") writing paper, the most amazing flood of personal abuse scorched across the vellum, beginning "You scumbag..." and ending with the words: "I hear you're writing a book about that painter poof Francis Bacon. Well you'll look like a Francis Bacon by the time I've finished with you. You're dead meat. You've been warned." Bailey showed it to Berkoff's publisher, Matthew Evans, who confirmed that, yup, it read like echt Berkoff all right. "And since the only time I'd ever seen Steven Berkoff at a party, he was with Charlie Richardson," says Bailey, "I thought I'd better ring the police." After visiting the police station, he went on to dinner with friends, among whom was the biographer Peter Parker, who is currently writing the life of Christopher Isherwood. On hearing that Bailey had made an unscheduled visit to Mr Plod, Parker shamefacedly confessed: the letter had been from him, an amusing hoax he thought Bailey would see through in seconds. When everyone was friends again, Bailey and Parker rang the police together, to explain. "That's all very well," said a constabular voice, perhaps a little wearied by this delicious japery, "But how do I know this isn't some double bluff?"
Why Didn't We Think Of It Before Dept. Hats off to Mr John Butcher, MP for Coventry SW, a true visionary. Bored with sitting in traffic jams, he has written to the Transport Secretary, Sir George Young, urging him to have "jugglers and acrobats" performing on a 14-mile stretch of the M6 outside Birmingham. Mr Butcher envisages smiling motorists enjoying the spectacle of professional tumblers and prestigitators doing their stuff on the central reservation. Volunteers have already been found, including one Rappin' Frank, who juggles on a unicycle dressed as Frank (Some Mothers) Spencer and performs "a very funny act with a rubber chicken".
It all sounds fine to me, a firm step in the gradual conversion of London into a gigantic theme park by the year 2000. First, the huge Ferris wheel beside the Thames. Then Richard Rogers's (or was it Norman Foster's?) idea of having glorified pedaloes plying between vaporetto stops from Greenwich to Chelsea Reach. Then the plan to turn the Canary Wharf tower into a giant helter-skelter ... Yes it's all coming together nicely. And after the M6 experiment, why not broaden it out on other motorways? To have a dozen zany clowns driving down the central reservation of the M3 in their Krazy Kar with the windows falling off would be a most beguiling sight. Though not, of course, anything you wouldn't see most Saturday afternoons.
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