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Low life

Group therapy

I feel sorry for Gorgeous George

28 January 2006

12:00 AM

28 January 2006

12:00 AM

I feel sorry for Gorgeous George. It was a terrific idea to go on Big Brother and turn himself into a popular icon and get his political ideas across to a young audience. Full marks for that. And it might have worked if our close scrutiny of his interaction with a random group of strangers had shown him to be the cool guy he imagines he is. Unfortunately, the horrible truth unfolding daily before our very eyes, made more vivid, perhaps, by cruel editing, is that Galloway is a vain, arrogant, prickly, two-faced, conniving, paranoid snob. I still like him, though. I admire his balls, which were on show the other night when he was made to prance in front of the other house-mates wearing only a skintight rose-pink leotard.

I’d challenge anyone to join a group of complete strangers and be subjected to privations and indignities and come out of it with self-esteem intact, however. I went on an overland expedition once — 23 punters in a converted Bedford truck, Nairobi to London — and the situation was in many respects very similar to the Big Brother house.

I’d presented myself to the group initially as a strong, silent Clint Eastwood-type character and hoped to maintain it for the entire trip. My persona was exposed as a charade almost immediately, though, when I contracted violent amoebic dysentery, resulting in a peri-anal abscess as big as a damson, of which several expedition members took photographs to show their mates back home what an unhealthy place Africa can be. After that I had to sit by the campfire every evening with my buttocks in a washing-up bowl filled with warm water and Dettol. On Mount Kilimanjaro I collapsed with altitude sickness and was the only member of the group not to make it to the top. In Rwanda I dropped a pan of hot fat on my leg, the wound suppurated and I couldn’t walk for a week. In Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo the entire village turned out to throw stones at us, one of which gashed the back of my head. In Niger I was struck by a painful kind of conjunctivitis and went virtually blind. After paddling in the River Niger I had to have a jigger cut out of my big toe. After that lot I had to modify my persona to something more along the lines of George Formby.

I was a popular member of the group due to my crucial role in the group dynamic of ‘biggest wanker’. I sort of set the boundary. As long as I was around there was always someone whom everyone else could feel effortlessly superior to. Some of it was a class thing. The others were young professionals. I’d jacked in my job as a binman and sold my house to raise money for the trip. The others had expensive cameras and carefully preserved designer sun- glasses, I had a pair of Union Jack shorts. I was endearing.

Under a Big Brother-style voting system, I would have been voted off just once, when I was suspected of having sexual relations with a pygmy. We’d gone to stay for a night in a pygmy village, which was a three-hour walk from the main road. They’d taken us hunting and got us stoned afterwards round the fire. When it was time for bed, the others went a little way away from the village, laid a tarpaulin on the forest floor and snuggled into their expensive lightweight sleeping bags. I didn’t have a sleeping bag and curled up around the dying fire. A hospitable pygmy woman gave me a small log to use as a pillow and lay opposite me, and throughout the night she hospitably fed the fire with twigs to give us both a bit of warmth and comfort.

I would have liked to have had sexual relations with her very much. She was muscular and immensely practical and, I guessed, unsentimental. It would, I imagined, be like having sexual relations with a small Lancashire woman. But throughout the long night under the forest canopy, our fronts lit by the flickering twigs, our sleepy relationship was affectionate but remained entirely platonic.

In the morning, when the others came galumphing back into the bender village and saw how friendly we’d become, it was automatically assumed George Formby had been having it off with the indigenous population. In George Galloway/Big Brother terms, it was my ‘pussy cat licking the cream’ moment, and it put me morally beyond the pale. It wasn’t until I contracted malaria a fortnight later that I was forgiven and reinstated in the moral community. Unfortunately for George, I don’t think the viewing public will be as forgiving.

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