Young, gifted and worrying about the footie

Helen Stevenson reads a boys' own tale of frogs in the tandoori and toe nails in the tea; Time for Bed by David Baddiel, Little,Brown, pounds 14.99

If I'm interested in football and I love funny men, by rights I ought at least not to dislike David Baddiel. And if I like David Baddiel, I ought to be just crazy about Gabriel Jacoby, who is standing in for David Baddiel here, because this is a novel and not a comedy routine. You know that, because it comes between covers and costs pounds 14.99. Otherwise it's much the same, except there is no infectious laughter here, no peer pressure to giggle and identify. A reader is harder to please than a member of an audience.

One of the conceits of the new bloke persona of which David Baddiel, among others, has become the spokesman, is a deep rooted insecurity about the world, women, and his team's chances of league success, all wrapped up in the ironic bashfulness of the man who is just lucid enough to recognise that what he's really worried about is whether he's any good in bed. Here's the straight answer: any man who talks about himself this much can't be.

Gabriel is Jewish, insomniac, anxious to be seen to be educated in spite of himself, nervous, sentimental, in love with his half-brother's sister Alice, who is black. He doesn't have a job at the start of the novel, and makes the occasional trip to the job centre to sign on, until he gets his arm twisted to write a trendy sports column for a glossy magazine. He may be capable of deep felt emotions towards women, which are meant to make us feel he is as enlightened, somewhere in his heart, as he is priapic in his trousers, but his compassion and sensitivity do not impede on his conception of the world outside his own. An employee in the job centre is ridiculed for his ordinary sadness and hopelessness; the only real reference in the novel to a member of the labouring classes reads as follows: "I'm not sure it's possible for the labouring classes to consume any other beverage (than tea), just as it seems to be part of the social contract they have struck with us bourgeois that, as they mend things in our houses, we must make them endless cups of the stuff." I read this sentence several times, I read it ironically, and straight, I read it post-ironically and I read it critically, and I still could not think how it had crept into a novel by one of Britain's major comedians. I could phrase that indirect question differently, of course.

I don't ask that men grow up to be serious. It's just a bit dull if the jokes remain the same 15 years on. For a woman, the football has to be good and the jokes have to be funny. It's quality that counts, not just how long you bang on about it. At times there was even a distinctly sub- Wodehousian tone, circumlocution being the last refuge of the man who isn't sure he's made a joke: "Had Dr Johnson been there at that point he would have noted my expression, got out his quill, opened his enormous compendium and completely rewritten his definition of the word 'blankly'."

A good read? Maybe. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't moved either, except occasionally to a slight smile. There are some good jokes, a lot of bad ones, a sort of plot, an extended description of anal sex, a flatmate relationship gone wrong, frogs in the tandoori and toe nails in the tea, the occasional striking apercu, a Jewish funeral and a lot of presuppositions about the kind of things graduates think are funny.

The problem is that in this kind of genre humour, there is no room for eccentricity, only for types. Humour does depend on types, to a certain extent. But surely in a novel they need to be flexed and modulated to create character, otherwise you end up boring your reader. David Baddiel must know this already. Contrasting two female characters, one of whom corresponds to his platonic ideal of womanhood (ie she knows everything about football) and the other who doesn't (ie she knows nothing about football) he eventually allows the latter to emerge as the more interesting and subtle character.

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform