Tuesday 30 June 2009

Changing by accident, or design?

One of the most important lessons any father can teach his son is surely this: you can’t win.

No matter what you say, write or do, you are sure to upset someone. And even if you read 99 ecstatic reviews of something you have produced or performed, it will be the single negative comment that sticks in your mind forever.

So it was last week, with my admittedly soft-hearted (but not, I hoped, soft-headed) piece about the birth of my boy Charlie. Several people kindly wrote to tell me they had enjoyed it, but two said quite the opposite. One of my few remaining clients claimed that it had even made the agenda of a board meeting, at which “We all agreed you are going soft and missing so many political opportunities. What about the Speaker, hostages, Gordon Brown etc?”

That was easy enough to deal with. I have seen ample evidence that my views on the current Prime Minister have delighted some readers quite enough (though I am right, by the way) and I can think of nothing useful to say about the fate of the Iraq hostages (though I agree that this consideration has not prevented me from tackling a number of other issues over the years).

As for the Speaker, my opinion could be expressed in a single sentence: if you don’t want to wear the uniform, don’t apply for the job. Or perhaps two: in what way does it add to the dignity of the Commons to have its chair partially occupied by a midget dressed like the colour-blind second master of a slightly dodgy preparatory school, whose wife has distinctly suspect taste in ties as well as husbands?

Yet we have something in common, Mr Bercow and I, because the reason he is so detested on the Conservative benches is that he has changed: from Enoch Powellite “send them back” right-wing hard nut to gay-hugging liberal, either under the soothing influence of his relatively Amazonian partner or as part of a naked, long-term pitch for the prize he has now attained. And the burden of the complaints against me is that I have changed, too.

My second and more disturbing critic last week put it thus. “I don't know if you've noticed it but you've now done an almost complete role exchange with Wife in the North. She is basking in her success as a literary personality and writing about her speaking engagements and career; while you are writing sentimental columns about spouse and family.”

If we believe Mrs O’Reilly (and why not?) she started her instantaneously successful Wife blog to stop herself going stir crazy when faced with the horror of relocating to rural Northumberland with three young children and an absent husband. Though, given her professional background as a journalist and TV producer, it would have made equal sense for her to begin it as a carefully researched and brilliantly targeted literary money-spinner.

I began mine shortly afterwards with mildly satirical intent, to amuse myself and in the very faint hope of perhaps one day appealing to a passing publisher. There has been absolutely no luck on that front, but it did reel in something I had never budgeted for: a beautiful young wife, closely followed by a handsome son. I have not consciously changed any of my views, but it is the sort of thing calculated to adjust the perspective of even the most dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon.

I would be prepared to bet that “It’s funny how things turn out” was not a phrase on Mr Bercow’s lips as he was “dragged reluctantly” to the chair last week. I would not dream of speculating whether my fellow North blogger has changed, if at all, by accident or design. But I can claim for this Bloke a most conspicuous lack of careful forward planning.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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