Monday, December 19, 2016

Pontvedra Pensées: 19.12.16

I read this comment on the UK's main left-of-centre party yesterday: Labour is truly at war, with each side trying to grind the other down. Later, I saw this cartoon in El País on the slanging match taking place between the 2 main men of the upstart 'far-left' Podemos party, watched by the similarly split PSOE party. Which used to be the main opposition to the PP right-of-centre party that's been allowed to stay in power because of internecine warfare on the entire Left. Not a good time to be on this side of the Spanish political spectrum:-

I lauded the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing yesterday and afterwards read this very apposite comment about the goings-on: For those who have likened the sweaty, flirty pyrotechnics of Strictly’s intensely physical performances to a PG form of “musical shagging”, there was plenty to ponder at last night.

On the Xmas Circular theme . . . . 1. Before I lose any more friends, I should stress I do enjoy receiving these from people I've known a long time and whose offspring I also know. Honest. And, 2. Here's the spoof message I wrote years ago. But chickened out of sending to relevant friends . . . .

God, don’t you just hate these circular letters!

But needs must. And I know you’re dying to hear how we moved onwards and upwards during 2001.

What a year! I am writing this by candlelight in a rude little house in the Montes de Malaga. I moved here in November, when I finally got the chance to achieve my lifetime ambition of becoming an Andalucian goatherd. It’s a simple life but I was astute enough to bring my border collie, Ryan, from England and he provides me with some company (in English) during the long, hot days in the hills of olive groves. As does my young and beautiful goatherdess companion during the long and even hotter nights. Ryan has adapted well to the local language and customs. Not to mention to goats instead of sheep. And I have adapted well to a young and energetic goatherdess.

Meanwhile, back in the UK both Faye and Hannah have done reasonably well. Faye is now a brain surgeon and in her spare time runs the V&A museum. She lives in a magnificent house in Hampstead, which is of course the very antithesis of my own situation. But she seems to enjoy the change when she flies here every now and then in her private jet. In fact, she is thinking of buying the Alhambra in Grenada to use as a weekend retreat. As I understand it from her, it is simply hell now trying to get in and out of London by car for the weekend. When she has a moment, Faye pursues her artistic interests. She was hoping to win the Turner prize next year with her concept of a single light bulb going off and on in an empty room but it seems that, amazingly, some other artist has had this astonishing insight into modern society.

Hannah is in her second year at Leeds, having turned down offers from Oxford, Cambridge, York, Durham and the rest. She was made a Professor at the end of her first year so must have done something right. On the strength of her English essays, she has received an offer to head up a prestigious publishing firm in the USA but is taking her time to think about it. Kids! After a few months at it, Hannah is now perfectly fluent in both Castilian Spanish and in the Andalusian dialect. She puts me to shame but I am very impressed by her facility in languages. Can’t think who she gets it from.

My sister, Barbara, in France has achieved miracles with the religious order she runs in Lourdes and is now favourite for the first ever female cardinalship. I’m praying for her. Meanwhile, my Jewish sister in Liverpool, Terry, has given up the hairdressing business and has become political adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. I think I can detect some of her thinking behind recent events in the West Bank.

Talking about expensive Apple repairs . . .  My neighbour, Ester had got estimates of €500-1,000 to repair her daughter's Mac screen. My IT shop said they'd do it for €100-120. So, should she be delighted or worried? As well as confused. We'll soon know. Right now the said laptop is in the shop, along with the cable that Ester can't lend me.

The Spanish Corner:

  • A local driver survived unharmed after his car fell 3 metres down a bank. In Spanish, the verb was the reflexive salvarse, or 'To save oneself'. Looking it up, I found these useful phrases:-
    • Salvarse de milagro: To have a close call, or a lucky/narrow escape.
    • Salvarse de pelos: Ditto
  • Irregular verbs in English are said to be only 10% of the total but, at the same time, to be among the most common. I've no idea what the Spanish percentage is but can recall that, when I was learning them by heart years ago, it seemed to be 100.
Today's English cartoon. Strangely apt, by pure coincidence:-

Finally . . .  If, like me, you are a huge fan of AA Gill, then you'll appreciate these tributes from two other engaging writers. If not, sign off now:

O Adrian, who will make me laugh now?: Jeremy Clarkson

In 1981 there was a big working-men’s pub in Earls Court, and on Cheltenham Gold Cup day it was crammed because, unusually for the times, the race was being shown on a television above the bar.

The whole place was a seething cauldron of braying Irish labourers and sloshing Guinness and cheap cigarette smoke until, with two furlongs to go, the door burst open and a lunatic dashed in. He leapt onto the bar, turned the television off and then ran out again. Welcome, everyone, to the man who would become my closest friend: AA Gill.

He was living back then in a dog basket in Kensington, dealing drugs to pay for his colossal thirst and hanging out with a group of very posh heroin addicts who spent their days forgetting to go to the funerals of their flatmates and friends. That he didn’t croak then, in a puddle of his own urine and vomit, is a miracle.

But he has now. He died last weekend, leaving us with a body of work that beggars belief. It beggars belief partly because he didn’t start writing until he was 38 but mostly because of his profound dyslexia. He’d have had a better chance of getting his letters in the right order if he’d lobbed a tin of alphabet soup into a ceiling fan. He’d often text me to say where we were having lunch and I’d have to use a Turing decoder to work out what the bloody hell he meant. “Twersy”, for instance, was “the Wolseley”.

The way Adrian dealt with this was a lesson to all sufferers today. History was his favourite subject at school but he always got a bad mark, so he asked his teacher why. You’re one of the best in class, said the teacher, but you’ve got a problem with your writing. Adrian decided angrily that he didn’t have the problem; the teacher did. And he vowed ever afterwards to make it someone else’s problem, not his own.

Adrian struggled, too, with reading. It would take him half an hour to read the inscription on a statue or a war memorial, which is something he did a lot, and yet somehow he knew everything about everything.

Why do the lampposts on the Mall have ships on them? Who invented chewing gum? How do the pirates off Somalia operate? All of that — and all of everything else — somehow was in his head. Polymath doesn’t even begin to cover it. He was Wikipedia with a cravat.

But his real gift, as we all know, because he was the cornerstone of all our Sunday mornings, was not just delivering the facts. It was making them come alive. Once, when I was away, he wrote my motoring column and said his TVR sounded like two lesbians in a bucket. It remains the best description yet of the noise a V8 makes at tickover. And it wasn’t even his specialist subject.

He also said that an Aston Martin sounded like Tom Jones bending over to pick up the soap in a Strangeways shower. And more recently my new television show is “Top Gear in witness protection”. No one, and I do mean no one, could phrase-make like him.

And lines such as this didn’t come to him after hours of pacing up and down and sucking on the end of a Biro. They were a constant soundtrack to his life. We were flying once to Blackpool, at night, in a helicopter. And after a long period of zooming over nothing but inky blackness we passed over the sodium orange glow of a town. “What’s that?” Adrian said to the pilot. A check on the map revealed it to be Preston. Adrian looked at it quizzically for a moment. “What’s the point of that?” he asked.
Later he met a Tory cabinet minister who blustered on and on about how important it was for people to get on their bikes and make something of their lives: start a business perhaps. “That’s what I did when I was young,” said Adrian enthusiastically. The Tory went into a back-slapping, that’s-the-ticket routine, which was cut short when Adrian said: “Yeah. I was a drug dealer.”

Over the years, Adrian stopped the drugs and the booze and even the cigarettes by becoming addicted to other stuff. Mostly this involved buying trousers. I think he bought a new pair most days. And another cravat. And a cardigan or two. And perhaps another stupid suit, lined this time with all the flags of Siena’s contrade.

Which brings us on to the man. He was unfathomable, really. Because he was a screamingly camp straight man, an un-Christian believer and a potty-mouthed poet. C*** [cunt] was pretty much his favourite word.

It’s been reported that he was upset and bitter about being denied expensive treatment for the cancer that killed him. But he wasn’t. He accepted it. Because he was a terrible old leftie who thought like a Tory. Or it might have been the other way round. I never really knew.

Occasionally, when we wrote pieces together, we’d plan them so I’d have one opinion and he’d have another. But as often as not he’d get to where we were going and he’d change his mind. We went to Midland in Texas, which I knew he’d think was a hellhole, and he loved it. So I took him to France, which he had always loathed, and he decided as soon as we arrived that he didn’t.

Before he died we were planning to write a piece together about whether Italians were more interested in food or cars. If it had happened I just know he’d have said the Fiat 500 was way more important than some silly bits of fish in a tomato sauce. (Which it is, by the way.)

It sounds as if he was a contrarian but he actually wasn’t. He just had opinions, and sometimes they’d change and sometimes they wouldn’t, and sometimes they’d contradict one another. And he really, really didn’t care if you agreed with him or not.

Nor did he have an Off button. If he thought your new sofa was ghastly, he’d tell you. And if you’d put on a bit of weight, he’d bring it up. Once an artist proudly showed him their work and he said: “That’s amazing. How long have you been painting with your feet?”

I’d watch people sometimes, spooling up for an argument with him, and I’d sit there thinking: “Oh, no. Don’t poke the beast. Don’t poke it.” But they usually did, and then he’d eviscerate them, because he was faster than they were and funnier and cleverer.

It’s been said that Adrian and I were very close, and we were. But the truth is, he was close to thousands and thousands of people. If you walked down any street in what he called London — nothing with an “E” or an “N” in the postcode — you’d have to stop every 20ft so he could embrace someone coming the other way. In every restaurant it would take him 20 minutes to get to his table because of all the hugs and wide-eyed “daaaaaahlings” he’d have to do on the way. It seemed sometimes that he knew everyone.

Three days before he died, he had Hillary Clinton’s former security adviser, James Rubin, on one side of his hospital bed, reading him bits from The Guardian, and Rebekah Brooks on the other. Then in came the designer Tom Ford to talk spectacles.

He had thousands and thousands of friends because, deep down, he was kind, warm-hearted and extremely loyal. But by far and away his greatest gift was his ability to make people laugh. Me especially. When we broke our golf virginity together in Cheshire, I damn nearly hacked up my own spleen. When he decided it would be quicker to kick the ball round the course, I honestly thought: “If I don’t breathe in soon, I’m going to die.”

It was the same story when he accidentally reversed an Abrams main battle tank into an ornamental lake in the middle of Baghdad, or on shoots when we’d spend all day trying to land birds on each other’s head. Or when I opened the paper and saw the restaurant he’d reviewed had been given no stars. “Oh, this is going to be good . . .” I’d think. And it always, always was.

Yes, he was brilliant at writing serious stories about serious issues. And he was brilliant also at picking apart a television programme or telling you why it’s a good idea to put nutmeg on cauliflower cheese (which it isn’t). But he was at his absolute best when he was being funny.

Towards the end, he and I were sitting around in Whitby with the comedian Jimmy Carr. Adrian announced he’d just started to watch the Westworld series on the television.
“Ooh,” said Jimmy. “That’s a bit ambitious — it’s a 10-parter.”

It’s the last time I heard Adrian burst out laughing. And that’s what I’ll miss most of all. Well, that, and every other bit of him.

The Full English: AA Gill, 1954-2016: Mark Steyn

I can't really say I knew AA Gill, although for a brief period he was my next-door neighbor in South Kensington. He was more successful than I, which a lot of writers are, but also more glamorous, which is something more mysterious and less quantifiable, and on which I brooded from my window when I spied him sauntering the sidewalk. But he was a beautiful writer, of a kind that does not really exist in the colorless American press. Setting aside their partisan homogeneity, the principal defect of The New York Times et al is that they're so bloody boring. Gill was one of those fellows you enjoyed reading on almost any subject, and regardless of what position he took on it. Nor was he, as is generally the case today, a newspaper man who becomes known because he goes on TV and radio at the drop of a hat. For the most part he eschewed the broadcast media: He was a writer who was known for his writing.

His death at the weekend reminded me of a time in my life when you'd leave a London restaurant late on a Saturday night and pick up the first editions of the Sunday papers from a Tube kiosk on the way home - because they were such marvelous reads. Even before they entered their present death spiral, I have never felt that way about The Boston Globe or The Washington Post. As Hugh Laurie tweets:
I never met AA Gill, and cursed his name often; but he was funny, clever, honest, and wrote terrific sentences. I will miss him very much.

He "wrote terrific sentences". I'll bet, during his Hollywood sojourn, Hugh Laurie has never said that about any LA Times columnist.

No one will write AA Gill's obituary as well as he would have. Here he is delineating with absolute precision the world into which he was born:

I was born in 1954 in Edinburgh. Winston Churchill was prime minister, there was still rationing, we were the first generation that would grow up with television, pop music, central heating and a National Health Service. As a child, every old man I knew had fought in the First World War and every young man in the Second.

War still hung like the smell of a damp, grim nostalgia over everything. We played Spitfires and Messerschmitts in the playground and you could, as Kingsley Amis pointed out, walk into any pub in the country and ask with perfect confidence if the major had been in. London was still moth-eaten with bomb sites and black with coal smoke. One of my earliest memories is of the last pea souper fog.

Everyone of Gill's generation will recognize that vanished Britain, but only a few could evoke it that deftly and economically - and with the sense of wistfulness that comes from realizing that the life you're living has somehow become the life you've lived. It's one typical passage from a routine journalistic assignment:

Last week an editor breezily mentioned that as I was coming up to a milestone decade would I perhaps like to write something about it? You know, is 60 the new 40? Why do you make those little noises when you get out of a chair? Am I considering getting a shed, or a cruise, or Velcro? And what about sex?

The only people who ask about significant birthdays are younger than you. No 70-year-olds are inquiring about my insights on being 60. Age is the great terra incognita. But then, all the people who tell me to do anything are younger than me now.

It's one of those very Fleet Street pieces that America's dull monodailies can't seem to do. And, like a lot of journalism, it's as good or as bad as the writer who does it. Gill did it very well. Every so often - though not as often as in his case, I would wager - I'll come off a stage or a TV set and a young lady will approach and offer some admiring comments. And my flattered old heart will flutter - until I remember this paragraph of his:

A contemporary of mine, after a number of marriages, found a girlfriend less than half his age of a transcendent pneumatic beauty who hung on his every word — and dumped her after a couple of months. Why, I asked — she was perfect! "Too many things we didn't have in common," he said sadly. Like what? "Well, the Eighties."

Very true. One thinks of Bill Clinton pretending to share Monica's taste in music... I liked this bit, too:

Every morning, after taking our twins to school, Nicola and I read the papers over breakfast and I recite the birthday list and she will guess the ages. She's uncannily accurate. Yesterday The Guardian will have said: AA Gill, critic and baboon-murdering bastard, 60.

I share a birthday with Henry VIII and the shot that started the Great War. I've always read the anniversary roll and over the years I've watched people my age go from rarely mentioned as sportsmen and pop stars to more commonly as leading actors and television presenters and now ubiquitously I find myself in the thick of captains of industry, ennobled politicians, retired sportsmen and character actors.

As I said, all that's from just one A A Gill column, written at a far higher level than a dying industry demands, at least to judge from The New York Times or The Washington Post. It was published just two years ago, when he confidently expected to live to see another four World Cups, as he put it. 

Thus he neglected to note that another sign of the accumulating years is that more and more of your contemporaries, whether former pop stars or mighty captains of industry, migrate from "Today's Birthdays" to the obituary column. And so a few weeks ago he mentioned to his readers in the course of a restaurant review that he had "an embarrassment of cancer, the full English" - for non-Britons, that's an allusion to the huge and indigestible "full English breakfast" (which, credit where it's due, is a vegan snack next to the full Irish).

So he coined a phrase even for his death sentence, and one that's almost too perfect for a gourmand and restaurant critic. And its rueful if faintly parodic stiff-upper-lipped stoicism would have earned the gruff approval of all those long-gone Englishmen of the Fifties opening up pub doors and asking if the major had been in. Rest in peace.


Les Revenants said...

Many thanks for this. The obits on AA Gill were great. In particular, that by J Clarkson who goes up in my estimation. I didn't know he was such a good writer.

Colin Davies said...

Clarkson writes amusingly every Sunday in The Times but this is better than normla. He's not quite the fool he appears to be. Trump, on the other hand . . .