Monday, 2 March 2009

In Which There Is A Secret (Also Dead Goats)

It's the Bath Festival of Literature again - which is a Good Thing. I did have a ticket to see Ben Goldacre at the weekend, but was feeling unwell and didn't go, which was sad, and which meant that tonight's event was the first one I had been to this year.

It was a 1 hour reading / Q&A with Jon Ronson.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Jon is an investigative journalist and documentary maker, who also had a weekly column in the Guardian newspaper for around 2 years, which was how I became familiar with his work.

Jon made a documentary for Channel4 (and then wrote a book) called ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ which is about the US Military and their attempts to harness various psychic powers. This has been made into a film, starring Ewan McGregor and George Clooney.


I turned up at the Bath Guildhall, and spent a little time milling aimlessly around in the foyer, as the doors to the room had not been opened. Once this minor issue was resolved, however, around 100 of us trooped in and settled down.

Jon started by reading us several short pieces which had started life as Guardian columns.

The first related to having found himself inadvertently making obscene gestures to a teenage girl (while trying to make a subtle point about manners)

The second related to father-son bonding and the attraction of a Swiss Army knife, with consideration of whether a Swiss Army Knife is a wholesome, outdoorsy kind of thing, encouraging whittling and manly pursuits, or, well, a KNIFE.

The third – is a deep and undisclosable secret. There are reasons why I cannot tell you*. If I did, Mr Ronson would be very upset. Mr Ronson clearly knows some very dangerous people. People who can kill goats (and, it appears, hamsters) just by staring at them. I would like to think that I am tougher than the average goat, even a goat trained by the US Marines, but I don’t wish to take the chance, either for myself or for my readers. (I don’t have enough readers to risk losing any of you).

I might be safe. You might be safe. After all, Mr Ronson is a Guardian journalist. Guardian journalists, like Guardian readers, are not well known for their homicidal tendencies – in fact, I am probably more at risk of being subjected to a silent but expressive hard stare but… Mr Ronson isn’t a Guardian journalist at present….and one can never be too careful. So I won’t tell you anything except that it was a very funny story. You all missed out, you really, really did.

After the deeply secret, burn-before-reading part of the, um, public reading we moved on.

To a short clip from a documentary about David Icke and other extremists, and another from the documentary ‘the Men Who Stare at Goats’, with details of how this came about.
This is one of those subjects which is initially amusing and then quite disturbing – the opening image, of a senior army officer, trying (in all seriousness) to walk through the walls of his Pentagon office. I defy you not to laugh. And then you start to realise that these were people who were giving intelligence advice to the man with the nuclear launch codes, and it starts to seem a lot less funny.

The happy thought which we were left with was this: According to experts (Jon specifically referred to Dr Martha Stout, but apparently it’s pretty much accepted)

1 in 25 people is a Sociopath.
[Edited to add. This may of course explain the woman in the framing shop, from the last post...]

This proportion rises significantly in certain groups of people, including senior politicians, captains of industry etc. This is another of those things which gets an initial (if slightly nervous) laugh, and becomes more believable and more disturbing the more you think about it. Especially if you have parked your car in the lower level of a poorly lit car park.

We then all spilled back out into the foyer where I bought myself copies of ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ and ‘Them – adventures with extremists’, both of which Jon then signed for me – very friendly – it’s nice to have a signing where the author has time to chat to the punters.

I also liked the fact that this year, the bookshop which is providing books to buy at all the events is not Waterstones, but an independent bookseller, Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights. It’s not that I don’t like Waterstones, but Mr B’s is something rather special, so I’m very happy to be buying my festival related books from them!

I also have tickets for Alexander McCall Smith and Elaine Morgan later in the week, which should be interesting.

*mostly, the reason is that he asked me very nicely not to.


spacedlaw said...

How nice of them to make use of an independent bookshop!

Marjorie said...

Isn't it. And it's a very nice independent shop! (You're very fast on the commenting!)

Phiala said...

Aw! I only came for the secret. Rats!


I'd never heard of this author, but sounds interesting. I like Alexander McCall Smith, though. I find his books very calm, in a way I haven't figured out how to properly articulate.

Marjorie said...

What, the dead goats weren't enough for you?

I know what you mean about McCall-Smith - not afraid to have a slow story - and to depict people as (in the main) being good & humane deep down. Although I first became aware of him through this book ...

Cheryl said...

I wanted to see Ben Goldacre too, but I have been way too busy.

Jess said...

Hubby is very jealous of your Ben Goldacre tix. Ben Goldacre is Top.

Siri said...

Have I ever mentioned I love reading your blog?


Marjorie said...

Jess - Hubby needn't be envious - I missed the event :-(

Siri - Aw, thankyou (blushes)