The Big Read: Geoff Dyer, I presume

29 September 2014 - 09:54 By Darrel Bristow-Bovey
BLAST FROM THE PAST: When The New Avengers came to the Hyperama, I went with my parents expecting to stare at Purdey's legs through her diaphanous dress and maybe touch Gambit's gun.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: When The New Avengers came to the Hyperama, I went with my parents expecting to stare at Purdey's legs through her diaphanous dress and maybe touch Gambit's gun.
Image: GETTY IMAGES

The other night I was at the Alexander Bar, eyeing out the other patrons, and I could swear one of them was Geoff Dyer.

He was a tall gent with silvered hair and a cyclist's angular face. Cyclists over a certain age all have that gaunt, unpadded look, as though they're made of washing that has been wrung out and left in the sun to dry. But so far as I know, Geoff Dyer doesn't cycle. Maybe it wasn't Geoff Dyer.

Why I thought he might be Geoff Dyer is he looked like his author photograph, but not too much. If ever you meet a writer who dead-rings the little photo on their book or above their column, you can be sure you're mistaken or this is an imposter. Author photographs are always years out of date, or if they're more recent, they're taken from uncharacteristically flattering angles. Most writers' photographs are an inverse Dorian Gray portrait: they remain a fresh, young ideal while the real thing becomes crabbed with envy and regret and too many hours inside.

But the thing is, Geoff Dyer is in town for the Open Book Festival, so if ever Geoff Dyer's going to be politely sipping a pint in the Alexander Bar, it would be now. But what if the fact that I know he's in town is what's making me hallucinate that this innocent citizen is G Dyer?

I should be more precise. There are many Geoff Dyers in the world, but the one I mean is the writer who invented the genre called "genre-defying". His recent book is about a visit to an aircraft carrier. Before that he wrote about watching a Russian science fiction film. I'm told he's also keen on ping-pong. Geoff Dyer has eclectic interests, which is what you want from a chap in a bar. If I go sidling over and say, "Are you Geoff Dyer?" and he says yes, we'll surely find something to chat about.

But is that what I want to do? I have been burned by celebrity-spotting before. When I was very young The New Avengers came to Durban to open the Hyperama. This was a time when everyone called their dog Gambit or Steed and had a cat named Purdey, and every white woman had a haircut like a hollowed-out onion. If none of these references means anything to you, I'm not surprised, but thank you very much for reading something so elderly as a newspaper while all your friends are sending each other sexy photos on SnapChat.

When The New Avengers came to the Hyperama, so did everyone else. I went with my parents expecting to stare at Purdey's legs through her diaphanous dress and maybe touch Gambit's gun while my mom and dad engaged them in adult conversation. Instead all I saw were the backs of people's knees. I do have a memory of the men's washrooms and staring up in awe at a smiling curly-haired urinating man who I assumed was Gambit, but childhood memories are unreliable. That could have happened anywhere.

Once in a pub on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam I was convinced I recognised William Shatner. This was in his post-TJ Hooker, pre-Boston Legal days, when he was bloated and bewigged but not yet beloved. "Is that Captain Kirk?" I asked the barmaid. She wasn't sure, but I impressed her with a detailed run-down of the Kirk plotlines in classic Star Trek episodes. One of the reasons I'm so fond of Amsterdam is it's the only place in the world my Star Trek knowledge has paid off with a girl. Finally she bought me a jenever so that I'd go over.

"Excuse me for interrupting," I said to the florid-faced portly man, "but are you William Shatner?"

"William Shatner, hohoho!" guffawed the chubby Dutchman.

"Ho ho ho!" guffawed his crew.

For the rest of the evening they slapped each other on the back and bellowed "William Shatner!" to each other. I'm not even sure what I would have said had it really been him. How do I imagine that introducing myself might enhance the evening of William Shatner, or Geoff Dyer, for that matter? Would either of them think, "Well, it was a slow time in the city, but then that awkward chap came over and identified me and stood there staring at my forehead, so that was all right."

But still, below a certain level of fame it's always nice to be recognised as long as you don't have to make conversation, so I sent over a drink to Geoff Dyer and he received it with a smile and an appraising look and left shortly afterwards.

I bellied over to the barman.

"Was that Geoff Dyer?" I asked.

"No," he said, "but Geoff Dyer was in last night."

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