Will Self: PsychoGeography

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The Independent Online

Don't read this over breakfast!

Who knows how it all began? A householder, rising from stool somewhere in the American Midwest – a resident of this 'ville or that 'berg, a regular blue-collar Joe who's just that little bit over-extended; he rises from making void of his natural waste products, and that's the better part of him gone, swirling in the bowl. He, his life, his wife, their kids, the sweat of their brows, it's all been off the back of a loan that's been bought and sold and traded – locked up in an impenetrable black box, given a triple-A credit rating and punted from one side of the globe to the other. Our guy, he understands that it's all about to be flushed down the pan: he looks out the window and there's a car idling by the kerb with two thick-necked gum-chewers in the front seats: the repo' men. His gorge rises, he's gripped by unspeakable nausea.

That's one scenario, or perhaps the Great Vomit Wave of '08 began somewhere else altogether. In Paris, where a heretofore undistinguished bond trader for the Banque de France, feeling a little dyspeptic, and aware that his trading account was considerably in the red, climbed out on to the waste pipes of the Pompidou Centre after a particularly large and fishy lunch. The prix, he realised, was no longer fixe. Looking down at the salade mixte of wannabe mime artists, the phalanxes of marauding Benelux au pair girls, the West Africans who had swum the Mediterranean to sell glass beads to the natives of the 16ème arrondissement, he may well have been gripped by the urge to let fly with a great red, white and blue-briny torrent.

Top down, or bottom up, the Great Vomit Wave of '08 was underway. Suggestible creatures, humans, and there's nothing more likely to make them feel sick than someone being sick in the vicinity. The repo' men, feeling the yawning pit of their own personal debt, reeled down the windows of their Grand Cherokee and hurled without reservation. The streams merged into a rivulet of sick that snaked along the suburban street. Desperate housewives emerged on to their front stoops, and catching that distinctive acid odour, lost control of their own consumerism; they coughed, they heaved, they brought forth more and more vomit that cascaded down the Carpenter Gothic stairs to join the rivulet; and so it became a river – and then a torrent.

In Paris the hefty plash of the bond trader's spew hit lovers and existentialists without regard for their finer feelings. Liberty, equality, fraternity! What conceivable use could there be for these lofty ideals when puke was all over the Place? But worse, far worse was to come: while the Great Vomit Wave gathered in amplitude and came crashing along the Grandes Boulevards, back in the States the news crews were aloft, the blades of their choppers whipping the colloidal barf into a vortex of Ps and Qs. In the local mall the teenagers looted L L Bean for swimsuits and Bermudas. While actually hurling themselves, they smashed the windows of the surf shop, took the boards, and soon were hanging 10 on the very curling peak of the wave. Surfing in the Midwest! It could only ever happen during such a cataclysm.

The news crews transmitted the terrifying pictures of the barf bore to their stations, and the stations packaged them to the networks, and the networks broadcast them to the world. O! Foolish Humanity! O! Lackaday! When will you melt down the false idol of globalisation! When will you learn to pay attention first and foremost to what's on the end of your own fork! Those sickening images of sick – they, too, were a wave of nausea that coursed around the earth. A Japanese salaryman surfing on his 3G phone; a Brazilian truck driver stopping for a beer at a wayside café, a Kikuyu tribesman lingering outside the window of a TV shop – they all saw the awful images of the Great Vomit Wave, they all felt the spasms, they all coughed the cough, they all smelt the dread regurgitation of all that they'd once ingested.

What is this thing called Man, who eats so many things? Who requires so many services – pampering, petting, smoothing, smooching – simply to keep it all down? For that was the worst thing about the Great Vomit Wave of '08; in the West and the rest of the affluent world, the people threw up stuff they hadn't even particularly wanted in the first place: they felt the searing pain as the corners of electrical goods scraped their gullets; but elsewhere, the poor people dry-heaved, for, wracked by nausea, they had nothing to void.

Central Bankers hastily assembled to discuss the liquidity crisis, and found themselves knee-deep in each other's puke. It was all getting out of hand: parts of Bangladesh, Micronesia and the Netherlands were already undervomit. If there weren't drastic action soon, civilisation would end, not with a bang but H'-h'-h' heuurrregggh! The Prime Minister convened Cobra in the bunker beneath Number 10 Downing Street. All traces of the indecision that had marred the first months of his premiership had vanished: this was a big, tough man – a leader, with his gaze fixed on the verdict of history. "Gentlemen," he said to the police chiefs and army generals, the spooks and the medics. "We must find a way to stop the people puking, but first – " He clapped his hand across his mouth, leapt up, and dashed from the room, the first among a myriad who felt equally nauseous.

Enjoy an evening with Will Self to celebrate the publication of his new novel, 'The Butt', Wed 23 April, 7pm, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London WC1. For tickets, call 0845 456 9876

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