It was a Saturday afternoon, and I needed to buy some paint. For some reason – even though it was raining, and I hate making the journey in the rain – I chose not to buy the paint at a shop close to me in Stockwell, but instead to travel to one in Clapham. I decided to get there by taking the Underground to the nearest station, and then walking across Clapham Common, even though I find Clapham Common an oppressive and unpleasant space in the best of weather, and much worse when it’s raining. I took my dog with me, relieved that, now he’s two years old, he no longer attracts the same amount of attention from strangers that he used to when he was a puppy.
As I trudged across a deserted Clapham Common in the rain, I was very busy. Firstly, I was picking up sticks and throwing them for my dog: he chased after them, but didn’t bring them back. Secondly (and somewhat surprisingly, since this is a regular walk for me), I was making mental observations to myself about prominent buildings, historical figures who had lived locally, and the modern-day social fabric of the area. In addition to this already impressive level of mental activity, I was also managing to listen to and absorb a discussion on the podcast version of Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 discussion programme, In Our Time.
I very much enjoy the experience of listening to Melvyn Bragg present In Our Time on Radio 4. Hearing his distinctive voice provides me with an opportunity to remember that I am an excitingly glamorous showbiz figure, and that I was once the subject of an episode of The South Bank Show, and Melvyn Bragg came to my house to interview me. It also provides me with an opportunity to recall how I once demonstrated my fearless political radicalism by mildly criticising Lord Bragg for taking a seat in the House of Lords. I also like listening to Radio 4 because – thanks to my status as a glamorously exciting showbiz figure – I quite often hear my glamorous and exciting showbiz friends talking on it. In fact, it happens so often that my family and I have adapted the Radio 4 advertising slogan – “Radio 4 [i.e. for] curious minds” – to our own purposes. “Radio 4 people we know”, we say, and then fall about laughing, intoxicated by the intensity of our razor-sharp wit.
Of all the programmes on Radio 4, In Our Time is a particular pleasure, because its facile pseudo-intellectualism persuades a facile pseudo-intellectual like me that actually I’m really intelligent. Sometimes, if another facile pseudo-intellectual and I are struggling to think what to say to each other in an awkward social encounter, we’ll bond over our love for the facile pseudo-intellectualism of In Our Time. Quite apart from that, though, I like listening to Melvyn Bragg bully his guests into giving reductive answers to complex and nuanced questions. It made me really happy one time to hear one of the guests – a world-renowned expert in her field – being richly humiliated for the crime of pronouncing someone’s name correctly. I also glory in the thought that people who actually know the first thing about the topic under discussion will find listening to the programme acutely painful.
As I wander across this drizzly south London park, throwing sticks for a dog who never brings them back, ruminating on the historical, architectural and social nature of the area I’m walking through, and listening to a radio 4 discussion programme, I demonstrate that there’s no apparent limit to the number of things I can do simultaneously by suddenly recalling that a politician got into trouble in this very area. Despite the fact that this happened almost 12 years ago, I am able instantly to remember that the politician’s name was Ron Davies; that he met and befriended a young man in the park one dark evening; and that he then had his car, mobile phone and house keys stolen from him. Most impressively of all, I am even able to recollect in perfect detail the subsequent trajectory of Mr Davies’ political career, together with salient quotations from the man himself.
This impressive feat of instantaneous perfect recall reminds me that, during my frequent walks in this part of Clapham Common, I quite often come across discarded condoms. These discarded condoms look like slugs to me, which, given that a condom looks absolutely nothing like a slug, suggests either that I’ve never seen a slug before, or that I think ramming my cock into the brutalised entrails of an expiring mollusc is an essential precursor to sex. Perhaps I’m just a really bad writer, and couldn’t think of a better simile.
Anyway, I’m not quite sure what I think about cruising (or at least that’s what I say here, despite the fact that my comments later on make it crystal clear that I know precisely what I think about cruising). One thing I’m certain of is that the desire or necessity to have open-air sex in a semi-public area is something that’s exclusive to gay men, and there’s absolutely no chance that the condoms may have been discarded by heterosexuals. Clearly, there’s no such thing as dogging, and straight teenagers are never forced into having sex in the local park because their parents won’t let them do it in their bedrooms. The only people who ever have sex out of doors are homosexuals, so I’m quite justified in giving full-rein to my speculations as to why those strange, alien creatures choose to have sex somewhere where the accidental flash of headlight on naked buttock might frighten the horses, or, at the very least, motorists.
It’s also entirely fair and balanced of me, when I briefly come over all Helen Lovejoy and start exclaiming “Won’t somebody please think of the children!?!”, to assume it’s those nasty ‘other’ human beings – the homosexual ones – who are doing these awful childhood-innocence-destroying things. Every heterosexual, after all, has the best interests of children at heart, so none of them could ever – even unthinkingly – do something that could conceivably cause distress or discomfort to a child. Only the homosexuals – those strange creatures who are completely other to nice, ordinary people like me (and you as well, since, obviously, no homosexuals will ever read this) – would do something so horrifically depraved as dropping something they were carrying.
My sudden concern for children was the result, you see, of suddenly finding a dildo lying on the path in front of me. I was horrified by this frightening apparition, struck deaf by it, so I no longer heard the comforting burble of Melvyn Bragg’s facile pseudo-intellectualism in my ears. I’m not sure what disturbed me the most – was it the redness and translucence of the plastic it was made from? The fact that it was a lot bigger than my own dick (it was nearly ten inches long – the horror! the horror!)? The fact that it was anatomically accurate, with veins, and everything? Or the fact that the main body of the dildo was artful, pseudo-biological, but it was attached to a bare metal handle? I think I’m going to plump for that last one, and make a weak joke about it looking like a Cyberman’s penis (and successfully suppress the thought that now it’s me doing the creepy association of something belonging to childhood with adult sexuality).
I decided that I couldn’t leave the dildo where it was lying – won’t somebody please think of the children!?! – but I also didn’t want anyone to think that I, Will Self, glamorous showbiz personality, was the sort of person who creeps furtively around public parks grasping a large red dildo. So I looked round carefully, and made sure there was no-one in eyeshot, and that there was a bin near by, and then I picked up the dildo to carry it to the bin. As I did so, my dog thought it was another stick I was throwing for him, and he bounded around yapping excitingly, and I thought to myself, “Well, you wouldn’t get this on In Our Time, would you?”