Thank you for the rather muted, but nevertheless welcome, reaction to the last blog. I’m disappointed not to have had any hostility from men in beige trousers; and Donald Trump, distracted with preparing his “State of the Nation” speech, must have been too busy to attack me for my fake report that he’s obese. Allow me to do it for you, Mr President:
“I am the most not obese person you have ever seen, believe me. My doctor very fine doctor doing a great job, has the most facts in history proving I am too tall to be obese. My tallness is a big number. A very big number. More bigly tall than your number. And you are FAKE NEWS. SAD!!!!”
This is known as “shooting fish in a barrel,” and I am now quite ashamed at taking cheap shots at this easy target. Even more ashamed since I came across something my old mentor Howard Jacobson, with whom I played a lot of bar billiards and snooker in the days before either of us was famous, had written in one of his newspaper columns. He was actually writing about his regret that Harold Pinter had (mis)used his gifts to rail against America, but it was an admonition I took to my own heart: “What a waste of a linguistic gift,” wrote Jacobson, “to expend it on so banal a cause, saying exactly what men with no gift for thought or language whatsoever were saying.” I hereby apologise (not for the first time, he was never one to be gentle with sloppy writing) to Howard Jacobson. But not to Donald Trump.
POTUS may be ignoring me, but I did get a couple of enquiries from “ordinary” people (WARNING: there’s a whole new blog coming down the line later about “ordinary” people):
“Why desolationrower?” was one of them.
I guess it’s because I used to be a rower, I like Bob Dylan, and desolation is appealing as an old man’s view of the world.
“Whose are the pictures?” was another. They’re all mine, unless credited otherwise, taken around the world over the past few decades, and put in here partly as a relief from the tedium of print (I may be old but I know that if you’re looking at a screen your attention span is barely three seconds without pictures), and partly as abstruse support for the actual meaning of the words. So abstruse, in fact, that sometimes even I can’t remember why they’re there – but then, I’m quite old, so…
The picture above wasn’t taken by me, because I’m in it. (I’m so old that I can remember when, to be in a photograph, somebody else had to take it.) This one was taken nearly 50 years ago. Hence my hair not being as grey as it is now. The rest of me is still almost indistinguishable from the picture.
Moving on, I regret to say that, in the interests of the “grumpy old man” vibe which men of my age so often use as their open door into blogging, and which is supposed to make frustrated bile-venting funny, I immediately identified a whole other shoal of fish in a very tight barrel, and have been unable to resist reaching for the shotgun.
Even with my apology to Howard fresh upon me, I have given in to that sense of affront at what the world is coming to:
I was reading The Telegraph Magazine (I do like to get out of the echo chamber and look at what’s happening in other people’s bubbles as much as my short temper will bear), and I came across some especially monumental trivialisations written by one of those newspaper “lifestyle” commentators who love to tell us how tough it is to be a middle-class comfortably off urbanite, what with the school run and keeping an eye on the au pair and getting to the gym and buying the right Lululemon (whatever the fuck that is), and doing Waitrose and elbowing their way into the areas with the best schools and nurturing their very bright but misunderstood children and staying sober, whilst holding down a serious pressure job delivering a 1,000-word column every single week (except when they’re on holiday or in rehab when one of their relatives takes over)…. You get the idea. Oh, and also dropping in the fabulous holidays they “can’t really afford” but go ahead and book anyway because they “deserve a break,” specifically to make envious the people in the beige trousers with their noses pressed up against the glass, who want to be them but aren’t.
Well, this piece I read was about the Maasai Mara: the sweeping plains and the teeming wildlife and the camp where they got close to Nature with “a plunge pool for every tent” and the wonderful guide who sat on the top of the Land Rover and pointed out all the fascinating animals they would have completely missed without his expert eye. (“Look, there’s an elephant!” That big, grey thing with the flappy ears that’s eating leaves off the tree we’re parked under.”)
It was written in that self-consciously poetic descriptive style that wins prizes at prep school; a “gift” for juvenile composition leading to the further gift of a friend of your uncle’s, who has connections, recommending you for a job as a columnist on the Telegraph: “I’ll have a word with Bertie, and you can pop along and see him….”
None of this is really startlingly more horrible than most “lifestyle” journalism in what are still ironically called the “quality” papers. I guess it’s got a market, and if your “gift” is for monumental trivialisation, crass banality and pre-teen lyrical prose, and you also have nepotism going for you, why not make the most of it?
What really made me angry, though (did you think I was already angry?) was a couple of sentences that glanced off the shallowness into deep, deep vacuity. This is the magnificent Maasai Mara, remember, and the fortunate (I hesitate to say “privileged”) partaker of its ancient natural grandeur gave the finest description of that land of savage beauty I have ever read: “The plains of the Maasai Mara at dawn can look like the opening scene of The Lion King.”
Reeling from that, I was then floored with this deep perception of the way lions conduct their social interactions: “There’s a Game of Thrones complexity to pride politics.”
Best examples I’ve seen of civilised society having looped back on itself and jammed its head so far up its own arse that all it has left to lighten the darkness is a Disney cartoon and a children’s story (yes it IS – it has magic and dragons and everything!)
My own “gift” being for digression, I will now try to suppress it and focus on getting to the end of this post.
I’ve been questioned about the beige trousers in my “dislikes” list. I will address that in my next post, along with some other dislikes, but to end on a happier note, I’ll introduce one of my “likes.” Pies.
This was a particularly fine pie I remember from last year. It was a leek and turkey pie. We had, as always, got a 17 lb. turkey for a Christmas dinner for just the two of us, because a bigger bird “cooks better.” The woman with whom I share my life is a genius at making sure none of the turkey – even the bones – is ever wasted. It provided sandwiches and cold meat and bubble & squeak meals over the holiday period, and was then stripped of its remaining meat, which was frozen to supply turkey curry, turkey soup and turkey pies (it was a very big turkey) well into the summer. The bones, skin and other bits were boiled up to make stock to add to the tastiness of all the other turkey-based delicacies. Hence the pastry motif on this pie – a Christmas tree with presents around it – to acknowledge our gratefulness to the festive bird.
On that reminder that it’s only January and we have months of this year’s turkey to look forward to, I shall end – for now.
*PS: I have since looked up Lululemon online, and find it’s a place that sells “technical apparel for yoga, sweat, travel and life.” A place where people who have no confidence in their own taste can be reassured by paying over £100 for a (probably very technical, but deceptively ordinary-looking) pair of running tights.