Until this morning, that is.
Through the fax comes an irresistible offer from Serpent's Tail, the classy independent publisher. To celebrate the launch of The Customised Body, by the uber-fetishist Ted Polhemus and his photographer Housk Randall, they are offering selected journalists "one free body piercing at Cold Steel, the London piercing parlour" in the next few days. "You may choose from the many varied types of piercing available for different parts of the body" - but a footnote dismayingly points out that this generous gesture does not extend to earlobes. Just too yawnily passe.
Obviously, I'm tempted. Punching holes in one's epidermis and inserting bits of dangling bijouterie therein has always struck me as a rather odd way of expressing oneself and/or attracting the opposite sex. But I may have got it all wrong. Growing up with the firm conviction that the only chaps who wore earrings were gypsies, it took me a while to realise that the point of the things was not to suggest you were part of some group, as apart from everybody else. When Derek Pringle became the first cricketer in Wisden to wear a stud, or Roddy Doyle got to be the first Booker winner to sport a 9-carat earhole, we thought, Cripes, how different. And the self-cancelling thought crossed your mind: I want to be different, too.
I rushed to the book, whose cover features one of the Cold Steel staff called Dave in full fig: studs through nose and upper lip, rings through lower lip, nipple and ear (my dear ...), black body-paint of spikes and stripes, hair shaved and harvested into back-of-the-head corn-dolly dreadlocks, enormous tattooed horn on the side of bonce ... He is seen canoodling with a balding lady friend of demure, noli-me-tangere appearance, her hair in a complicated arrangement of knots, like Lord Leighton's mermaid, her right breast studded with little silver balls, like a low-rent wedding cake.
Leafing through the book, you take in meat hooks in the nipple, rat skulls on the brow, barbed-wire bracelets, tongue studs (aaaargh), septum rings, and that charming accessory called a "Prince Albert", which is basically a bolt through the trouser-snake. One shy violet called "Fido" has so many bits and bobs, his groin resembles a Gothic high altar.
But after examining the possibilities, a thought struck me. If I were to succumb, at this late stage, to getting my membrum virile punctured, it would just mean I'd start looking like Fido and all the others. I'd be joining in. It would only work if I did something that nobody else had thought of. So I asked Shirley Lowe of Cold Steel: can you do me a bolt through the throat? "No chance," she said, "we don't touch anything that's dangerous or unlikely to heal. Nape of neck, throat, web of fingers, shoulder blade ... They never heal up." How about a crucifix through the cheek? "Mmmm ..." (she sounded dubious), nerves ... arteries ... partroid duct ..." Oh, the hell with it. I'll do it myself. Next week, check out my confident (if slightly painful) swagger as I walk the London streets, secure in the knowledge that I'm the only person around with a ring through his gluteus maximus.
A couple of years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary, finest flower of linguistic research that ever bloomed, etc, came out on CD-Rom. And how we laughed when, after several minutes of bleeping and cheeping as the 20 volumes were being formatted into the system, on to the screen came the words: "This operation has been sucessfully (sic) completed." Har, har, we went - "sucessfully" eh? Not a very good advertisement, is it? My colleague William Hartston, the paper's linguistic snob, contacted the maker and got it corrected. Now Oxford is bringing out its Children's Encyclopaedia on CD Rom. Here it is in my hand. Stilling the children's excited cries, one calls for silence, inserts the CD, listens to the format procedure with an air of deja vu and reads, on the screen: "This operation has been sucesfully (sic) completed." What have they got against double consonants? Will one of the l's be next to go?
The Booker Prize: ah, the grandeur, the pomp, the wood panelling, the flunkeys, the uncomfortable feeling that you're talking complete bollocks to the TV cameras, the champagne, the port, the impossibility of getting a second slice of brioche with your goose liver parfait ... While it's become a very superior black-tie enterprise, it's never without an undercurrent of waywardness. Cynosure of all eyes last night was Clare Short, MP, with her newfound son and his wife, a travelling menage a trois we'll be seeing a lot more of. Most unlikely burst of political correctness came from Shena Mackay - impossibly chic with her snow-white hair, black dinner suit and pink cocktail cigarette - who worried about how, as a strict vegetarian, she could accept a leather-bound edition of her shortlisted work, The Orchard on Fire (would the publishers run to a plastic-bound version?). Most regrettable absence was ex-chairman Sir Michael Caine's spectacularly ballistic stammer, which enlivened every Booker speech in the past 20 years; his replacement, Jonathan Taylor, has yet to find himself a credible verbal tic. Most picturesque image came from Carmen Callil, who attacked some recent critics of the British novel (she named, for instance, James Wood, late of The Guardian, who decamped to America a year ago and whom nobody but Ms Callil takes the least bit seriously). The complaints of such British critics, she said, were "the dying chirrup of imperial misery", reducing the British empire to an expiring canary. And most charming memory of the night came from Mathew Prichard of Booker plc (a man whose name mysteriously lacks two t's), who told me of his summer holidays in Wales as a child, and how, each evening, his grandmother would read a chapter of her new book and invite them to guess the ending. They never got it. The only person who did was his granny's second husband, though he always seemed to be asleep during the recitals. And the grandmother's name? Agatha Christie.Reuse content