My So-Called Life: Why this man is the best writer ever


I have just read Andrew Marr's
My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, which I'm glad wasn't a long one, as there are enough hopelessly boring bits in the short one as it is.

I have just read Andrew Marr's My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, which I'm glad wasn't a long one, as there are enough hopelessly boring bits in the short one as it is. Of course, I am not being serious, the book being just the right length for one of this kind, which might be too long for some, especially as there are no pictures, tips on how to get the look for less, diet plans, slimming success stories, or considered polemics on Geri Halliwell's yo-yoing weight.

But I enjoyed every word, especially the ones I skipped and the large chunks I skim-read. Again, only teasing, as I have absolute and total respect for Mr Marr. Indeed, any reports that, during his time as editor of this newspaper, I would follow him around exclaiming "Look at the ears on that, everybody!" are simply based on malicious gossip of the very worst and most inexcusable kind. That said, he does have the most amazingly huge, sticky-out ears, but I would no more say so than, for example, point out that on page 364, which is by far the best and most searingly insightful page in the book, he writes: "Deborah Ross's weekly self-portraits of the cheerful but slovenly wife and mother, dragging through shopping and skiving chores, comes nearer to describing how much of the country actually lives than any of the thousands of glossy improve-your-life articles stuffing the weekend papers."

That's page 364, which comes after page 363 and, therefore, before page 365. Strangely, my own copy of the book happens now to fall cleanly open at that very page, which is quite the best page of the book, if not the greatest page of any book ever written, and I include Dostoyevsky, Dickens and even Tony Parsons.

And I think that Mr Marr's ears suit him. In fact, they may be rather lovely. I wish I had ears like Andrew Marr. And, now I think about it, My Trade: a short history of British journalism might be worth £20 of anyone's money for page 364 alone. Personally, and it does pain me to say it, I do think the book could have stopped there, instead of, rather unnecessarily, going on to page 391.

Cheerful, though? Yes, I am, as it happens. Mr Marr is right, as he is right about everything - particularly if you wish to go to page 350 and then thumb on for, say, 14 pages (and unless he remembers being trailed at The Independent by a badly dressed, frizzy-haired, moon-faced creature ex-claiming "Look at the ears on that!", in which case, he isn't; in which case, he must have fallen for all those malicious rumours, so rife at the time, and has somehow come to believe them).

But I am cheerful. I am so cheerful, it's not true. Ask anyone who knows me, but, for balance, you might wish to include a far greater number who don't.

I am cheerful when the person in front of me in the supermarket queue looks surprised when asked to pay, and spends 40 minutes rummaging in her handbag for her purse. "Take your time, love," I always say, cheerfully. "Yes, I know, it's mad the way they make you pay for it all at the end, isn't it? Crazy! Please, rummage away."

I am cheerful when my son announces, just before he leaves for school, that he needs a packed lunch and his swimming stuff and a Tupperware container of a Tupperware nature containing all the ingredients necessary for the making of a 49-tier wedding cake and a banquet for 89 guests (four of whom are vegetarian; two kosher) in food tech, and would I sign his planner.

"I'll get right to it," I always say, cheerfully, while getting right to it, and blowing on his trunks, in the hope that'll get them dry in time. "I'm so glad you didn't tell me you needed all this stuff last night," I always add, "as rushing around in a panic like this first thing really gets me in the right mood for the day. And I so don't feel like tripping you up and then kicking you in the ribs, you lazy and forgetful fat oaf. One bride for the top of the cake, or two?"

The only time I ever lose my cool is when anyone disses Andrew Marr's book, which is truly excellent, particularly if you go to page 370 and happen to thumb six pages backwards.

But as for skiving on chores, I am, I will admit, a little upset about that accusation. Just the other day, for example, I had to rewash the washing I'd washed a week ago because I never bothered to take it out of the machine and it smelled. This isn't skiving. This is making more work for myself, purely because my high standards dictate that just-washed washing should not, on the whole, make you retch. Sometimes, I will even rewash the same washing three, four, sometimes five times, before taking it out of the machine, which shows just how very high those standards are.

And as for slovenly, well, I would no more make a cup of Nescafé by running the mug under the hot-water tap than I would, say, discover the following on clearing out my underwear drawer for the first time ever: one A-Z; the PC game I hid for my son's birthday seven years ago, but forgot where I hid it so had to buy it again; small change amounting to £4.20; two conkers and three Fox's Glacier Fruits, which, for all I know, may still be tasty after all these years, even though, I'm imagining, you'd have to really work at picking the paper off.

However, I certainly do drag through the shopping, especially from the car into the house as no one ever bloody bothers to help me. Still, being the cheerful sort, I only ever say: "Don't mind me, dragging this shopping through the house all on my own with no help from anybody." Sometimes, I will shout this in a very loud voice, just to make sure that they know just how cheerful about it I am.

So, Mr Marr is right about most things, as ever, and never more so than on page 364. Strangely, my own copy of the book not only falls open at that page, but it falls open while facing upwards, on my desk, so that anyone passing can read the relevant paragraph that happens to be triply underlined in neon lime. As for the Marr look, I believe it can be achieved by grabbing your ears from behind and pulling them outwards really, really hard. It's said to hurt, but is believed to be worth it for the outstandingly convincing end result.

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