An essay written for the catalogue of an exhibition at Bath Spa University in autumn 2010
I awake, nod to a couple of shrunken heads on my bedside table, after all some company is better than none at all, masturbate, walk across the leopard skin rug, past the Leonora Carrington, elephant teeth and Victorian stuffed puppies to the bathroom for the pinnacle of the day’s pleasure, a good defecation. It’s all downhill from now on, I shower and dress, a crimson velvet suit – it’s still winter, and I pull on a tight pair of Texas’ finest cowboy boots, made from the tails of two alligators. It’s a cold day so I won’t wear my cobra skin jacket, not cold enough for raccoon or seal either, but plenty cold enough to justify a full-length blue fox, left open, and last, but by no means least I select my rings, they must match my suit and my nail varnish, crimson, so some red coral mounted in silver, a couple of twelfth century golden Seljuk Rings and a black Tahitian pearl mounted in a miniature eagle’s talon.
It’s a work day so I’m going to my shop, I deal in rare and beautiful things, curiosities if you like, I glance gloatingly at my desk where some dodo bones, just arrived, lurk in crisp tissue paper next to an enormous hair ball removed from the stomach of a cow. Objects far too wonderful to go to the shop, just yet, but I know that one day, it may be soon or it may be years away, they will cease to fill me with wonder and I will cease to see them, like Mortimer, the lion skeleton, but unlike Mortimer who still sits in my library, unseen, when that day comes it will be simple to pop these, far more valuable items in my pocket and take them down to the shop.
But before I go out I allow myself one more fleeting pleasure, I inspect my orchids, Phragmipedium longifolium is just uncurling, continuously in flower for two and a half years now, whilst the Catelleyas are looking decidedly sad, one day, when I am rich, I will have a tropical house stuffed with orchids, nepenthes and ferns, I have an eight foot tree fern (Dicksonia squarrosa) in my library that I had shipped over from Tasmania and planted the trunk with epithetic bromeliads and orchids, but it’s too dry in there and they’ve all died, the fern itself is alive, just, I avert my eyes subconsciously, I no longer see it, though I still water it.
I pick up a crow in flight, a dead one, and walk up to the shop, wondering vaguely if I’m turning into a caricature of myself, well, no wonder, I’m comfortable. Sometimes I’m accused of being a dandy that, perplexes me, there are no mirrors in my house and I have no idea of what I look like, I know what I feel like, left to myself I would cavort naked all day fucking and eating, well that’ not quite true, it is precisely because I am left to my own devices that I need to fill the time with objects, books, clothes, pictures.
Crow deposited in shop it is time for breakfast at the organic cafe inVictoria Park, a full vegetarian breakfast, for I am, of course, like all the best, and some of the worst people from Francis Bacon to Hitler, a vegetarian. People sometimes laugh at me, a dealer and collector of the dead, a man with ten fur coats in his dressing room and shoes made from every imaginable animal, from anteater to ostrich, and accuse me of hypocrisy, I laugh back and point to Napoleon’s Death Mask, proudly displayed, and point to the note next to it quoting the late tyrant as saying that England was the land where the hypocrite had set up shop.
But whilst that is true it is also a bit of flippancy, for there is no inherent contradiction between being a vegetarian and most of my activities; I do feel sheepishly guilty about my shoes, but they are beautiful and they last so much longer than a burger. I’m vegetarian because I believe that there is something inherently unnecessary and disgusting, obscene, in the mass production and slaughter of animals for the purely transitory pleasure of feeding yet again. Nothing that I deal in or collect has been killed for the purpose of me profiting, it is but a mere by-product, rien est plus beau que la nature, antique relics of a previous age. And the pleasure I get from my alligator skin boots is much deeper and longer than the ephemeral, not to mention questionable, pleasure of eating a ham sandwich.There is also no substitute for alligator skin but many far more delicious and environmentally friendly substitutes for eating meat.This is how I sleep deep and long at night, with a conscience fairly under control, for an insomniac at any rate.
A Vegetarian in Alligator Shoes, Hackney, 2010