My life as a social pariah

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Have you seen the cover of the Radio Times this week? It shows a man with a hot-chocolate coloured sun-tan sitting in a chair grinning at us.

Have you seen the cover of the Radio Times this week? It shows a man with a hot-chocolate coloured sun-tan sitting in a chair grinning at us.

As soon as I saw it, I registered that it was Rory Bremner impersonating someone, but I couldn't recognise who. A sportsman? A TV make-over expert? Alan Milburn? I have no idea what Alan Milburn looks like, so it might have been him. Then on second glance, I thought it might well be Alan Titchmarsh, though it wasn't an especially good impression.

Then I looked at the caption, and discovered it wasn't Rory Bremner at all. It was Alan Titchmarsh himself. Apparently he will be introducing the show called the Antiques Road Show instead of someone else who was doing it before him, thus making the great break from being an expert on gardening into being a non-expert on something else, though why he has to apply furniture polish to his face to do this I do not know.

What bothers me slightly is the fact that I did not recognise him immediately. We live in a world where there are certain faces and names you have to recognise immediately, because if you do not, you are not a fully accredited member of that world. And if I get to a stage where I begin to be unable to recognise names and faces, I shall get out of touch and be shunted to the outside of the room, to the back of the queue and to the table by the entrance to the kitchen.

I have already taken a calculated risk by not following any soaps in my life. I have no idea who is in EastEnders, Coronation Street or Emmerdale Farm, because I have never seen any of them. Of course, as any of my fellow non-soap-watching human beings will testify, you develop a sixth sense which tells you that the conversation has turned to a soap; when people start discussing whether so-and-so is going to get married, or how so-and-so will get his revenge, there comes a sort of freshness and eagerness into their debate which they would never lavish on real life. And then, like a driver instinctively not taking a turn into a cul-de-sac, you fall silent and wait till the talk reverts to the real world.

For this reason alone, I can never take part in any pub quiz. I have tried once or twice and know that I am better than average on the traditional branches of general knowledge, but every now and then there is a round of questions about soaps, or TV, or modern films, or music (by which they always mean pop music), and I go into a coma. Not only do I not know the names of any the characters or musicians, I often don't know the name of the soap or the group either. Why any grown-up should receive rewards for knowing the drummer's name in Blur has never been explained to me, and I do not want it to be explained to me now.

It's television that is behind all this, of course. I first discovered this many years ago when my first wife and I decided to see how long we could survive without a TV set. Our children simply went round to neighbours' houses to watch their favourite programmes, but we ourselves genuinely did without TV for months.

Then one day at work someone said in the course of conversation, "Who loves you, baby?" And I, rather puzzled, said, "I don't know - who does love you?" And they said, "No, no, - it's from Kojak," and I said, "What's Kojak?" and they said, "Not what, who - he's the bald detective," and I said, "What bald detective?" and they said, "The one played by Telly Savalas," and I said - well, you probably get the idea by now. And I also got the idea, that if you haven't got a TV, or have got one and don't watch it, you will be unarmed in the gunplay of everyday conversation.

And we did get the TV back and watched just enough to regain membership of the human race, but that was years ago and now I have a horrible feeling that I may be slipping back again into that world where you don't pick up catch-phrases, and don't recognise celebrities, and have never heard of rock stars. In a way, it's a bit like going deaf.

It is also, though, incredibly restful.