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A horrible object


Everyone should have their own fetish room
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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Everyone should have a fetish room. Think about the paintings in the caves, 30,000, 40,000 years ago. Why are they in a cave? Why not somewhere public? These were not... nobody was living in these places. Of course not, it has to be special. You have to go to it, it has to grow in power. Well, maybe churches and mosques have the same function. Somewhere you don't go to too often. Now in all these villages, there is a fetish house. Now indeed, these were genuine fetish houses, so we certainly would have been killed if we were even seen loitering around it. A little... a miniature hut. I'm desperate to know what was inside it. I mean, all I know is from 19th century anthropology, when they probably shot their way in, but there would be the statues and everything to do with the immortality of the tribal group. But the thing is, it's difficult to assemble, but it's very simple. You get objects which convey to you, in ways that no word or picture could, the pleasures, intense pleasures, the very, very best bits of childhood which you need to remain in touch with if you want to be a writer or an artist or anything else. That's the deep pleasure, and so easy to lose it. So in my case, it would be a collection of bird's eggs and so on. All the best bits of childhood.

[Q] So you have this room which is a collection of images?

Of things that are really powerful, associated with childhood, people I've really admired.

You have to take it slowly, you can't put... you know, everything has to be exactly right. And then, I realised, at 61, it's also very important to somehow update it, to keep it fresh, otherwise you're going to be stuck as you were when you were 30, say. And the other great thing about it, the real point, in my case, I grew up in a vicarage. Now, no books, apart from the Bible, really, everything really very strict. And if I had the image of those people in my mind before I'm about to write, I'd never be able to do anything at all. I would have to be writing for the parish magazine or some ghastly guff. So they have to be excluded, the parents, utterly, as if they don't exist. And that's the way to do it, to pretend you are actually mentally in this space. Then you can create. And also, then, of course, you don't have any anxieties about the people or readers or nothing. You're just focused on the emotions that give you pleasure. The things that are full of life and imagery. I don't know. What would be a cliché of that? Yes, well, life in 1920s Paris or something. We all have a... I mean, that particular one's not for me, but that would be the sort of thing. In our age group, it would be imagine the excitement of being a courtyard away from Giacometti and Picasso and Matisse is down the way, and André Breton and the whole Dali and the Surrealist movement. We have this sort of schoolboy idea of constant creation and excitement. That's what you want.

[Q] Look, in... just in practical terms, I mean, just to help... assume I don't know anything about this. What do you have... I mean, in your case, explain whether it's a room in your house or where it is. What is it and where is it? And what's in it?

It must be separate. It has to be separate. It used to be a cork-lined room in the house, which was always locked. I only visited it. And then Belinda, my wife, said, well, look actually, she happened to have her daughter, now. Puffin had been born. And needed a room. So then it had to be a tremendous upheaval, but alright, because it's still lined with cork and it's dark. You mustn't have any windows or input from the outside world.

That's what you're escaping. You're going into the unconscious. So it's a hut outside, and it really works. Until you get old and feeble and fetish room or not, you just want to spend your life in bed with the cat.

[Q] But if one has a fetish room, does one go into it on a regular basis, or work there, or what?

Oh, you must never work there. Good God, no. No, you visit it. It depends how intense your work is at that time. I mean, you may go in once a day when nobody else is about and just sit there and be quiet, very quiet, and remind yourself of what matters to you. You know, the first time you saw a kingfisher or the... I said, 'The mistle thrush that dropped the egg in front of you.' That's what you're desperate to hang onto somehow.

[Q] So we must imagine it's like a collection, like a cabinet of wonders or something?

Yes, it's a cabinet of childhood wonders. The rest of the house is a sort of cabinet of wonders, or used to be. Now it's got out of control.

[Q] So everyone should have a fetish room?

Everyone should have one. I like to think this is my invention.

[Q] I've never heard of it.

Well, there you are, then. It must be entirely original.

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Paris, 1920s, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, André Breton, Salvador Dali

Duration: 6 minutes, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009