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?

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.

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  1. zmkc on Monday 8, 2012

    Agreed.

  2. Worm on Monday 8, 2012

    “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?

    Haha so very very true! Good point well made Mr.Brit.

    Perhaps Milliband does have a role – as signposting the nadir of politics.

    I would like to sign up to your comedian cull – I hate them all. I truly truly despise them. There is one acronym that joins each and every one of them – BBC. To what extent do we think that they are born PC morons versus the BBC creating an environment when all comedians tailor their output in order to be eligible to appear on the BBC? Personally I think it’s due in large part to the latter and is a serious sickness damaging comedy.

    • malty on Monday 8, 2012

      I assume that the cull will not include Peter Kay.

      • Worm on Monday 8, 2012

        Peter Kay and John Bishop will be forced to have a ‘North Off’ in which they both stand opposite each other relating pointless whimsical anecdotes about their northern lives until one or the other of them combusts in a puff of coal dust

        • Brit on Monday 8, 2012

          Peter Kay is safe, as are Michael MacIntyre and Lee Mack etc. Whether they make you laugh or not, at least that’s all they’re trying to do.

        • malty on Monday 8, 2012

          The point is Worm, Northern lives are pointless, whimsical, anecdotal and combustible, Peter is merely in character. The coal dust will have to be Polish as no sons of ours are going down t’pit.

    • Gaw on Monday 8, 2012

      Daniel Kitson? He’s funny and has the merit of not appearing on the BBC.

      Peter Kay – I don’t get it.

      • Brit on Monday 8, 2012

        You obviously don’t have any family from Lancashire then, G.

  3. malty on Monday 8, 2012

    Thought provoking and perfectly paced, a post that makes blogging worthwhile Brit. Indeed there is an abundance of food for thought on this fine frosty morn. Add the Libby Purves piece on the reproductive organs, trials and tribulations caused by, and the week is having a splendid start. Won’t last though but, we are going to have a gropegate week with added accusations of Tory Terre’blanche.

    Regarding memory lane, rarely, if ever works, times perspective the perfect breeding ground for illusion, we expect an oasis and get a Rauschenberg. I now no longer visit the Isle of Skye, I will keep it as it is in my memory, a paradise, not an adjunct of the home counties drop-out set.

    As for comics, funny lot, the odd one or two are even funny ha-ha.

    • Brit on Monday 8, 2012

      Thanks Malty, an honour to be ranked alongside Libby Purves’ reproductive organs.

  4. jonathan law on Monday 8, 2012

    I watched Local Hero for the third or fourth time earlier this year and came to a perhaps unexpected conclusion: it’s not just an enjoyable film, a lovely film, a get-it-out-when-you’ve-got-flu film — it’s a great film, in the full meaning of whatever meaning the adjective has. Better than any of the Ealing comedies, I reckon.

    • Brit on Monday 8, 2012

      I agree, but need to think about what exactly the magic is. Perhaps I will put forward a theory in next week’s diary…

  5. Adelephant on Monday 8, 2012

    I liked your pineapple stories, moral or otherwise. Frangipane is a good word. Could I have 4 and a half stories about three frangipanes?

    • Brit on Monday 8, 2012

      No problem. “Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?” cried the wicked frangipane…

  6. BenSix on Monday 8, 2012

    Comedians used to show or tell their audience unexpected things so that they could enjoy a new perspective on the world. Now they tell them things that they already know in order that they can enjoy their own cleverness.

    One interesting fact about John Oliver is that he married a war veteran and advocate for the continuation of the War on Terror who he met at the Republican convention. One of the more sitcom-worthy romances of our time.

    • Brit on Monday 8, 2012

      That speaks well of Oliver’s open-mindedness. When I saw him he was blathering on about how he went on the Stop the War Coalition march.

  7. Henry Jeffreys on Monday 8, 2012

    I used to go to a pub in Pompey called the Fawcett Inn.

  8. David on Monday 8, 2012

    Agreed on Local Hero.

    As for, I believe that everyone has a duty to leave the world a better place than he found it, it is a perfectly lovely thought if not as lovely as Local Hero.

    What chills your spine is your suspicion that even now he’s looking for the perfect metric for the government to use in the Better Place Act of 2013.

  9. Toby on Monday 8, 2012

    I met someone from Portsmouth once. I asked him what it was like. “Squashed chips on a wet pavement,” he replied. Never forgotten that. However, I believe he was talking about the city centre rather than Southsea, which is the pretty part.

    • jonathan law on Monday 8, 2012

      Dare say you’ve heard this one before but it’s always worth recalling the response of that anonymous squaddie to Jeff Hoon’s suggestion that Umm Qasr, Iraq, was rather like Southampton:

      “He’s either never been to Southampton, or he’s never been to Umm Qasr … There’s no beer, no prostitutes, and people are shooting at us. It’s more like Portsmouth.”

      • Worm on Monday 8, 2012

        hahaha good one JL!!

        • Toby on Monday 8, 2012

          It’s a beauty that one JL

  10. Hey Skipper on Monday 8, 2012

    That many raves for Local Hero, clearly I must track it down.

    (Evocative writing, Brit, BTW.)