Thursday, September 23, 2021

rhino what you mean

A couple of further notes following the last three book posts: firstly while I'd had The Pope's Rhinoceros knocking around on my shelves for a decade or so (I don't specifically remember where I got hold of it but it may well have been on one of my strictly rationed trips to Hay-on-Wye), I first became aware of its existence some years earlier, during my participation in a truck safari in southern Africa in early 2000, something I see I mentioned towards the end of this 2008 post and even made reference to my travelling companions' selected reading matter. Well, while I'm pretty sure I recall working through several, the only book I specifically remember reading during the trip was John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy Of Dunces, something that earned me some hipster points with the two young American guys who were also on the truck.

There was also a compartment on the truck containing quite a few other paperback books, presumably partly populated by discarded offerings from previous travellers and offered up for the entertainment of current ones, on the understanding that you'd put your chosen book back when you'd finished with it. One of the books in here was an imposing tome called The Pope's Rhinoceros (the same paperback edition that I have) and I recall a conversation ensued about whether anyone had read it and whether someone might have a crack at it during the trip. Since it is literally impossible that I would embark on a trip such as this and fail to bring enough books, I passed at the time.

Back to the two young American guys, who were called Mike and Andy (no surnames for reasons which will become apparent in a minute) - during the last phase of our three-week trip which comprised a few nights in Victoria Falls they decided to cap the trip off by purchasing a load of assorted drugs. They'd managed to get hold of some LSD, and deeming just dropping it in the truck or while gazing on the thunderous watery magnificence of Victoria Falls from the usual viewing platforms to be a bit tame, decided to drop it so that it kicked in just as they were doing a bungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge which connects Zimbabwe and Zambia. I recall being in a local restaurant for a communal meal that evening and Andy, still evidently experiencing some after-effects, spending most of the meal under the table having a whispered conversation with a small carved wooden hippopotamus. 

They also managed to get hold of some weed, and since they had a plane to catch a day before ours, and since we'd partaken of some the night before, the stash ended up in the side pocket of my day-pack in order for us to make use of it round the campfire the following night. It was only on arrival at Victoria Falls airport to catch a plane to Harare that I remembered I still had the remains in my rucksack, whereupon I did a frantic dash for a secluded dustbin to empty it out and blow into the pocket to try and clear any last few telltale seeds and leaf fragments. There is of course a Sliding Doors-style alternate version of my subsequent life where I forgot to do this, got nabbed by the sniffer dogs once we encountered the less lax security regime at Harare airport, and was either summarily shot or spent the next 21 years in a Zimbabwean prison.

Secondly. an odd occurrence relating to the next book on the list, No Great Mischief. In a seemingly unrelated sequence of events, I first became aware of the existence of Canadian comic Norm MacDonald only about six months ago after following some random series of YouTube links. He was one of those guys who was extremely well-regarded by his peers, the sort of guy who'd be described as "the comedian's comedian" or something like that, which basically translates as: not as rich and famous as many of his contemporaries. Many of the YouTube clips (and there are a lot) feature him either being comically disruptive or spinning lengthy shaggy-dog stories on various late-night US talk shows, this being a loosely-structured format that seemed to suit him pretty well, a bit like his UK contemporary Sean Lock. Another thing MacDonald and Lock have in common is that they died this year, both relatively young (Lock was 58, MacDonald 61).

Needless to say after his five minutes of fond remembrance Norm MacDonald has subsequently been Milkshake Duck-ed. I'm certainly not dismissing the allegations, but I guess (just as with To Have And Have Not) you have to find a way of acknowledging that stuff without tipping someone's entire oeuvre down the memory hole. You would certainly have to say, for instance, that he seems to have taken a consistently dim view of female comedians and comedy writers. But, and I don't want to lay a heavy CANCEL CULTURE trip on you here, people contain multitudes, and it would be a shame to only admit to the public sphere those who have never expressed a single thought that deviated from current acceptable cultural norms (pun sort of intended). 

Anyway, back to the book link: in the course of the Jacques de Gautier/Jacques de Gatineau/baby dolphin story MacDonald mentioned his fluidly-named protagonist being from "Timiskaming, Quebec". His rambling, off-the-cuff style of delivery makes it sound as if that was a name he'd just made up on the spot, but not only is it a real place, it coincidentally features in a passage towards the end of No Great Mischief that I read no more than a day or two after first seeing the clip.