Friday, September 19, 2014


I’ve been reading, perhaps after everybody else, Geoff Dyer’s book Jeff in Venice, Death in  Varanasi.  I will say this: it’s very odd to read a book by a man called Geoff about a hero named Jeff, when you yourself are also called Geoff, especially when that hero is having so many thoughts similar to ones you’ve had yourself, especially about what constitutes success or failure for writers.

Photograph by Jason Oddy

I don’t honestly know how much of an eater or drinker Dyer is.  He’s certainly, by some way, the thinnest author I’ve ever met, and I assume he didn’t get that way by knocking back pies and pints, but there’s a great scene in the book where his (highly autobiographical) hero thinks about alcohol as a Tracy Emin-style art project.  Thus:
         “ ... if he were an artist he would build a one-to-one model of all the booze he’d ever poured down his gullet. Beer, wine, champagne, cider, the lot.  Christ, he’d need a gallery the size of an aircraft hangar just for the beer, the pints, the tins, the bottles.  It would be a portrait not simply of his life but of his era.  Some of the brands he’d started out with had since disappeared: Tartan, Double Diamond, Trophy, the inaptly named Long Life.”  He is describing my past here as well as his own.

I also discovered a piece by Dyer in the Wall Street Journal  “In this monthly feature, we send a bottle of spirits to a writer who is tasked with getting to the bottom of it.”  Tasked indeed, although to be strictly accurate Dyer doesn’t get sent a bottle of spirits – he gets sent some Blue House Citra Pale Ale from the El Segundo Brewing Company.  Being sent free booze by a newspaper, or by anybody, would constitute cosmic success for most writers I know.

I suppose the WSJ also paid him a decent fee because he gives full value in the article and writes about the horrors of American beer as perceived by British beer drinkers, less true these days I think, when pretty much every pub in England can serve you an icy, tasteless Bud.  Anyhow, the thing you see above is a quotation from Dyer, “I like beer that is tasty but not too strong so I can drink a lot of it.  I am one of life’s gulpers.”  So I suppose that trim boyish figure of his must be down simply to good genetics.  Or worry.

Jeff in Venice also contains, in passing, a great description of an almond croissant, “the size and complexion of a small roast turkey.”  I found this so moving that I felt I had to have a croissant for lunch today, though I avoided the almonds.  The resemblance to a roast turkey was slight but I did slice it open and stuff it, and it was pretty good, but somehow it tasted better in Geoff Dyer’s description.

And what did I stuff my croissant with?   Well, with cheese (“Organic Valley, hand-selected, rich and flavorful, raw sharp cheddar, made with milk from our pasture-raised cows") and some sliced chicken (“Oscar Meyer’s Selects Gluten-free Rotisserie  Seasoned Chicken Breast” – and no I don’t know what “rotisserie seasoned” means any more than you do).

But I do wonder, is it possible that as the Western world becomes ever more illiterate, that the marketing men, and perhaps even the customers themselves, think that the MORE words there are on a piece of packaging (regardless of what the words actually mean) the better the product must be.  Oh lord, that’s depressing – makes you long for a Younger’s Tartan Bitter of yesteryear.


  1. Liked the first half of that book very much, the second half less so. We had Geoff come to speak at the uni where I teach part-time ten years ago and it was scary. He was my age and (apart from writing different kinds of books and living in different cities), his life was like a mirror image of mine. Same age, music, post uni dossing life. I could go on. Was invited for a drink with him afterwards but it felt too creepy. He's a great essayist I think.

    1. Hi David, I don't know Geoff at all, but I have met him a few times, the most recent earlier this year after he'd had his famous stroke - you'd think a stroke might have slowed him down, but apparently not, and of course he instantly turned it into a piece of journalism. T