Tuesday 11 December 2007

Not for prophet

Audience feedback isn’t always welcome. Just ask any English comedian who ever appeared at the Glasgow Empire. “Awa’ an’ bile yer heid!” is the only traditional shout from the gallery likely to make it past the Journal censor.

Nevertheless I sometimes find my total obscurity rather depressing. David Banks is always writing about public reaction to his column. Tom Gutteridge was apparently carried shoulder-high through the Central Station by cheering GNER staff after he wrote some nice things about them.

I’ve mentioned GNER on several occasions, nearly always positively, and never even been offered an extra complimentary biscuit. Perhaps I didn’t lay it on thickly enough. Sadly, it’s too late for that now. (Incidentally, did anyone else notice that GNER launched an exciting new website last week, which must be the oddest timing since … well, ever, really? I know IT departments have a bit of a reputation for being self-obsessed, but you’d think someone might have told them the franchise was ending.)

Maybe it’s my tone of voice that’s the problem. Apparently I always sound sarcastic, even when I’m being entirely sincere. Over the years I’ve enjoyed (no, better make that “endured”) a number of relationships with women, and whenever a culinary triumph has inspired me to say, “Mmm, this is really nice”, the response has never been the expected “Thank you, darling” but an angry “What’s wrong with it?” Saying “I love you” usually provoked a slap round the face that sent me flying across the room.

Let me say now, with the utmost sincerity, that the ladies behind the counter of Barclays Bank in Rothbury combine beauty, charm and attentiveness in proportions that could not be bettered anywhere. And if they’d like to show their appreciation for this plug, £50 notes will do nicely.

However, the real point of this piece is to share my triumph last week when I finally got some feedback on a column. Mainly from church-goers of a certain age who shared my views on the awfulness of the modern liturgy. One told me that she had enlarged the piece and pinned it on her church notice board. I started proudly telling a neighbour that my column had been blown up, and he said “That’s way over the top. Just screwing it up and chucking it on the fire does it nicely.”

I also got one complaint, from the gentleman who inspired the article. I’d failed to include the precise date of the end of the world, which is apparently December 23, 2012. It suits me, as I’ve never cared for Christmas, though it does seem a bit of a shame that we’ll have to endure the tedium of the London Olympics and the post-mortems about Britain’s miserable place in the medals table.

Unfortunately my friend is unable to specify whether the world will be ending in the morning or the afternoon, so we’ll just have to sit around all day waiting tensely. If my experience of delivery drivers is anything to go by, the trumpets will sound about ten seconds after one has nipped to the lavatory, and there will just be a card on the doormat saying “We called but you were out.”

Should you feel inclined to brood about this end of the world stuff, I suggest you take a look at Channel 4 tomorrow night, where a self-styled Messiah called Michael Travesser will be explaining why Doomsday failed to arrive on 31 October this year, as he had confidently predicted.

Old Mother Shipton was equally sure, writing that “The world to an end shall come, in nineteen hundred and ninety-one", presumably because it rhymed. Hers was just one of twenty-odd forecasts of doom in the last decade of the twentieth century.

As a devout Catholic friend pointed out, it will definitely happen one day, because the Bible says so. But not, I reckon, on a date that anyone has predicted. Let’s keep those prophecies coming!

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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