Under the pigeon-shit railway bridge

JULY 07 03

I was thinking walking down the street in the blaring sunshine nursing a hangover that this isn't the first time lately I'm heading home next morning. Must be a theme I'm developing. I recall earlier on in the evening Hogan* had said, rather uncharacteristically I thought:

'I think we should skip the beers…'

Before I had time to digest this turnaround to a healthier lifestyle: '… and head straight for the cognac.'

I blow bubbles in my wine.

I recall I won a fiver off him because he thought it was W H Auden who wrote:

Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

and I of course was quite certain it was T S Eliot, from Rhapsody on a Windy Night.

To be honest I didn't feel particularly drunk as we sat in the bar listening to a French bird sing. A chanteuse. She had a bad tattoo of a parrot on her shoulder. Funnily enough we were discussing women and tattoos earlier on. I was saying I liked a tattoo on a woman. But then I added:

'So long as it's a good tattoo.'

But then Hogan asked: 'What if it's shockingly beautiful woman and a bad tattoo?'

'I take your point.'

As for the degeneration that set in, Hogan blames the 'Sours' we played Spoof for. I'm not sure what I blame, apart from throwing coins under the lamplight to see whether to stroll along to the 'C' bar for another, or two, or whether to just go home. The coin toss made it quite plain: Go home. But as we were walking to the station Hogan says:

'Well if we're going to do it again with the coins, it has to be decisive.'

'I thought the coin had already decided?'

'If it's something decisive, using three coins, and they're all heads or all tails, then that would indicate that destiny was pulling us towards the bar, because that's less likely.'

'Well, that would be moving yang or moving yin I guess, both indicate decisive movement, although moving yin might indicate holding back. But that depends how you assign heads and tails.'

We were passing under the neon-soaked pigeon-shit railway bridge by this time.

'Okay,' I said, 'three coins.'

Hogan lifts his hand, it's three tails, or three heads, I forget which, three anyway.

'Ah well,' I say, 'I'll kip at your place then.'

Efes Turkish bottled beer, Raki, peanuts, roll-ups. We're there till the shadow of the caging being hooked onto the window outside falls across the table with the streetlight.

Rolled in, Hogan turns the TV on thinking I might want to watch it, which surprises me, what's going to be on at 2:30 on a Sunday-into-Monday morning but rubbish? But after he's gone to bed a French film comes on Channel 4. I was going to switch it off, not feeling in the mood for a French film, but then I notice it's the film of Michel Houellebecq's Extension du domaine de la lutte, only one of my favourite novels, in translation under the title Whatever. A superb satire of modern alienation told through the empty lives of two guys who can't get laid, bitingly despairing and bleak but also superbly funny, which Houellebecq followed up with the even better Les Particules élémentaires ('Atomised' in the UK, 'The Elementary Particles' in the US), which makes Whatever look like a mere apéritif. Michel Houellebecq is certainly one of the best writers around today. He lays bare the inner dialogue of despair and makes it funny at the same time.

Drunk with a headache I stayed the course, pronouncing the film quite brilliant by the final scene, despite the fact that they made the ending more hopeful (or perhaps because of it?). It's hard, I find, not to identify with Houellebecq's ordinary heroes, it seems like the truth laid too bare to stand and I want to start immediately writing of my own despair and social embarrassment and vulnerability, yet also it is not the whole truth – for some it is of course and in that there is great compassion lurking in his writing despite the rabid misanthropy. But for me it's not the whole truth because I can decide to snap out of that way of looking at life and act differently. Yet the past and the effect it has had on us does tend to linger, this is true. The situations I used to find excruciating, that I would like to think everyone at some point has found excruciating – sitting in clubs watching other guys get off with women but feeling inhibited oneself – these days don't affect me, but they have left a legacy of aloofness and distance in those situations that perhaps is not really my friend. Houellebecq makes you think about these things head-on, he's a very brave writer.

'I'm a child who no longer has the right to tears.'


– from Michel Houellebecq's 'La poursuite du bonheur'

'Women in his novels all end up dead or hurt. He propositions every female interviewer he meets. And his drinking and depression can leave him semi-comatose. But Louise Wardle still didn't realise how difficult it would be to make a film about Michel Houellebecq.'


Guardian, Friday April 5, 2002

'Houellebecq's just a little guy who can't get enough sex. That's it, isn't it?'


– Will Self (who I met once in the Groucho and found boring and vain, much like his writing)

Houellebecq article in the Guardian: Why I want to be cloned.

* Joel Biroco can write whatever he wants but I would like to point out that these accounts may well be entirely fictional. – S. Hogan.