Sunday, 13 March 2011

Only Cowgirls

I’ve just started rereading Tom Robbins’s Even Cowgirls get the Blues, which I remember as a brilliant book but lacklustre film. I’m not on any nostalgia trip rereading these books I’m actually searching all our bookshelves for Catch 22 ( which I didn’t read until my fifties) which I would like to read again but keep getting sidetracked by these other gems that catch my eye.

I am aware that Robbins is a talented author whose work is tight and very readable but he manages to spread his net wide. I say this as when I produced my 255,000 word tome I was told it wandered around too much, and that people wouldn’t read it if it appeared that I was mentally waffling . Well I’m still on chapter one of Robbins’s book where he is introducing Sissy Hankshaw, the heroine with the gargantuan thumbs and her background origins in the 1950s blue collar America of the Eisenhower years, when men knew more about carburettors than the clitoris. Into those first twenty- five pages he has also managed to pack in the life history of the amoeba, the importance and role of thumbs in the evolution of modern man, the rectal temperature of oysters and bumble bees, hitchhiking, the origins of five English words from their native language, the brief history of those natives before and after the arrival of western developers and their resulting extinction, and finally the German composer Schumann.  On, page 47 he suddenly includes an ‘interlude’ when he writes about the Venusian atmosphere. That’s just how I like it, a diverse range of interesting material seeding my own brain.
This ‘interlude’ prompted me to read up on the planet and Vonnegut’s writings had me thinking about it. I then wrote a story about a group of aliens who on perusing our solar system paid a visit to Venus prior to arriving on the blue planet. On the blue one, they discovered a fairly advanced species who they thought would eventually discover space travel. So being friendly helpful aliens, passed on the information about  Venus’s atmosphere saying that it was nightmarish, dark red skies, suffocating thick toxic air, continuous thunder and lightning storms deluging the upturned horizons with  sulphuric acid rain  and wasn’t worth a visit, it was hell, (an alien word meaning shithole) The small group of listening humans, not understanding anything about space travel, absorbed the information about this hellish place and on watching the aliens depart turned to one another and wondered what that was all about. One smart one admitted he didn’t know but did have a good idea about how to market this place called hell.
The book also had the effect of changing my hitching style. My partner and I were students living in a cottage five miles from town and hitched everywhere. Until then we just went along and stuck our thumbs out and waited. Now we realised there was an art to hitching and we started to learn. We set out to bring the oncoming traffic to a halt. You stood there on the side of the road and let the driver know not only that we needed a lift and that they really wanted to give us one. We also discovered we had the ability to mentally tamper with the engines, hitting the carburettor or breaking system to slow the vehicle down. It took a while but soon our hitching times were plummeting, we could go anywhere, any distance. Some days we went out and went hitching like others went for a walk. It didn’t always work, one Sunday we stopped an Alpha Romeo- first car- but had to catch a bus back from our destination as we came across an area where cars were driven by imprisoned husbands in the iron- like grip of the lady next to them who overrode our energies. Some days we hitched so fast we arrived days before we were due and surprised our hosts with our early arrival. I think my best stop ever was a fire engine that was on an emergency, we were both confused by this but they recovered their composure before me and just asked if I knew where the incident was.  

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