Just before Christmas, I asked Arthur Meursault – author of my Chinese New Year holiday reading Party Members, a delicious novel about Chinese politics and the holes it enters – to review Last Flight of the Pigeon.
The results were brilliant. You can read the review here. In short, Meursault didn’t really like it.
His three star review on Goodreads is the most generous yet because, unlike other reviewers he isn’t my Godmother or, as he freely admits, someone who understands why anyone would ride a bicycle across China. He also delighted in finding out that I’m basically a poor man’s Alan Partridge.
The sadness in all this was this, not only is the book I’m reading in tandem with Party Members, Nomad by Alan Partridge, but the first draft of Last Flight of the Pigeon started out as a satire of the travel book genre. I bottled it on this approach because, honestly, I’m nowhere near good enough. However, as Meursault notes I’m basically a shandy-ratio Partridge anyway, so lucky readers get the worth of boast worlds.
He also reminded me that my girlfriend is about to be 33. Devastating.
So here is my not-entirely-serious defence to some of his specific comments.
Though I have never slept with a genuine red head, not only have I eaten a triple-decker cheeseburger, I have finished a quadruple-decker cheeseburger on two occasions. I like both mundane and primal challenges. And women with all hair-colours, including bald.
Last Flight of the Pigeon very nearly did become Riding on the Shoulder of Giants but I’d already paid for www.lastflightofthepigeon.com – so I sacked off any kind of honesty in the title for financial reasons ($49.99). It wasn’t a case of not wanting to sell out, though, so if the world’s largest bike manufacturer wants to give me a call about a book, which has been described as “A fantastic read from a truly talented writer” – not my words Michael, the words of someone I’m assuming I went to school with – then they are encouraged to get in touch. As a suggestion, I’d love an all expenses-paid month cycling around Taiwan on one of their best bicycles and a new Lexus but I’ll do it for shop-soiled chocolate oranges from Rawlinsons or anywhere else.
The book would have included, as Mr Meursault suggests it should, a reference to John Shuttleworth’s Pigeons in Flight, had I not made the keen-eyed editorial decision to not include every Google result for last “flight of the pigeon” at a surprisingly late stage in the publishing process.
I talk about pot noodles too much. That much is fair. I haven’t had one since my third-final day of that journey. I’m 20-months clean but still have flashbacks to eating them in my bare feet.
The project manager accusation is pretty much spot on. Obviously, I’m above being a mere project manager, I’ve got a six-figure salary*. Sadly I was never given enough responsibility in the public sector to use an excel sheet, in my new job I spend a good four hours a day on excel. I’m thankful to Meursault for making the comedy references slice of the pie chart quite so large. I would, however, like to analyse that data in close proximity to some tissues and making-do suncream.
If the ‘Lazy liberal side-swipers’ were a political party, I’m sure I’d vote for them. If Meursault had access to my Facebook he’d understand why I found it much easier to dig out my own brethren (they don’t stray far from the farm, those big eared boys) than attack the fundamentally much worse CCP and their disciples. He’d also do well to take the time to scroll down to one particular red head’s gap year photos from 2006. I think he’d enjoy himself in the way I enjoy numbers and charts.
As Meursault notes, I don’t explain a lot about me or why I’m in China, the reasons for this are partly because I self-censored on behalf of others – for a protracted and dull reason that boils down to saving people I like and/or love (in a way) from the possibility of wasting their working day sorting out mess I’ve caused but also because those reasons are irrelevant to the book. I’m not a sinophile, or a sinophobe, I’m here because of my fiancee’s job and a pact we made with the devil about moving abroad.
Meursault is so polite and kind about our differences, namely that he is much more a degenerate than I but therein lies the true sadness of all this. In real life, I am a semi-reformed but still occassionally lapsed degenerate of some quite low-depths. I’m at my happiest when something terrible is causing the fun, I have to fight this in order to retain enough brain cells to function as a human the rest of the time. Unfortunately, by using my real name everywhere and retaining an interest in maintaining my six-figure* salary and the aforementioned hassle it causes friends and loved ones, I’m not writing that shit down yet.
I just didn’t realise this effort at reform had left me 75% Partridge. But the evidence presented by Meursault on this is water-tight.
Even the self-deprecating comment about tossers who think North London is Utopoia, reads like one of Alan’s diatribes about the capital he so wants to be part of but that keeps rejecting him.
As thanks to Meursault and in recognition of his charater assessment I shall reward him with this truth about my past. If we hadn’t been total degenerates at the time and too lazy to put together a highlights package with one of the many technical types who all hated us, then Simon and Ollie’s Charisma Offensive, would have almost certainly come in the top three at the 2004 UK Student Radio Awards. From where a career in local radio surely beckoned. In fact, our second producer (technically fourth after one stormed off and one left for sex reasons) is now managing director at whatever XFM is called now or some other wildly senior role. Ollie is now a corporate lawyer in America.
Needless to say, I haven’t had the last laugh.
*In RMB and a number of other currencies that are worth less than the pound.
Read what it would be like if Alan Partridge cycled across China (Lynn, write down “Cultural Revolutions”) here.