PsychoGeography #68: The adventures of White Gown Man

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The Independent Online

A well-spoken woman knocked on our front door last night. She was wearing jeans, a roll neck and carrying car keys and a mobile phone. She gestured at the BMW coupé across the road with its hazard lights flashing and explained that she had run out of petrol, was without cash or credit cards and needed a few quid to get some. She was breathless, embarrassed, very polite, distressed to find herself knocking on doors and, well, begging.

A well-spoken woman knocked on our front door last night. She was wearing jeans, a roll neck and carrying car keys and a mobile phone. She gestured at the BMW coupé across the road with its hazard lights flashing and explained that she had run out of petrol, was without cash or credit cards and needed a few quid to get some. She was breathless, embarrassed, very polite, distressed to find herself knocking on doors and, well, begging.

It was, of course, only another crack and bull story. Mrs Self and I aren't that sociable, so if there's someone at the door after 9pm we can be certain it's a crack head on a mission. They come tottering from the estate over the way in all shapes, colours and classes - for addiction is no respecter of persons - but they all have a tale worn smooth by fervid, internal rehearsal. The proof in this woman's case was simple: we offered her petrol - we have a can in the garden shed - and muttering that she would "try and get home without it" she faded into the sodium night of central south London.

I only mention this because after the crack head had gone it occurred to me that this was a job for White Gown Man. It is not given to everyone in this life that they should transform into a super hero, but Ralph has. During his recent sojourn in Chile and under the sway of perverse syncretic religion, Ralph found himself undergoing a bizarre transformation. "Religion is BIG in Chile," he wrote to me, "it towers above the mountain ranges. Volcanic eruptions are warnings from God in Puerto Varas and Temuco. They are everywhere." Shortly after this intimation, Ralph found himself "in a small hostería in the middle of Lake Pehoe. Lights out at 10pm, literally. The place goes pitch black until dawn - not even a night light. The only light is in your dreams."

It was then that it happened, although it wasn't until certain conditions were manifested (of which more below) that Ralph felt the incredible soft power of towelling enfold him. I transcribe here the caption he appended to the image below: "White Gown Man heeds the call, leaps into his White Gown super lift and rushes to the aid of some poor bastard who has been turned into an incurable gambler in the downstairs casino - a month earlier he was a simple peasant from Pucon, Central Chile. Is there no end to the greed of some who would destroy the innocent?"

An affecting cri de coeur I'm sure you'll agree, but Ralph went further: "Wherever there is INJUSTICE, wherever there is PAIN and ANGUISH, and wherever there are no swimming pools and SPAS near at hand, WHITE GOWN MAN is ready to fight for the oppressed, to right every wrong and stuff like that." If only I could summon up White Gown Man and set him to work in Stockwell I feel certain that many of the neighbourhood's social problems would evaporate. Granted, there is a spa up at Holmes Place in Clapham, but I'm told that the membership dues do make it a tad restrictive.

There's this problem and there's also the lack of basic credulousness needed for WGM to operate hereabouts. Religion is small in Stockwell - apart from the Baptists - and volcanic eruptions, no matter how destructive, tend to feed into a pervasive agnosticism, which is best exemplified by the Gandalf in charge of the established church. I have done my best to summon up WGM. Ralph sent me a CD of Canto y Danzas de la Isla de Pascua, by a cove named Manu Rere. On the cover a scantily clad maiden is portrayed, shimmying among giant Easter Island-style sculpted heads. These affecting ditties sound like I imagine George Formby would if he had a wad of coca leaves in his gob and was strumming a guitar rather than a ukulele. I did a little danza of my own and prostrated myself, praying fervently for - or maybe to - White Gown Man, but he was not forthcoming.

Finally, on reexamining the material Ralph sent from Patagonia I discovered the fount of WGM power. In a more agitated hand even than usual, he had scrawled across the back of one photo: "Thought this was a scoop! Not often that you see llamas - guanacos particularly - in a state like this!" So that was it, the coital energy of the ruminants farouches was what animated White Gown Man and made it possible for him to eliminate all obsessional behaviour. From out of the depths of South America comes another balm to our Western maladies. Next time a drug addict knocks on my front door I'm going to hand them a picture of llamas fucking and tell him to pray to Ralph Steadman. Job done.

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