Andrew Martin: Do I have to be ranked on life's league table?

Longing for a return to self-effacing modesty

Share
Related Topics

Last week, I saw a photograph of David Cameron actually kissing a baby. I didn't think politicians did that any more. It's like seeing a man slipping on a banana skin, or a belfry with bats in it. So smooth and hairless is Cameron's face that it appeared as though he was looking in a mirror, and the effect was generally unedifying. Later, I read an interview with Gordon Brown in which he was asked the question: "If you lost the election, what sort of work would you like to do?" He replied: "Perhaps some sort of charity or voluntary work."

If he'd given the full answer, "Some sort of charity or voluntary work... on the side, while I rake in thousands from high-level advisory posts," I would have admired him more, but politicians at election time are particularly craven, and we enjoy looking down on them for it.

This time around, however, I feel that such disdain may be misplaced because we are all perennially fighting our own election campaigns. We are constantly being judged by some numerical index, or indeed being subject to the votes of others. A young woman I know who enquired about a media traineeship was told: "If you haven't got a thousand followers on Twitter, forget it." If, when I was at school 30 years ago, I had boasted of the number of friends I had, I would have been rightly condemned as an utter prat. Yet today, the addition of the words "... on Facebook" seems to legitimise the boast.

In our ever more pushy and marketised world, lots of things that used to be considered the hallmarks of an utter prat are no longer so considered: writing screeds of self-praise on one's blog or website, for example. It is understood that politicians have a licence to boast, and that used to make their realm near unique. Now we all do it to the extent that the quality of modesty will soon go the way of gentility or gentlemanliness.

The story is told at the still civilised publishers, Faber & Faber (I should

declare an interest: the firm publishes my own books), of the young trainee who – some 30 years ago – was discussing the paperback publication of a novel with one of the senior partners. The trainee said: "The TLS rated it as 'undoubtedly a masterpiece'. We should definitely put that on the cover." "Oh, I don't think we need to blow our own trumpet in that way," replied the senior partner, while poking the coal fire that burned in his office.

For any novel to succeed today, it must not only be hyped to a high number on Amazon, it must also win a vote – i.e. an award. There are votes, and awards, for anything now, and I follow the prizegivings with morbid interest. At the British Insurance Industry Awards a couple of years ago, guests were addressed by Jeremy Paxman and entertained by the British Philharmonic Orchestra, who played music from the movies throughout the evening, commencing with the theme from the latest Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith. (Of course, there's a lot about insurance in Star Wars, isn't there?) Even the bus industry has its "Oscars" – or at least it did until the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences advised that this designation stop.

I am therefore not remotely surprised, while doing a wee in a public lavatory, to read that the convenience is award-winning, or was at least shortlisted. It's almost as common in that setting as the words Royal Doulton used to be.

Whereas the pathway out of obscurity was once talent and hard work, it is now electability, or likeability, or at least force of personality. Instead of having posters in our windows reading "Vote Labour" (or whatever), we ought logically to display ones reading "Vote Me" – together with the subtext, written or implied, "Babies kissed here".

Andrew Martin's latest novel is 'The Last Train to Scarborough' (Faber)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: ACS qualified Domestic Gas Brea...

Recruitment Genius: Product Packager / Stock Assistant

£16250 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Product Packager / Stock Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Between the covers: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, opposite Colin Firth's Mr Darcy, in the acclaimed 1995 BBC adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice'  

To talk about 'liking' a character may be a literary faux pas, but I don't care

Memphis Barker
Hinkley Point A to the right of development land where the reactors of Hinkley C nuclear power station are due to be built  

Should the UK really be putting its money into nuclear power in 2015?

Chris Green Chris Green
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen