“Psycho Too”

Words by Will Self. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman.

The sequel to Psychogeography. Another long essay (this time on Dubai) followed by collected columns on the theme of “psychogeography” — the intersection of psychology and location. Rereading the first volume, it’s not my imagination that the essays are less focused in Too, but it’s an intriguing read. Steadman is best known as Hunter Thompson’s illustrator, but this book again confirms that while Thompson may have begun to decline by the late ’70s, Steadman never even slowed down.

A few snippets:


You will die in a hotel room — I will die in a hotel room; we will all die in a hotel room, because at the moment of death — with Larry King on CNN, looking like Kermit the Frog, and with angels playing the worst muzak ever — you, me — we — will all realize that our accommodation has always been temporary. I showered in the desalinated Arabian Sea, turned off the air conditioning and swooned in the homogeneity. Dawn swam down on me through dynasties of dreams — couplings of eunuchs and multiple wives, real-estate agents hard-selling me office space in the seraglio — I went to the window and looked out across the residential suburb of Al Sufouh, to where on the horizon sunlight gilded the Burj Al Arab, and for a moment you could almost believe it was a minaret and this was a populous city with a human scale. (p. 43-44)


The hermit who most influenced my own life was called Peter Buxton. He lived in a curious hut which adjoined the even more curious cottage of an old friend of my father’s in a Suffolk seaside village. Creek Cottage was a series of ramshackle wooden extensions bolted on to an inner sanctum of ordinary brickwork. In the extensions bunk beds were fabricated at odd angles and inappropriate heights, many of them furnished with their own bookshelves and plant boxes. You could lie all day under an exploding eiderdown, reading Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography and listening to the creak of weatherboarding, while the tendrils of a spider plant tickled your nose. Or else venture outside into a soused world of salt-water creeks, reed beds and sand dunes, with a derelict windmill in the mid-distance signalling the victory of the elements. (p. 83, 85)


Ah! Dancing — it’s wasted on the young. When you’re a young man, in the full blush of burgeoning sexuality, dancing can be a bit of a torment. As I bopped to ‘Killer Queen’ in my asinine, bell-bottomed trousers, I could never quite rid myself of the suspicion that my every spasm and contortion was being filmed by secret cameras, and that soon this footage would be screened in the local Odeon, so that all my so-called friends could come along to laugh and point.

True, young women seem to dance quite happily together, but I don’t believe them to be where they physically are when they do it. Rather, they are transported into a parallel bower, and here they frolic, like stateless naiads. The male dancer is an agonized demonstration of putative prowess, a mapping out of desire: ‘Come to my place,’ the he-bee buzzes, ‘I’ve got lots of alcoholic honey.’ By contrast, the dancing queens are so many pretty blooms all in a row. The more they move, the more they remain static, luring us insects into their flytraps. (p. 135)


When night falls, we leap into our Chrysler MPVs and race in convoy through the faux-adobe towns and parched hillocks of the hinterland, to where temporary car park attendants wave torches, assigning Porsches and Ferraris to the dusty ditch. We debouch, and follow soused starlets, tottering like newborn foals on high-hoofs, into parties organized for friendless internet billionaires by unpopular retail millionaires. Barmen mix mojitos with all the time in the world, while you wait in a queue of hair care product tycoons and Russian wives-by-the-hour. A man taps you on the shoulder: he once sold you a shirt, in Soho, in the last millennium. (p. 79, 82)

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