A short disclaimer: this Critical Takedown (hatchet-job) piece was written before A. A. Gill’s recent passing. The rather foul and hyperbolic descriptive work was used to attack his distasteful comments about animal cruelty, and his bizarre fictional farces. I’d like to say it wasn’t personal, but it really was. However, may you rest in peace, now, Mr. Gill.
* * *
It was Sunday. Adrian Anthony Gill coaxed the crumbs of croissant over the Sunday Times, as if he were a general envisioning a cavalry charge. The swords were drawn and he could hear the whinnies and whoas as the smell of butter filled the kitchen. A smile cracked his face as the horse-crumbs lay waste to the title of his column on page six: ‘Clare Balding Looks Like the Inverted Penis of a Bullmastiff’.
She deserves it, he thought to himself, and the perfect simile too: dogs, dicks, dykes — the whole enchilada.
Pleased with himself, Gill swiped the newspaper and crumbs from the table with his arm, and looked up at the books on the shelf: Peter Ackroyd, Bill Bryson, Dickens, no no no, M. F. K. Fisher, Michael Pollan — ergh, no; that won’t do. He jumped from the chair and rifled through the cupboard, where his brother kept his favourite books. What’s this? Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne? He removed the book from the cupboard and dusted the sleeve. But—but his initials are like mine, he thought, he can’t stand before me in the alphabet. No way! Furious, Gill retreated to the table. He slammed the book down and ripped it open at the beginning. He read, with his pen poised above the page.
Once upon a time, Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself. One day when he was out walking, he came to an open place in the middle of the forest, and in the middle of this place was a large oak-tree, and, from the top of the tree, there came a loud buzzing-noise.
Winnie-the-Pooh sat down at the foot of the tree, put his head between his paws, and began to think.
First of all he said to himself: ‘If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making it, and the only reason I know of is because you’re a bee’.
‘And the only reason for being a bee I know of is making honey’.
‘And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it’.
So Winnie-the-Pooh began to climb and climb to the top of the tree.
Higher and higher he climbed, left paw-right paw, until Winnie-the-Pooh reached the highest branch of the large oak-tree.
Down below, he saw a shape moving in the Hundred-Acre forest.
‘Why, hello there, friend! Piglet, is that you? I have found some hone—’
Winnie-the-Pooh spat out the thick, black blood bubbling behind his teeth. The soft pads of his paws, as he held them up to his eyes, were pierced with shards of ribcage, and draped with ribbons of oesophagus. The red tee-shirt he wore became redder; its seams like burst dams. Viscera writhed about him like monsters, and sweet-smelling shit rolled through holes in his abdomen—
‘That is enough, Adrian!’ shouted Gill’s mother, croissant breaking under her toes. ‘What are you doing — defacing your brother’s things like that?’
‘It’s AA, actually’.
‘I am not naming my own son by his initials, Adrian. Besides, Adrian Gill is a lovely name. Fish wouldn’t be able to live without gills, you know. And, gills are the silly wattles on chickens’ heads. You like fishes and chickens, don’t you?’
‘I wish all fishes were dead. And chickens. And bears with red tee-shirts. And those see-through scorpions, and worms, and stinking tapirs. And baboons’.
‘You don’t mean that, Adrian’.
‘It’s AA! I really don’t care if animals suffer, if I’m perfectly honest. I don’t give a shit. You know, once you’ve heard one pig scream, the second one is easier’.
‘Adrian, you don’t need to pretend. This isn’t one of your… columns’.
‘Goddamnit, it’s AA, Mum!’ Gill stood, looking kingly, ‘I, I want to be the first thing you see in the dictionary. Me — AA! I am going to murder the smug grey little bastard fucking turd-nosed aardvarks’.
‘Don’t you think you should stop this? The dead animal… thing, and the cock and bird wordplay. Aren’t you a little too old?’
Gill snatched the book and scurried to the living room, behind the couch, where he kept his coloured pens.
‘What on Earth was that noise?’ grumbled Eeyore lazily as he awoke from his fourth afternoon nap.
‘It was so awfully loud. I was dreaming such lovely dreams of leaving this gloomy bog, to a meadow with fresh grass and the orangest carrots’.
Eeyore stood up on his hoofs, and then clip-clopped through the Hundred-Acre forest to investigate the strange noise.
‘I do not like all of this mischief’, groaned Eeyore, ‘Pooh, is that you?’
The first blow was devastating; the second was fatal. The machete bisected the donkey’s spinal column, simultaneously paralysing him and plunging him through the Earth’s mantle to the bedlam of needles below. Eeyore wanted to yell out but there was no sound materialising in his throat — no release, no stick nor cloth to bite, just white hot pain, a thousand fish hooks reeling him into a receding oblivion. ‘Kill me’, Eeyore wanted to shout, ‘…please’.
AA circled his quarry, pulled his fingernails through Eeyore’s yawning wound and drew Rambo lines under his eyes with the donkey’s spinal fluid. A pirouette, a giggle, he danced: performative curlicues, falderals, and bibelots, and other baroque terms contrasted with pop culture references. ‘I have an astounding range of interests’, mused AA, his tumescence testing the elasticity of his tailored tweed—
‘Adrian, please! Those illustrations are…’
‘It’s AA, for fuck’s sake. And this, here — look, it’s irony, Mum. Look, the Alsatian raping the woman’s corpse, it’s sophisticated, acerbic—‘
The door flew open. The handle crash left its fractious silhouette amongst the flocked wallpaper. ‘Mum, I done a poo, out my bum!’ shouted Jeremy Clarkson, ‘it’s big and brown and horrid and all on the herb-rack’.
Gill had always hated his adopted brother. Ever since Jeremy’s arrival in 2006, he had been up to no good. He was naughty. Disrespectful. He always got the best toys. On weekends, he liked to play with his Hot Wheels to see which coloured car was the fastest — a sport he named ‘race-ism’, and a sport he was always very very sorry for playing. AA could not stand him taking the limelight, his limelight.
‘Jeremy Clarkson! Calm down!’ bellowed Gill’s mother, distracted, as Gill gathered together his bundle once more and retreated, stamping his feet up the carpeted stairs, hoping to find a quiet corner of his bedroom, away from Jeremy Clarkson’s excrement. In his writing he could escape. In this world he could feel things forbidden in real life. He always wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger. He had seen it in all those films: guns and bodies, a trigger finger strong to the foundations — not even a quiver, a second’s hesitation. What does it really feel like to shoot someone, he thought, or someone’s close relative? He unsheathed his pen.
Piglet wiggled his snout and sniffed and sniffed. He thought to himself: ‘Ooh, I think I can smell acorns! If only I were bigger that I might reach the branches of the tall oak-tree, and the acorns would come falling falling down for me to eat’.
Piglet decided that the best thing to do at this moment, indeed of all moments of this kind, would be to think about his problem a while. Piglet was far too little to reach the acorns in the tall oak-tree. He decided he needed some help: Winnie-the-Pooh would know what to do.
As he set off to find Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet said to himself excitedly: ‘Oh, I know I smell acorns now!’
And sure enough, straight ahead, before the bluebells that were purple, and near the red deer who was brown, there it was, the shiniest acorn he had ever seen.
Piglet ran, as quick as he could, toward the shiny acorn, and all he could think was: ‘Should I eat all of it now, or should I save some for later? Maybe I should share some with Winnie-the-Pooh’…
When Piglet had only one bite left of the shiny acorn, and he was as plump as could be, for he was a greedy little pig, he remembered Winnie-the-Pooh, and knew it was too late now to share his dinner.
‘Anthrax! Anthrax, you little pink shit!’ yelled AA, emerging naked and greased from the bushes. He skipped and played an imaginary flute solo around the buckled Piglet, whose eyeballs began to collapse. AA was ironically sexually enraptured by the suffering animal. ‘I’m getting too old for this’, he ironically appropriated the cliché ironically, ‘it is a good job I am such a deft, ironic observer of humanity, that I might write a prescient, ironic farce about this one day — that is in no way a means for me to vicariously live out my sadistic sexual fantasies’.
As the top of Piglet’s mouth fell off, AA pulled over his head an intestinal casing and tied it tight at both ends, pulverising the failing Piglet as he laughed. He had already heard one pig scream, so this one, indeed, was easier.
‘This is not about the inconsistencies of objecting to the hunting of foxes for scarves, but not moths for silk, Piglet’, mused AA, as Piglet’s lungs emptied themselves like colanders, ‘nor is this about the patronising exclusion of primitive hunting practices from ethical ecological law, Piglet’, as Piglet’s anus eschewed its obstructive responsibilities, ‘this is just, as it has always been, about good, contentious writing’.
As AA remembered his mother’s advice about being too old for this sort of thing, he looked upon his faecal offal pig corpse sausage. And then he knew — he just knew — there was a book in it.
- Food Fighters, AA Gill and Anthony Bourdain in Conversation, Sydney Writers Festival 2011. https://www.themonthly.com.au/video/2013/03/24/1364105158/food-fighters-aa-gill-and-anthony-bourdain-conversation
- ‘These chicks are all prime woodies — pilgrim, stunning birds with pouting breasts and downy tummies, beady-eyed squabs who can do things with a flick of a quill that would drive any cock mad with desire’ – Sap Rising, A. A. Gill, 1996
- ‘Straddling her from behind was a large smooth-coated Alsatian, his back legs splayed’ — Sap Rising, AA Gill, 1996
- AA Gill on shooting a baboon in his Sunday Times column, accessed via AA Gill shot Baboon ‘to see what it would be like to kill someone’, Robert Booth, The Guardian, 26 October 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/26/aa-gill-shot-baboon
- Sap Rising, AA Gill, 1996.
- ‘If you’re writing first-person journalism, being contentious is probably the most important thing’ – AA Gill, The Tab Presents… Fleet Street Secrets, 21 October, 2015