Saturday, April 10, 2010

A phrase Private Eye would have been proud of

Back in the 1970s, the British satirical magazine Private Eye coined the wonderful phrase “Ugandan discussions” as a euphemism for illicit or surreptitious acts of sexual congress.

The origin of the term is disputed. I always understood it referred to Princess Elizabeth of Uganda, a statuesque diplomat (and famous model) during the rule of Idi Amin who, having been caught in compromising circumstances with a white man in a toilet at Orly Airport, Paris, while travelling on government business, purportedly gave the explanation that they had repaired to the toilet cubicle for talks about affairs of state.

However an entry in Wikipedia gives an alternative explanation, suggesting the phrase arose from an incident in which the Irish journalist and feminist Mary Kenny retired upstairs with a former cabinet minister in the Ugandan government of Milton Obote during a London party and later claimed they had been discussing events in his homeland.

Whatever. The key point is that “Ugandan discussions” (or alternatively, “discussions of a Ugandan nature”) entered popular usage as a metaphor for sex, along with several other wickedly clever Private Eye expressions including “tired and emotional” for drunk and “Lunchtime O’Booze” for any bibulous, freeloading journalist (if that’s not a tautology).

The reason I relate all this is that I think we may, in future, be able to use our own New Zealand equivalent in place of Private Eye’s famous phrase.

Today’s Dominion Post recounts in some detail the events surrounding the death in 1984 of young Wellington woman Sacha Macfarlane, who was killed in a collision with a car driven by drunk Chilean diplomat Luis Lopez. Sacha’s death caused outrage at the time because Lopez, claiming diplomatic immunity, was able to scuttle back to General Augusto Pinochet’s Chile without facing charges. Only this week did the Chilean government formally apologise to Sacha’s family.

The Dom Post account by Tim Donoghue, quoting police files, retraces Lopez’s steps on the Friday night of the fatal accident and records that he spent several hours eating and drinking in the company of two Wellington women. Sometime after 11.30 pm, Lopez and one of the women went back to his apartment on Mt Victoria, where they stayed for about two hours. The fatal accident happened later when Lopez was driving his lady friend home to Khandallah, where she reportedly intended to introduce him to her husband.

The Dom Post records that the woman said, in a sworn affidavit, that she had gone to Mr Lopez’s apartment to read Chilean newspapers. This seems a rather unorthodox thing to do at 11.30 pm after a boozy night on the town and I think most readers of the Dom Post couldn’t have helped wondering whether a compelling interest in Latin American journalism was an entirely convincing explanation for her presence in Mr Lopez’s apartment.

Of course, whatever went on is entirely the woman’s own business, and it’s important to point out that she was perfectly within her rights to accompany Mr Lopez back to his place for whatever reason she chose, provided it was legal. It should be remembered too that she became an unwitting victim of this tragedy, though the Dom Post doesn’t say whether she too was injured in the crash.

Still, the statement does stand out as one of the more novel explanations proffered for a married woman’s presence in a man’s apartment late at night, and you can’t help wondering whether “reading Chilean newspapers” will become the new “Ugandan discussions”.

5 comments:

Nicola M J Young: The Occasional Panjandrum said...

And after "reading Chilean newspapers", she wanted him to meet her husband. Reminds me of a Tui advertisement.

Bearhunter said...

Had my wife offered "reading Chilean newspapers" as an excuse for her indiscretion, I would be tempted to respond in a manner similar to that given to the plaintiff in Arkell v. Pressdram.

Karl du Fresne said...

For the benefit of anyone mystified by Bearhunter's comment, Arkell v. Pressdram refers to a famous exchange of letters between Private Eye and a would-be litigant in 1971. It ran as follows:

Arkell v. Pressdram (1971) [unreported]
Solicitor (Goodman Derrick & Co.):

We act for Mr Arkell who is Retail Credit Manager of Granada TV Rental Ltd. His attention has been drawn to an article appearing in the issue of Private Eye dated 9th April 1971 on page 4. The statements made about Mr Arkell are entirely untrue and clearly highly defamatory. We are therefore instructed to require from you immediately your proposals for dealing with the matter. Mr Arkell's first concern is that there should be a full retraction at the earliest possible date in Private Eye and he will also want his costs paid. His attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply.

Private Eye:

We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell's attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.

[No further reply]

Lundon said...

The practice of late night perusing of Chilean newspapers is now referred to as "Chilean out"

Richard McGrath said...

Perhaps they were reading Chilean newspapers together in the toilet?