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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Boobs, All Blacks and The End of the World

Posted in: Books
By Jay Bennie - 6th April 2008

When gay British author Duncan Fallowell observed in his just released book that on the whole he liked New Zealand and our way of life, and had a fine old time while he was here, he also noted a few reservations. In part two of his chat with Jay Bennie he backgrounds his criticisms, urges the All Blacks to deliver on their bisexuality and predicts a catastrophic end to the world as we know it.

Duncan Fallowell
Going As Far As I Can was the result of a lengthy progress through New Zealand as Duncan Fallowell sought to re-establish his perspective on his life and his world. It was leaked early to the glee of those who took their rabid cues from the manufactured media outrage. We tend to dress rather too casually for Fallowell's tastes, we sport too many tattoos, our womenfolk hide their boobs and we destroy too many of the buildings that constitute our architectural heritage.  

"I expected a reaction," says Fallowell, "because a writer who doesn't is obviously writing the wrong stuff. What I wasn't expecting was the book to be leaked in this cock-eyed manner about six weeks before publication. So I was being charged with things in mid-air sort of thing, without relation to anything... not with relation to anybody having read the book. So it was very weird to have been targeted in midair without any reason.

Thanks to the internet, the howls of outrage homed in on him halfway around the world. "I just opened up my website one day - the day after the Sunday Star-Times had broken the story on the front page saying, I think, 'Brit author slams New Zealanders as fat and ugly', and so I thought, 'talk about the tail wagging the dog'. And I just thought at first that something else had happened. I didn't know what had happened, and then when I opened some of these emails, I realised that there were a number of people who were cheerleading me via cyberattack. One particular girl called Cora seems particularly keen on 'getting me' - by emailing all her friends all over the world to 'get' me and stuff. And so I just didn't open them - I just took them all off. Just to clean my computer."

So, he's not a fan of tattoos. "No, I think they're always ugly, for the same reason that body piercing is ugly. I like a natural body, I like the body that God gave us. I know people should make the best of themselves, with haircuts and all that. And I don't like beards... you know what they say, 'never trust a man with a beard. I like the body to be as natural as possible. All this trimmed pubes and stuff is cringeful."

Fallowell's book: Going As Far As I Can
What about the current obsession amongst gay men, and increasingly amongst straight men as well, for the body beautiful, the buff body, there's surely something pleasing to the eye about a well developed physique. "I think that's a bore as well. I can't stand all this fiddling about." There's a pause and for just a fragment of a moment Fallowell seems to be softening his stance: "But lots of people do find tattoos and piercings extremely arousing... I think it's because they need something. They need some kind of permission, before they can have a sexual reaction. In other words, what the piercing and tattooing does - under these circumstances - is say 'I'm a bit of a wild person and you can have a sexual reaction to me'… but I don't need that type of sexual reaction. I often have sexual reactions to people who aren't even remotely interested in me, or remotely wild, but I soon find that out, don't I?"

Bosoms. We've just had Brit TV style gurus Trinny and Suzannah here, and like Fallowell, thay say our women should make more of their boobs… "Oh really? So it's not just me?" Is this all a British obsession with bringing them out, or a New Zealand obsession with covering them up? "Well I know a lot of people in Britain who say they should be putting them back in again. And now we have rather a lot of puritan Muslim people who go round completely covered from head to toe, so the debate is obviously going to rage indefinitely." Speaking of covering up, there was Fallowell's comment about our lack of sartorial flair. "I just think that New Zealand has a much more outdoor culture than we do, and what I was seeing on the whole was both sexes going around wearing more or less the same thing, which is gardening clothes a lot of the time. So he doesn't like 'casual' clothes. "Ah, casual is not the same, I mean convenience outdoor clothes, for doing hedges and things. Clothes you would wear for practical tasks out of doors. Casual clothes you could wear to the Savoy or the Ritz.

Speaking of grand old institutions, doesn't every growing city end up demolishing its past to make way for the future? Notoriously, whole swathes of 19th century Manhattan, the mansions of the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies and a thousand others were sacrificed to commercial realities. Aren't inner cities, which traditionally encompass most of a country's glorious architecture, always going to see some of those past glories sacrificed? "Yeah but not in quite the mad way you've done it. [Britain] did it a lot in the '60's. But we have so much here. You drive five miles into what we call our countryside, and you will pass five hundred historic buildings. You don't have that much in New Zealand in terms of historic architecture, and there is no need at all to destroy what you do have. You've got the space. You don't have to knock down a beautiful historic building to put up a skyscraper."

Remembering Christchurch's United Service Hotel or His Majesty's Theatre in Auckland or the original Seaview mental hospital north of Dunedin or any number of other sadly vanished grand buildings, it's hard to disagree with Fallowell, but what about the bits of New Zealand that he liked? Where, for example, would he most like to live if he was to return? "Lots of places. I would love to live in Devonport. I would love to live in Akaroa but I wish it were a bit nearer Christchurch. I would love to live on Great Barrier Island. I haven't been there but that's one thing I'd very much like to do when I come back. I would love to live in Rockville, near Collingwood, the place where the early settlers' museum was. I'd love to live there, it was so wonderful. I had an incredible feeling when I was driving through there. Any place called Rockville has got to be worth living in! But it was sublime." Maybe its worth noting that places like Devonport, Akaroa and Rockville have all largely escaped the developers' wrecking balls and retain the charm of past eras.

Maybe it was sublime moments like his brief time in Rockville, and the series of raunchy encounters with ordinary kiwi blokes in Christchurch and Auckland that steered Fallowell through the self examination that led to his self-revelation. He certainly went home to London more relaxed in himself. "I'm [still] re-living the journey in many ways. But I'm a little bit quieter inside. And I'm thankful for that. New Zealand has cleansed me."

Speaking of kiwi blokes, what does this articulate and verbally fearless pom make of some of the male icons we look up to, the men who seem to define us as male New Zealanders? " His impression of the late Sir Edmund Hillary is of "Inner silence.... [and] I thought it was appalling that a member of the Royal Family didn't attend his funeral." The All-Blacks? "If they were to tap into their bisexuality, it would improve their game." Huh? "B y making them a bit more conscious of their fitness. Rugby here is turning  rather glamorous. The French started it with their Gods of the Stadium calendar, where all the guys just look amazing. And their game has improved now that people look at them as physical gods. Not is just sort of grunting lumps. That means that they're very happy with their gay audience as well as their straight audience, and their latest calendar has a lot of homoerotic overtones. It's all deliberate, and it's all done with very light-hearted Gallic charm."

As we near the end of our conversation, Fallowell takes a few minutes to elaborate on a fatalistic undertone to Going As Far As I Can, a sense of trying to learn how to calmly face the bleakly inescapable. "It's a very modern book. It's a 21st century book, with a lot of nostalgia in it. And there's a lot of urgency about it, and people shouldn't get sidetracked into thinking it's just about going to New Zealand and being snotty or being clever at your expense. It's really a state of the world book, which happened to take place in New Zealand. In the way it's written and the things it's talking about, it's all about the anxiety of the 21st century. Of where we're going. It's not really a book burying its head in the past, or an appeal for a return to the past. At some level, beyond what's going on, it's a terrible warning about the future."

Fallowell confronts his sense of doom head on. "Our planet's heading for disaster. People have said that sometimes I seem angry, but it's not anger in the book, it’s terror. Terror of where the whole world is going, not just New Zealand. Suddenly the lightness, the effortless charm disappears from Fallowell's voice, the mood is dark, All Gore without the optimism. "We're heading towards a huge catastrophe and it's very close. And it's this fact that creates the energy and the ambiguity and potency in the book. That’s what I feel, very strongly." In the face of global catastrophe "the only two things that we can hold onto are our sense of humour and our sense of pleasure. That's all. It's all going to end very soon… the world's at the point of going up in flames. In the black wastes between galaxies humanity will be the echo of a chuckle." Pause. "I thought you'd want a jolly note to end on."

Jay Bennie - 6th April 2008