Hard Man to find:
an intervew with pal planko
A friend has called-in a favour at short notice: 'Will I do a quick interview, with a mate of hers?' He needs a blurb for his website, that she's strong-armed him into launching.
Ordinarily, this would be simple, but she mentions that there are certain conditions. For example, I can't photograph his face, or anything that he believes could identify him, I won't get a byline, and she can't tell me why all these conditions exists, beyond the general notion of him 'having spent time in Africa' and having 'known some people' - which I find clarifies ...precisely nothing.
'Is he dangerous, or some sort of fruitcake? I inquire. 'Oh, no. He's a perfect gentleman' she replies '...but try to get as much copy as possible. He's cagey and he's likely to chop-out huge chunks of text when I get him to put it on this new website'
I relent, and in doing so, I repay a favour that has been long-standing and much discussed. This is going to be interesting, or weird, or both...
Pal Blanko is not what you expect. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. We’re sitting in upmarket hotel bar, on London’s Charlotte Street. The waiters are accommodating and the drinks expensive. Given the nature of his subjects, and his style of writing, I’d half-imagined I’d meet him in a tree-house, in the middle of Peru. He’s tall, wiry, and sweeps back a mop of hair as he sits-down opposite me. He smiles warmly.
We talk for a while. This man is a charmer, but there’s something of a far-away look in his eyes, that makes you think that whilst he’s sitting with you, he’s thinking of somewhere else.
So begins our conversation. The transcript, with permission (and no small redaction) is re-printed below:
AE: "Where should we start?"
PB: "Traditionalists oft favour ‘The Beginning’ but I think it’s over-rated…"
He smiles mischievously.
AE: You don’t like tradition?
PB: Why be predictable, when you can start at the end, and finish in the middle?
Again, the smile. One imagines that he has no great difficulty speaking with women, and yet there’s something about it, that's difficult to place. I wonder if he has some sort of dark secret. I make a number of attempts to go-through the basics, and all of them are politely rebutted, so I divert the conversation to a discussion of childhood memories, and he explains that at the age of ten, he was expelled from school, for what he describes as an ‘imaginative’ and ‘entirely deliberate’ campaign of disobedience.
PB: “From day one, I hated the place.” He explains “…and from there on in, I had to get out.”
By the age of twelve, he’d been to no fewer than seven different schools, in three different towns, and at the ripe-old-age of thirteen, had decided that the whole ‘fitting-in thing' was not for him.
PB: "I remember my first day at this posh school in England; walking-in on a cold September day, with my blazer buttons done up. I was stopped by some Prefect guy. I’d never met a 'Prefect' and I'd never met anyone called Dominic. To me, he looked like a member of the royal family. He told me to unbutton my blazer, because ‘at this school we don’t button our blazers’. I remember just standing there thinking: ‘F#ck... Four more years of this sh#t.’ "
AE: "You didn’t feel that you we’re 'going to fit it?' "
PB: "I think any episodes of ‘fitting in’ were entirely unintentional"
AE: "Any you say ‘posh school’ because the one before that was something other?"
PB: "The one before that was …erm ...character-forming; it was set in-between a dog track and a council estate, and they had a cop-car driving round the playing-field on Sports Day, due to the fact that kids from the a rival Comp had threatened to climb-over the fence and stab us."
AE: "That’s characterful !"
PB: "Yeah, and bunch of them did make an attempt on the fence. I can still remember them coming through the allotments and being met by the cops at the bottom of the footie pitch. I lasted a year at that place, and the school before that had kids sniffing solvents during maths class, and an issue with knives being carried at the schoolyard gate… by the parents! Totally nuts."
He smiles wistfully and takes a sip of tea. He refuses to drink coffee, claiming it to be ‘morally ambiguous’. He's quite the eccentric, but still too cagey.
AE: "Hang on... before we go much further, backwards into the beginning…"
AE: "See what I did there?"
PB: "Oh yeah…"
AE: "…Let me get this straight …You’re not actually 'Pal Blanko' "
PB: "Correct, it’s a corruption of a nickname that I got in Angola: ‘Palanka Blanco’, which roughly translates as ‘white gazelle’. "
AE: "Why did you get that name ?"
PB: "Erm... I'll pretend I don't know, and I'll just note that the guy who gave it to me, was drinking meths."
AE: "And meths-drinking aside, I’m right in saying that you worked for three very well-known National Newspapers in London. You’ve slept in the scuzzy safe-houses of investigative reporters. You are known for your writing, but you were never once a journalist? How can that be?"
PB: "I guess I preferred the company of drug-addicts to drunkards."
AE: "There’s a difference?"
PB: "Well, with drug addicts I found, the restaurants were better…" He chuckles. "High-functioning drug-addicts, I should say. Nothing but the best. La Premiere Crew." [sic]
AE: "And do you still hang-out with the same guys ?"
PB: "Thankfully not, no."
AE: "I presume there’s a story there too?"
PB: "Erm… In-short, I out out-grew them …It happens, you know. It all got rather tawdry and at the end; there was a meeting, between me and a lovely chap who had access to the [National Newspaper name] chequebook. As I recall, the zenith of the conversation was me sitting there, telling him, in the softest country-vicar voice that I could muster: ‘You know where the bodies are buried. I know where the bodies are buried. And you know that I know where the bodies are buried.’ "
AE: "Sounds like a scene from the Sopranos… How did he take that ?"
PB: "It might be that he sanctioned a cheque."
AE: "A nice cheque?"
PB: "The sort of cheque that encourages you not to break your NDA whilst, at the same time, relaxing at your new house."
AE: "I see."
PB: "Perhaps you do, but I couldn’t say. I have an NDA."
He smiles coquettishly and then finds something interesting to look-at on the back of his hand. Clearly, whilst his writing reads like Fear and Loathing, he’s not without caution. In fact, he seems very loathed to discuss anything great detail, claiming that he wouldn't "want his past to re-enter his present" so I divert him back to more generic topics.
AE: "People say your style is Gonzo, is that true?"
PB: "I could give you an answer, if I knew what that meant ...but that said, I was once told that my style was ‘the bastard step-son of Indiana Jones and Hunter S Thompson’. "
AE: "Were you insulted ?"
PB: "No... Hell No. I just fell-about laughing…"
AE: "At what ?"
PB: "The thought of those men, butt-naked, and f###ing."
AE: "But, you must see that similarities, no ?"
PB: "Well... I’ll ‘fess-up to the fact that folks from my past, have pressed into my palms the books of Hunter S Thompson. The awful thing is, that until very recently, I hadn’t read any of them. Such an opportunity wasted. Such a youth misspent! …I think he’d approve."
And again, that smirk…
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