Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The overwhelming appeal of the other side

You may be familiar with the story of the radio disc jockey who broadcast warm congratulations to a listener on reaching the grand old age of 111, then had to admit misreading the request; he was actually supposed to be commiserating with her for being ill.

These thoughts come to mind because this is my 111th column on page 11, as well as my 54th birthday. How I wish it were tomorrow, so that you could post me a card, ideally containing a gift of folding money.

I nearly did not make it. I came close to being killed last week on the long drive to write my first ever restaurant review. I swerved violently to avoid a lamb, which was in the road because the grass is always greener on the other side.

As I spotted the Grim Reaper in the hedgerow, it struck me that this would at least be a massively appropriate reason for my demise. Every chef I know is desperate to follow in the footsteps of Gordon, Jamie, Hugh etc, and make it onto TV. While my colleague Tom Gutteridge, throughout his very successful career in television, has harboured ambitions to be a chef; hence his presence in the kitchens of the Queen’s Head at Great Whittington.

Similarly, I spent more than 20 years working in PR in the City of London, loathing my job and wishing that I could be a journalist or, ideally, a humorous writer. This was despite daily contact with journalists who were constantly complaining about being overworked and underpaid, and frequently seeking a way to transfer their skills into public relations.

Added to which, the one person I know who could reasonably put “humorist” as his occupation lives in a permanent state of genteel poverty, and is just about the most miserable individual I have ever met.

For the last four years I have been deliberately running down my PR business by spurning new commissions and being even ruder than usual to my remaining clients. In parallel with this, I have developed ideas for a range of hilarious books, which have been greeted by the publishing world with truly astonishing indifference.

So my humorist friend suggested a Plan B: start writing a blog, and wait for the talent spotters to beat down my door. It has achieved nothing of the sort, though it does seem to have amused a few people, and frustrated many more who got to it by typing “dogging Northumberland” into Google.

More importantly, it has finally shamed me into achieving a much needed two stone weight loss, and has found me a delightful girlfriend, who read the pointless ramble and decided that I was the ideal man for her. I mention this as a tip to those for whom conventional internet dating has so far proved unproductive.

Naturally she arrived on the scene at precisely the moment when I had finally come up with a book idea that seemed to be attracting a bit of interest: Must Have Own Teeth, a comic guide to the vicissitudes of hopeless dating among the over-50s. She has sportingly agreed that I can still go ahead and write it, so long as I don’t take my dates anywhere nice or attempt to sleep with them afterwards, but my heart is no longer in it.

Being 17 years younger than I am, my new companion is keen to have children, which are something I felt pretty sure would never feature in my life. But even before we reach that potential hurdle, sharing my expensive tastes with her has begun to make me open my bank statements with the same sort of trepidation that Gordon Brown feels on receiving the latest opinion polls. In fact I’ve started looking back over the fence towards PR and thinking how remarkably lush the grass looks.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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