To Portsmouth, birthplace of Charles Dickens, Christopher Hitchens and runner Roger Black. Also Isembard Kingdom Brunel, Peter Sellers and Hollyoaks actor Marcus Patric. Also, me. We moved away from Southsea when I was eleven but naturally roots remain because I was a happy child there. Roaming around my formative haunts last week was an exquisitely painful series of Proustian jabs to the solar plexus. I retraced the walk from Clarence Pier to my old house, a once-epic journey now shockingly, hilariously short and inconsequential. Everything I knew had shrunk to toytownish proportions; and the new things – the vertiginous Spinnaker Tower, the Gunwharf Quays shopping complex with its inevitable indoor/outdoor redbrick design and prepack set of restaurants – are built to a different scale. The strange thing is that I did go back about 14 years ago and presumably went through all this shrinkage stuff then, but the memory of that visit faded and in the meantime my childhood perceptions had reasserted themselves, like when a distant mountain range in the rear view mirror gradually rises above the nearer hills as you drive away, until the mountains are all you can see.
But it was surprising how much of my Pompey remains. The café Snookies, where I ate cream buns in a fug of other people’s cigarette smoke. The Knight & Lee department store still stubbornly resisting full John Lewis branding. Rosie’s wine bar, favourite hangout of my parents. Even Chantelle, a bizarre shop on the corner of Elm Grove and Victoria Road specialising in frilly meringue dresses for the precocious little girls of your nightmares (think Violet Elizabeth Bott or Shirley Temple), somehow survives.
I’m not sure I drank my fill of nostalgic gloop so I’ll have to go back. Everything signifies so much more to children than we realise as adults. Oh well, yet another thing to worry about now I’ve got my own.
Ed Miliband went down a storm with his note-free, policy-free ‘One Nation’ speech to the Labour Conference and will in all likelihood be the next Prime Minister. This troubles me. Not because I’m attached to this Government – which, though admirably determined in a few important areas, cannot seem to implement anything competently – but because I just don’t understand what Ed M is for. With most leaders you can ascribe some clear motivation (Cameron born with the superiority gene; Blair an egomaniac; Brown driven by hatred of Blair etc). But why would Ed Miliband, with that voice and that face, want to go through all the dreary pain of opposition and then face the mountain of vitriol and lampoonery that will certainly come his way when he gets into Government and faces the same economic realities as the Coalition? Can it be purely to get one over his brother? He’s already storing up trouble for himself by supporting the anti-cuts movement. He’s also telling outright lies such as that cutting the 50p tax rate is like ‘writing a cheque for £40,000 to every single millionaire in the country’ (thus (1) deliberately confusing being a millionaire with earning a million pounds income per year; and (2) taking the extreme Marxist line that if the State takes less than 100% of your earning from you, it is doing you a favour). He can’t go on like this because in order to win votes from the Conservatives he needs to stop chasing people who will vote for him anyway and prove to floating voters that he has a feasible economic plan. But what is Ed Miliband anyway? A career politician playing the only game he’s ever known for its own sake. Actually in his speech he did say one thing that sent a chill down my spine. “I believe that everyone has a duty to leave the world a better place than he found it.” Now what could be more dangerous than that?
Children do test one’s powers of imagination. The other night my three-year old demanded that I tell her ‘three stories about a pineapple’ before sleeptime. ‘Pineapple’ is currently her favourite punchline (the word is intrinsically funny, like ‘fish’, ‘shrubbery’ and ‘Leamington Spa’). She did not specify whether all three stories should feature the same pineapple as protagonist but I assumed yes. Sighing, I began “Once upon a time…” and as I improvised I noticed that my tales were unmistakably proscriptive and moral in tone. The first was about a naughty pineapple who disobeyed his mummy by venturing into the woods alone at night and narrowly avoided being eaten by a woodcutter and a dog; in the second he stuffed himself with fatty foods to try to become the biggest pineapple in the school, only to be sick and given medicine by the Pineapple Matron which shrunk him to the smallest – clearly parables about obedience and moderation respectively. After that I ran out of steam and the third story was a blatant pineapple-based rip off of The Billy Goats Gruff.
Alas, one place that doesn’t seem to have survived from my childhood in Southsea is the café with the best name in the world. RIP, The Intrepid Bun.
A few Diaries ago I complained about the way that comedians are taking over the commentariat industry (and, by being held up as pseudo-intellectuals, are giving a bad name to real pseudo-intellectuals like Alain de Botton). Steve Coogan’s risible performance on Question Time has hardened my anti-comedian stance, and there is evidence that I’m not alone. Rod Lidl in last week’s Sunday Times gave Coogan and co a good kicking, and Ive been informed that our own Bryan Appleyard has launched a cull-the-comedians campaign on Twitter (Quixotic, that – Twitter being the key comedian-pundit territory).
My beef isn’t with old skool left-wing prosletysers like Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy – you know where you stand with them. Nor is this a complaint about satire, because this modern breed of comedian doesn’t do satire. They just use newspaper columns and TV shows to state off-the-shelf bien-pensant views and assume that everyone agrees with them because, well, come on, it’s obvious that we’re right about everything, isn’t it? Even Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell toe the party line. We therefore have the worst of both worlds: pundits we can’t take seriously; comedians who don’t make us laugh. My cull would start with Marcus Brigstocke (my uni contemporary, now wasting his brain being ultra-PC), Chris Addison (who I once saw do a routine in which he casually equated being a Tory MP with being a racist) and, above all, Robin Ince (combines soft-leftism with hard Dawkinsianism). It’s now almost unthinkable that a comic can be anything other than Orthodox Twitterati; it’s career suicide to deviate. In fact the worst one I’ve ever seen live was John Oliver, who delivered a routine entirely consisting of jokeless Guardianist platitudes, second on the bill at Bristol’s tiny Hen and Chicken comedy club. He’s now on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is probably worth millions.
Watched Local Hero again last night. Loveliest film ever made – agreed?