I can't think of a single acquaintance of mine who is not writing a column at the moment (well, there is my mother, but she's only an "acquaintance" if you count the year we worked together hustling pool halls).
In fact, until I was asked to add my column to the Parthenon that is already in place, I had begun to feel somewhat incomplete, as if I was forever leaving the house without wearing my trousers.
Now, I feel whole. Now, I have a forum for all those thoughts that, somehow, people have been happily living without for years. In months ... no, in weeks to come, people will come to think of their lives as being pre-Linehan and post-Linehan. "How," they will say, "how did we survive before this man began to describe all those `little' moments of his life in intricate detail, with all the charm and roguish Celtic wit that agh agh dooby gooble dooby gabba gabba pooly gobble gah gah."
So far, of course, my tone has been very much on the defensive. The more I deride myself, the less chance I have of being pilloried by my acquaintances in their columns. It's a trick I learned in school, where if you remained in a corner of the yard whacking yourself in the face with a hammer, people pretty much left you alone.
Anyway, a few personal details, just so we're comfortable.
I always carry a poem by Blake in my shirt pocket. This is Alan Blake, now, a friend of mine and, it has to be said, not a very good poet (his latest begins "O, Christ-like frog, jump not for my sins"). Poetry is a constant companion, guide and caddy. Not a day passes without me cracking the spine of a poetry anthology, staring at it blankly for five minutes and then switching on the television.
I am conservative in matters of dress. lt seems that in these days of uncertainty, it does the soul good to see a well-turned-out man raising his umbrella for a taxi. To this end, I always wear the same outfit - cravat, Paul Smith shirt, tailored slacks, a jacket of Irish tweed and a fedora.
Actually, wait, that's not me. I'm thinking of someone else there.
I overuse the word "I", as you've no doubt already noticed. In fact, it makes such a frequent appearance in my (ha, ha) prose that I have installed a programme in my computer to facilitate its use. Rather than pressing the "I" key, I simply press (apple symbol), Caps Lock and @. Hey presto, another precious personal pronoun joins its many friends!
Women seem to find me ... well, shall we say ... intriguing. And I, in turn, see in them boundless mystery and enchantment. A month or so back, I had sex with a woman. It was definitely sex. I've gone over it again and again in my mind and I'm sure it counts. It was sex. It was. She took her shirt off and everything.
Rest assured, gentle or rough reader, that there are one or two practices that will find no place under my marque. Never will you find a column written in the form of a script, except now, so that we're clear on what I mean.
The scene: The Blind Date studios. Cilla walks into shot, accompanied by a shy John Major.
Cilla: Howay, Chuck, let's meet our three lovely ladies.
Applause. Behind the screen, we see Imelda Marcos, Princess Diana and Cherie Blair. John looks through his cards.
John: As Prime Minister, I go on a lot of trips abroad. If you were arranging my itinerary, how would you ...?
Ugh. I can't bear to write any more. Wouldn't the world be a better and more enlightened place if columnists stopped doing this? Remember when we used to be able to leave our front doors open? It was only when journalists started doing comedy sketches in print that everything went to hell.
Second, you will never see my byline followed by the words "at large" - a few descriptions of stringy vegetables in a top restaurant and some writers start thinking they're Al Capone. If it's a column by a fugitive, scribbling on scraps of paper his humorous variations of a life on the run, then maybe "at large" would be appropriate. If it's someone talking about an amusing encounter at a craft fair, it seems somewhat immodest.
And finally, because the words "I can see it now" are normally preceded by a hypothesis that is generally unlikely and unfunny and followed by a flight of fancy that is similarly depressing (ie "Perhaps the Royal Family will have to receive income support. I can see it now, Fergie jiggling her jewellery in the dole queue, Edward selling televisions from the back of a van etc etc."). I will not have that kind of thing in my home.
I'm looking forward to this, actually. And perhaps my new station will ensure that the Independent starts printing my letters. I've sent a good few over the years, and not one has found its way into the paper. That's irony. Or something.Reuse content