New Times,
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  1. Long reads
12 February 2007

Richard’s week

Just because a few pirates have committed atrocities, it doesn't mean they are all bad

By Richard Herring

Last Wednesday I reviewed The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld for the Richard & Judy Book Club. Authors either love or hate the existence of this marketing phenomenon, pretty much depending on whether their work gets featured on it or not.

Although my own book, Talking Cock, has inexplicably never been selected, I was happy to participate, because I love Richard and Judy. Not in an ironic, studenty way (though that is how our relationship began), but sincerely. Richard is the king of foot-near-mouth broadcasting and Judy is his perfect foil, giving him enough rope to hang himself, but then ready to put a stool under his feet at the last minute to prevent his actual demise. This is a metaphor. I am not suggesting this is how they get their kicks.

The book is more than 500 pages, and I’d had just four days to read it, with an important script deadline looming. I had considered reading only the blurb on the back cover and winging it. But I couldn’t lie to my heroes, so I stayed up all night to finish the disappointing middle-brow thriller.

The discussion began with writer and critic Bonnie Greer proving to be unstoppably loquacious, and I wondered if I would get to say anything. After two minutes, she paused for breath and Richard jumped in to ask me about the book’s sexual content. I argued that the author lingered salaciously over the strangulation scenes, but when I opined that the female characters were two-dimensional, Greer launched into another florid soliloquy. I could find no space to retaliate. I ended up saying one more concise and truncated thing, then it was over.

Passing my local nursery just as the children were going in, I was surprised to see that although all the other kids were dressed normally, one boy was wearing an elaborate pirate’s costume. If an adult had made the decision to come to work dressed as a pirate then eyebrows would be raised, but no one was giving this tiny buccaneer a second look. It seems unfair that kids can get away with all sorts of eccentric behaviour.

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Why had just one child turned up for school in costume? Had he got the wrong day for a fancy dress party? Or the right day (but the other kids didn’t want to join in)?

I decided it was most likely that he came from a family of pirates, and his parents had dressed him in this way. The only flaw in this theory was that the man I assumed was his dad was wearing regular dad clothes. But it’s possible that the boy’s mum was a pirate, who had married out of the pirate community, and the couple had compromised: the boy would attend a non-pirate school, but wear the pirate clothes of his ancestors.

When a pirate and a non-pirate marry, there must be many difficult decisions. Just as when a Christian marries a Jew, there might be a heated discussion about whether any boy-child should be circumcised, in the pirate/non-pirate relationship a discussion must take place about whether any progeny will have a hand removed and replaced with a hook.

I don’t want to criticise any culture, but the needless amputation of the limbs of small children seems barbaric and out-moded. But if people have been hacking bits off children for centuries, who am I to say they should stop now?

It’s possible the dad was a pirate who was trying to assimilate into our culture. Ignorant sections of our society will make offensive comments, members of the cabinet are trying to outlaw eye-patches, and you are probably aware of the largely DVD-based advertising campaign discouraging the whole notion of piracy. It’s important to remember that just because a few pirates have committed atrocities, that doesn’t mean they are all bad. It’s a media conspiracy.

Julian Clary is away

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