My Book Of The Year

Food comes slightly after sex and just ahead of the music of Purcell in my list of favourite things. I read cookery books like novels and occasionally cook like a novelist. But I suppose I have always regarded food from a sensuous point of view, certainly not from a social, political or economic standpoint. Until that is, I read this book called Technological Eating, by Magnus Pyke. It was published in February, is slim (107pp) and quite expensive (£2.50). But it is truly mind-bending in that it bends the thought into all sorts of directions, not all intimately connected with food.

Dr Pyke is President of the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the United Kingdom, but before pelting him with slings of rehydrated potatoes and spun-protein steaks consider his thesis. His book is really about the way in which technology affects social behaviour and he believes (and most surely demonstrates) that by discussing oven-ready chickens and fish fingers we can learn more about what technology is doing than by thinking about communication satellites or nuclear power-stations. This is one reason why his book is so good, so readable, his examples and subject-matter are everyday things that we all have intimate experience of.

He is saying, quite simply, that the application of technology to food is breaking down all hitherto accepted social structures; food becomes increasingly distanced from man. The only possible provenance for a fish finger is a factory, so where do dietary laws come in? Technology is a divisive influence

in society and he compares the fragmentation of Western industrial communities with the coherence of the extended family system “in which claim to quite distant cousinship is a valid title to food, shelter and support”.

I recommend this book for its facts – did you know that a large American engineering firm had devised a lettuce harvesting machine that picks up four rows at once. It is so efficient that only 600 machines would be needed to harvest all the lettuces in the world. The engineering firm is reluctant to manufacture it.

I recommend this book for its ability to move thought from big, unmanageable concepts towards simple, everyday experience that has a greater effect.

I recommend this book for its humanity, wit, sense and eventual optimism, for its sharp criticism of our consumer-conscious society fixed on acquisition and money value.

Tecs Really Pack A Rod

A QUEER KIND OF DEATH; A PARADE OF COCKEYED CREATURES; I, SAID THE DEMONall written by George Baxt, Jonathan Cape, at £1.05 each.

The above three books are not new publications but I like them so much I feel they are well worth bringing attention to. All are detective novels, the first A Queer Kind Of Death is, strictly speaking, the only gay one of the three. This concerns the departure by electrocution of one Ben Bentley, actor and model, from the world of the living. What a world it is as well, slick, bitchy, homosexual Americana, it positively glitters with decadent (in the best sense) wit.

The main suspect of Ben’s murder is his ‘room mate’ Seth Piro hotly pursued in more ways than one, by the best kind of gay detective, brown and beautiful Pharoh Love. This isn’t cheap humour, this is high glorious camp satire and fun with a surprise ending to beat them all, a gem.

A Parade of Cockeyed Creatures introduces another detective, recently deprived by death of wife and son, Max van Larsen. This one concerns the disappearance of Tippy Blaney a poetic but vigorous seventeen year old with parents of doubtful character. Max is helped in his search for Tippy by one Sylvia Plotkin, twelve stone of cuddly kosher sense and sensibility. As Tippy’s schoolmistress she is everything a teacher ought to be, but never is, and a good portion of the novel is devoted to relationship with Max, which reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Lots of camp characters, a necrophile classmate, ‘The Prince of Darkness’, a dirty old man with a taste for twelve year olds, plus an assortment of thugs, kinks and general exotica. Nice.

I, Said The Demon is the last word in ‘a laugh in every line’ humour. Baxt has in this book refined the style of the earlier two into the most superslick distortion of reality. Pure celluloid fantasy most of it, I literally cried with laughter at the most amazing plot and caricatures of characters that has ever crossed my well-read path.

Max van Larsen again, cross with Sylvia Plotkin, because she has written a book on their previous case together. So had Max, and not even a love as great as Abelard and Heloise, Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar, can remain unscathed when Sylvia becomes a literary celebrity. The case this time concerns the disappearance in 1932 of crooked Judge Kramer, his mistress and forty-thousand dollars.

The craziest characters yet, Lita the Judge’s wife, a prima donna who sings in a soundproof room, Chloe and Romona, two ex-Ziegfield girls approaching ripe old age in the Gothic monstrosity of a Church they live in. Also starring a seeress from Seventh Avenue, Gypsy Marie Rachmaninoff whose son is a hunchbacked peeping Tom called Quasimodo, the divine, divine Madame Vilna ex-star of the Yiddish Theatre who delivers lines that will send you rolling over the floor.

This is the best of the bunch, a really slick piece of work, lines like…

“When did you last see your husband?”
“Half way up the Empire State Building swatting aeroplanes.”…

setting the general tone.

A great book which would make a nice present for a friend with a movie camp sense of humour.

Everything You Want To Know About Headhunters Before It’s Too Late To Ask

PANJAMON, by Jean Yves Domalain. Translated by Len Ortzen. Rupert Hart-Davis; £1.95.

If you ere fascinated by the idea of twentieth century head-hunting (in Borneo, not Earls Court) this is a book for you. The author is a young zoologist, with a penchant for snakes, who hitch-hiked to Sarawak and became the guest of a Dayak tribe who still take pride in decorating the communal longhouse with captured heads (‘panjamon’ means ‘cutting off heads’).

While enjoying a monumental booze-up on tuak, rice wine, Jean-Yves accidentally asked for the chief’s daughter in marriage, by using a traditional form of words in praising her dancing. He accepted his fate philosophically — the alternative might have been the addition of a white head to the collection — and stayed with the tribe for many months, becoming a proficient hunter, and keeping up his reputation as an accomplished drinker. He also seems to have established some sort of a rapport with his fifteen year old wife.

Incidental experiences included elaborate tattooing using soot from the candle flame and a hardwood needle, and some coolly described initiation rites including a trench full of red ants, and twenty two days surviving alone in the deep jungle. Domalain’s descriptions of the jungles and its animals are clear and interesting, and if he fails to bring the people of the tribe to life in the same way, perhaps that is because of the immense distance between the world of the Dayaks and our own.

On one hunting expedition, he avoids attack by a boar, kills a fine stag with poisoned darts from a blowpipe, and heads for home with the meat. The following quote illustrates the terse, intriguing quality of the best passages. ‘I heard a short growl some distance away, which I could not at first identify … then I saw a boar, much nearer than I had thought … I slipped the blowpipe from my shoulder and, keeping my eye on the boar, I fumbled for a dart. The animal was only thirty feet away. It was a fine target for a blowpipe.

‘Piff!’ In reply came a loud growl. The animal spun round and sighted me at once. In such an event, according to the ‘Hunters Manual’, the thing to do is to put one knee to the ground and point the spear-tipped blowpipe at the charging animal, not forgetting of course, to jump aside at the last moment … I received a violent blow and was sent flying several feet into what is called a bearded palm – a small tree covered with inch-long prickles … However, at that moment I was far less interested in the flora (in spite of the pricks) than in the fauna. Luckily the boar had ‘swallowed’ the spearhead, had run full-tilt into it and was literally impaled on the blowpipe; which did not prevent it from flailing about and kicking up the Devil’s own row. Despite its awful wound, it managed to get to its feet and prepared to charge me again. Just then the end of the blowpipe got caught in the foot of a tree and broke off. The boar fell to the ground and stayed there, blood bubbling from its mouth.’

This and other hunter’s tales enliven the book, which is translated by Len Ortzen, although the occasional pedantic phrase does ring false. Eventually, although accepted by most of the tribe, Jean-Yves makes an enemy of the witch-doctor (almost Rice-Burroughs, this bit, with quarrels oy the river and the attempted poisoning of our hero). He packs his precious notebooks and films, and makes an efficient escape, employing some tricks which should have made his Dayak teachers proud of him, if they survived the man-trap and a snare barbed with poisoned darts, which he set to stop them following him.

‘Panjamon’ is a good read, although perhaps it’s worth going to the library rather than buying it, and I recommend it as a present for any friends with the wanderlust – if head-hunting and live insects for dinner are their trip, they’ll vanish tomorrow, otherwise you should find them more than ready to appreciate home comforts.

The Beardsley Book

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The above is The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors by Aubrey Beardsley. It is taken from Beardsley a well documented biography recently published by Pelican at 5Op.

Fascinating, if academic history of one of the most interesting Decadent artists. At times it is bewildering, especially about Beardsley’s sexuality. But the pictures are nice.

Paper Covered Thrills

ALL IS WELL by Dick Vanden, Olympia Press, 70p.

Another gay goodie from Olympia Press, All Is Well is a much more (dare I use the word) serious book than Frost. It’s the story of a man’s long and tortuous path to reasonable honesty and his inner being. His relationships with his wife and children are vividly portrayed especially with his son Chuck, a 16-year-old sharing his bed with another boy.

Father really begins to come out after he accidentally takes some Mescaline and is saved from the horrors of a bad trip by his son. This turns into the most beautifully described acid trip I have ever read. Vanden slowly and compulsively takes us through a man’s mind as a whole new way of thought hits him with the power of a space rocket.

This is an intricate, beautiful, fantastic, red raw honest novel which at the expense of sounding trite every gay ought to have. Get it, could be good for you.

FROST by Richard Amory. Olympia Press, 70p.

The American way of life in sunny California is the background to this fast (incredibly plotted) gay thriller about a father planning to kill his son told against a landscape of black-white relationships, sexcapades and drugs.

It’s a fast moving but a complicated story. The sexual encounters are unbelievably (wow) exciting and by this I mean the sensually* sexy and not silly unbelievable porn fantasy.

I must say though I enjoyed it much more as an erotic novel than a thriller, but those who like the author’s ‘Loon Trilogy’ will find it well worth reading.