Tuesday 26 December 2006

Not waving, not drowning

If you asked me what this column was for, I’d be hard pressed to give you a coherent answer. But I can tell you exactly what it’s not: a cry for help. So while I am grateful to everyone who e-mailed me last week, offering a share of their sumptuous Christmas dinner in place of my own modest snack, I really wasn’t aiming for that. Particularly as you all made it abundantly clear that the invitation only extended to Craster the Border terrier, and not his master.

Craster wouldn’t have wanted to have a wonderful time without me. Mainly because I almost never let him out of my sight, so he has absolutely no idea what a wonderful time is. He hasn’t been helped, either, by that unfortunate misunderstanding with the vet when he was a puppy. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel a big pang of guilt about it, even though I know that my own life would have been so much simpler if I’d had the same small operation during adolescence.

He’s called Craster, incidentally, because he’s a world class kipper. If they make it an event in the 2012 London Olympics, I reckon he’ll be a shoo-in for gold. He’s up to 22.5 hours per day already in training, and there’s still over five years to go before the grand opening (and seven years until the main stadium is completed).

Anyway, we had a marvellous day yesterday. I read my book: the new, 959-page authorised biography of Kingsley Amis. Someone who accidentally got through the security, and called for a seasonal drink, picked it up and asked, “Why on earth would anyone choose that for Christmas reading? Amis was a miserable, curmudgeonly, right-wing, drunken … good Lord, is that the time?”

I’m enjoying it immensely. It’s always good (though extremely difficult, in my case) to read about someone whose views and neuroses are more extreme than your own.

What I’d really like is to be a novelist. But I’m advised that publishers these days are only interested in new novelists who are young, glamorous, female and ideally from an ethnic minority. It’s typical of my luck that they apparently don’t get more enthusiastic about the disabled, which is the one condition to which I can reasonably aspire.

So now I call myself “a writer”. Partly because it sounds better (and is quicker to get out) than “a PR man who has no clients because he’s too lazy to do any work”. And partly because a survey reported in The Journal earlier this month rated it as the second most attractive career for a man, after doctor. (Blast. If only I’d finished that PhD I’d be officially irresistible.)

I went out on the pull last week with Craster and my traditional sprig of mistletoe, but the old patter just doesn’t cut the mustard any more. “Hi, do you work in insurance? Oh, I just thought you looked like you could be pretty good as an underwriter. Me? I’m a writer. Ow!”

Craster got off with a very nice cat, but he wasn’t happy. He was hoping for a sheep.

So here we are, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a log fire hurling enormous sparks at the highly flammable old sofa, while failing to make any discernible impact on the temperature of the room. A portrait of the old Queen Mother looks down benignly as Craster thoughtfully sucks a left-over turkey foot, I struggle to turn the pages of my book while wearing thick, woollen gloves, and an old 78 of Al Jolson croaks and crackles in the background. It is hardly the vision of “Young Britain” that Tony set out to fulfil when he walked across the threshold of 10 Downing Street amid such rampantly high hopes a decade ago. And for some reason just thinking that cheers me up no end.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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