The small mat­ter of Napoleon, waste ma­te­rial, a great il­lus­tra­tor and les­sons that were not learned

The Herald on Sunday - - VOICES - Ron McKay

Not any night, Josephine

THE Em­peror Napoleon is a much mis­un­der­stood guy. Okay, he liked a bit of a rum­ble, he may have kid­napped Pope Pius Vll, but he eman­ci­pated Jews, Protes­tants in Catholic coun­tries and vice versa, scrap­ping laws that kept them in ghet­tos and de­nied them prop­erty rights. One Bri­tish his­to­rian puts it that his ideas of mer­i­toc­racy, equal­ity be­fore the law, re­li­gious tol­er­ance and sec­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion were con­sol­i­dated and cod­i­fied by the wee man with his hat on side­ways and copied through­out the world. He even founded the French na­tional land reg­is­ter, Le Cadas­tre, which maps and gives de­tails of ev­ery tax­able prop­erty in France and is ac­ces­si­ble on­line.

So that’s why I’m sav­ing up to buy Adam Zamoyski’s new bi­og­ra­phy of, as he puts it, the man be­hind the myth. It is based on new and orig­i­nal sources. Ap­par­ently, Boney did not un­der­stand phys­i­cal plea­sure and was a ter­ri­ble lover. Which is, no doubt, why he said, “Not tonight Josephine” (and wasn’t she lucky!). I have an al­ter­na­tive the­ory. You see, he had a ter­ri­bly small pe­nis, which may have been as a re­sult of Frohlich’s Syn­drome, or adi­poso­gen­i­tal dys­tro­phy, which causes growth re­tar­da­tion, and which prob­a­bly made the ex­er­cise fu­tile. The said ap­pendage was cut off Bon­a­parte’s body post mortem and sold sev­eral times be­fore end­ing up with a New York urol­o­gist whose fam­ily won’t al­low it to be viewed or pho­tographed, al­though it’s said to be with­ered and about the size of thumb­nail. Feel­ing bet­ter, gen­tle­men?

In­side track

THERE has been much con­tu­mely about ScotRail and the com­pany’s trains drop­ping hu­man waste on the tracks. Haven’t times changed? It used to hap­pen from ev­ery train. And if you travel on the Carlisle to Set­tle line, as I did re­cently, you can while away the time count­ing pass­ing sleep­ers through the gap­ing hole in the toi­let bowl. In Ro­man times pee was col­lected in pots and sold to cloth man­u­fac­tur­ers for stiff­en­ing and dye­ing cot­ton. In the 18th cen­tury, English coun­try gen­tle­men weed down the bar­rel of their shot­guns to re­move rust, per­haps some­times with fa­tal con­se­quences? Navy ships in the 19th cen­tury used a plank with holes at the front of the ship so that the waste dropped straight into the sea (and we com­plain about plas­tic pol­lu­tion!), and as they were at the head of the boat the ships’ privvies, and still to this day, were known as heads.

Un­til the end of 1998, and the in­ter­fer­ing EU, Glas­gow used to drop the city sh**e – or sludge as they pre­ferred to call it – off the south­ern tip of Bute sev­eral times a week. The boat that de­liv­ered it was called the Gar­roch Head, and off that epony­mous tip of coast they did de­liver. It used to be a great day out for pen­sion­ers who couldn’t let it pass (sorry!) and who would be in­side eat­ing a meal in the saloon while the de­posit was made. I cov­ered one of the last trips and I can vouch­safe it made a bit of a niff when the load went over­board.

Put Ralph in frame

RALPH Stead­man is the best il­lus­tra­tor and so­cial com­men­ta­tor of this cen­tury or any other, in my view. His gonzo work with the late Hunter S Thomp­son – fear and loathing just about any­where – is what he’s best known for, but his own books, in­clud­ing the mas­ter­ful Sig­mund Freud, are won­der­ful. His fierce pen and inks, with splat­ters of blood and out­rage, poke you not only in the eye but the frontal lobe. He’s also a lovely man. I first went to visit him about a quar­ter cen­tury ago at his char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally out­landish home in Kent and, for rea­sons I can’t re­mem­ber now, had to take my baby boy.

Ralph couldn’t have been more charm­ing and en­gag­ing. Here are the two of them in front of Stead­man’s take on The Last Sup­per. The artist is cu­ri­ously un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated here, which is pos­si­bly why his ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion is open­ing this week in San Fran­cisco, rather than the Tate. There are also never-seen-be­fore let­ters be­tween Stead­man and Thomp­son on show too. Ralph is 82, so he won’t be around for ever, al­though his work will. Can some UK gallery please sign up to show­ing this please?

Fire and fury

IN the ti­tle of a mid­week BBC2 pro­gramme, The Fires That Fore­told Gren­fell, you could have sub­sti­tuted Glas­gow School of Art. For­tu­nately, there were no ca­su­al­ties in the Mack fire, but through an ac­ci­dent of tim­ing, noth­ing what­ever to do with safety pre­cau­tions.

I re­vealed in June how the same type of flammable ther­mal in­su­la­tion as Gren­fell, PIR (poly­iso­cya­nu­rate), was used in lin­ing the roof of the re­fur­bished Mack. Al­though we won’t know for sure the cause of the fire un­til the fi­nal re­port is pub­lished, the roof went up in a fire­ball the likes of which ex­pe­ri­enced fire­fight­ers had never seen be­fore. PIR is partly plas­tic, al­though there is no sugges­tion it was not ap­proved for use. It is, how­ever, much cheaper than to­tally in­flammable, min­er­al­based prod­ucts. Re­peated re­quests to the trustees of the GSA, the con­struc­tors Kier and the ar­chi­tects Page Park about this be­ing a cost de­ci­sion have been blanked.

Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh de­signed his fa­mous build­ing, which opened com­pletely in 1907, with ven­ti­la­tion ducts that ac­cel­er­ated the fire in 2014 that gut­ted the build­ing, and no doubt did the same in the sec­ond one ear­lier this year. It’s not as if all in­volved weren’t warned. In 2008, when a £4 mil­lion re­fur­bish­ment of the Mack was go­ing ahead, an en­gi­neer’s re­port des­ig­nated the build­ing as high risk and rec­om­mended sprin­klers be in­stalled. They weren’t. So for six years, while stu­dents and staff oc­cu­pied the Mack, there were no sprin­klers.

Sprin­klers did turn up just be­fore the sec­ond fire but they weren’t op­er­a­tional. Now you might think some­one would be held ac­count­able but the trustees said noth­ing un­til some were hauled be­fore the Holy­rood Cul­ture Com­mit­tee last month.

Filthy lu­cre

THE judge’s copy of Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover, which I wrote about last week, was ex­pected to make around £15,000 at the Sotheby’s sale on Tues­day. In fact, it went to an anony­mous bid­der for al­most four times that, £56,250. It was a record price for a Pen­guin pa­per­back, and prob­a­bly more than DH Lawrence earned in a life­time of writ­ing. He ac­tu­ally wrote three ver­sions of Lady C, the pub­lished one be­ing the third, and, to those who have read all three, the weak­est. He was dy­ing of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis as he wrote it and while his wife Frieda was hav­ing one of many open af­fairs with an Ital­ian. Ever the prac­ti­cal one, af­ter Lawrence died in 1930, Frieda took his ashes and mixed them in con­crete to build a new fire­place. I guess she wasn’t up to mak­ing an obelisk or a tomb­stone.

Napoleon may have suf­fered from Frohlich’s Syn­drome and, be­low, Ralph Stead­man with Ron McKay’s son

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