The kinkiest Governor of Texas (in waiting)

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The Independent Online

The other day, I was browsing through the internet looking for other people called Atkins, aside from the late, great Dr Atkins. This was because, in an idle moment, I wanted to see how many other Atkins Diets I could dream up. The Tommy Atkins Diet, for instance. As much bully beef as you can eat. The Chet Atkins Diet. As much bluegrass as you can stomach, and so on.

The other day, I was browsing through the internet looking for other people called Atkins, aside from the late, great Dr Atkins. This was because, in an idle moment, I wanted to see how many other Atkins Diets I could dream up. The Tommy Atkins Diet, for instance. As much bully beef as you can eat. The Chet Atkins Diet. As much bluegrass as you can stomach, and so on.

I also came across the splendidly named Ace Atkins, an American crime writer, who - according to his website - had been extravagantly praised by Kinky Friedman ...

Kinky Friedman! I had more or less forgotten about Kinky Friedman. I went through a phase of buying his novels, and even bought one or two of his records. If you don't know about Kinky (real name Richard) Friedman, he is a Jewish country singer who defied all conventions by trying to be as Jewish as he is Texan. That's why he formed a group called "The Texas Jewboys", and why he wrote such songs as "Ride 'Em, Jewboy" and "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Any More", even if the songs are not always quite as good as the titles promise. (How could they be?) He also has written a series of very good comic crime novels in which he, or at least a character called Kinky Friedman, is the hero.

I looked him up on the internet, and was pleased to find he is preparing to be the Governor of Texas, and aims to be elected in 2006. On his website, kinkyfriedman.com, you can find a reprinted New York Times article which details his laidback campaign to run for governor, under the fine slogan: "Why the hell not?" Friedman is, says the article, an inspired public speaker, on which Friedman modestly says: "Well, I'm good for five minutes of superficial charm. After that, I can see the pity forming in men's eyes ..."

Among other things, Friedman claims President George W Bush as one of his fans - indeed, he says Bush once admitted that Friedman was his favourite fiction writer. "Of course", comments Friedman, "George is not all that voracious a reader".

When he tried to enlist Bush as one of his advisers in his campaign, Bush said he couldn't endorse him until he knew what his platform was. That, said Friedman, was easy. He wants to make the declawing of cats illegal.

"People who think this is frivolous should come back as a cat," he said. "I'd be a Buddhist, except for Richard Gere."

You wouldn't normally expect a Jewish Texan cowboy (who wears a black Stetson, sports a silver Star of David and smokes big cigars) to be anxious about animal rights, but Friedman has another side to his character. When his parents died and left him their ranch in Texas, he turned it into a refuge for battered animals, which is what occupies his time today. Apart from writing. And music. And running for Governor of Texas.

I once met Kinky Friedman, years ago. He was in the UK to promote his books, and I had listened to him on Start The Week, during which Melvyn Bragg had described his cigar 'n' Stetson get-up. So when, a few days later, I was on a train to London and walked past a man with a black Stetson, cigar and cowboy boots, I couldn't help exclaiming: "Mr Friedman, I presume".

"Let's talk," he said, pointing to the empty seat opposite, and so we did, for an hour or more. And all I can remember now is that he fancied the very English striped blazer I was wearing, and offered to swap it for his chunky belt which, he told me, was "fashioned from the fossilised foreskin of a brontosaurus".

I wish I had done the swap. I'll never get another chance to wear the belt of a future Governor of Texas.

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