The Elected Member

‘Norman, forgive me,’ he said. ‘Forgive. Is all my fault.’ He opened his eyes again and he saw what he was leaving. Two sad unmarried daughters, one with her earnest scheitel, and in another room, his broken son. ‘I failed,’ he muttered. ‘Forgive.’

I’m on book two of my challenge to read each of the 49 (so far) Man Booker Prize winners. I’m attempting them in order, starting with PH Newby’s Something to Answer For, and recently completing Bernice Ruben’s The Elected Member.

If the first book was a disappointment (and it was), then this second one was a much more enjoyable read.

Reminding me in parts of a John Irving book (broken families, incestuous relationships) and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (madness, mental institution), The Elected Member is the story of the once brilliant lawyer Norman Kweck, and his drug-addled downfall. Of course, his fall from glory doesn’t just affect him, and throughout we learn of the damage he has inflicted upon his mother, father and sisters.

I would definitely recommend this one, even if it gets a wee bit too religious for my tastes towards the end.

Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal

Eddy Merckx
Eddy Merckx

Two main thoughts linger at the closing of is book.

The first is that Daniel Friebe’s writing is easy, low impact and conversational – for the first half of the book, at least. Around halfway, he seems no longer convinced by the usefulness of Dino Zandegú as an occasional, comedy narrator and, around the same time, loses that intimate tone – although it does make a reappearance for the final chapter.

He speaks quickly, Eddy Merckx. His eyebrows are almost permanently raised, not in surprise but arched almost like brackets around everything he says, or around everything he is; almost as if to say, ‘I’m telling you this, but you have to remember that I’m Eddy Merckx, and not even I know what that means…’ That, at least, is my impression. It could be just a mannerism.

The second is that, even after reading and enjoying this book, I don’t feel that I know the man any more than I did at the start.

The last chapter does show a side of Merckx that rarely appears up to that point in the book, with the result that he remains, to me at least, an enigma. Friebe fails to uncover the man behind the man, so to speak. In this way, Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal works as an allegory (am I using that word correctly?) to Merckx’s life, in that that he only really seems to soften in his later years.

Merckx’s most attractive and long- hidden qualities, particularly his warmth and humour, have risen slowly to the surface, above his natural shyness and suspicion.

If it’s a truism that sporting heroes are either flawed and psychologically impaired; or tirelessly professional and so good as to be robotic, then – although he has his moments – Merckx is definitely in the latter camp. In fact, a lot of Friebe’s book made me want to read more about his 60s and 70s Belgian compatriots, De Vlaeminck and Van Looy, both of whom seem much more interesting, if far less successful (but isn’t everyone?).

This might read like I’m picking up on what Friebe didn’t get, and how he didn’t write, but I don’t mean that to be the case. In fact, I’d be keen to pick up more of his writing in the future, but I’m less convinced by Merckx as the subject of a book, great cyclist that he was.

We Have the Numbers

I have a tattoo.

Actually, I’ve got a few but there’s one in particular that I’d like to write about today. First, though, a note on the aforementioned Radical Independence Conference.

In a previous post, I bumped my gums about those post-referendum blues, and sang the praises of the RIC, I wrote that I had changed irrevocably. But a funny thing happened while I was listening to Myshele Haywood talk, and perhaps that’s not completely true.

Myshele Haywood is an expat American, living and working in Aberdeen, and campaigning for Radical Independence in her (I’m sure very limited) spare time. Haywood was part of the opening plenary session and she talked about her own political history, and her path to independence.

Did you ever suddenly realise something obvious about yourself? People who cared about what happened to their neighbours suddenly realised they were political. People who wanted to help others suddenly realised they were activists. People who thought we should maybe be nice to each other suddenly realised they were radicals.

Ultimately, Haywood believes that none of this is radical in the slightest.

I don’t think it’s particularly radical, what we’re talking about here. Let’s not kill each other. Let’s not dump poisons into our air and water. Let’s share our resources and try to make sure everyone has a decent, dignified life. How fucked up is our current system that it requires radical change just to meet the standards of basic human values?

Which brings me to my tattoo.

As part of the closing plenary, Alan Bissett delivered his People’s Vow, halfway through which was the following passage.

We Vow to end the austerity which has become the creed of the London elite. To solve a crisis created by the rich, they say, the public must suffer. We reject their crusade against the poor, both its inefficiency and its immorality. They have the money, but we have the numbers. [emphasis mine]

In 2003 I got married in Las Vegas, and visited San Francisco as part of the same trip. Near our San Francisco hotel, I took a photograph of some graffiti, with the explicit intent of getting it tattooed at a later date.

A photograph of some graffiti, taken in San Francisco.
A photograph I took of some graffiti, San Francisco.

While Bissett talked in tones of overthrowing the Government, I thought of my tattoo and both its relevance then and its relevance now. Why do I have an overtly political statement on my back? I’ve never quite been sure; it just always seemed right.

So, when I tell myself I’ve changed, I’m not totally convinced that I have.