Charles Nevin: Prepare to be shocked... I like Barry Manilow

I will take a stand against the easy choice of outward conformity to conventional wisdoms
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The Independent Online

In times like these, when talk is not cheap, it seems to me especially important to be scrupulously honest and completely open about one's opinions, likes and dislikes.

That is why today, here, I propose to take a stand against the easy choice of outward conformity to conventional wisdoms, from whatever source they emanate, whether it be the chattering classes, the muttering classes, the really loud classes, the apologetic classes ("I'm sorry, but ..."), the friendly classes ("some of my best friends are ... but") - or the chatty couple in the queue at the Post Office, who have been talking to a friend of a friend of Melvyn Bragg's first cousin.

The easy choice, yes; but one which I reject as wrong, dangerously misleading and inimical to the development of a mature, responsible and properly diverse society. Only when we are completely open with each other will we understand each other.

Some of the views I am about to express will shock you; some of them will be harder to disclose than others. On current matters, I have no problem in telling you, for example, despite mutterings from the apologetics and friendlies, that I welcome the Polish plumber and his mates from the rest of central and eastern Europe for the difference they bring and for a way with English that can lend magic to the humblest bibcock, flush valve or length of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene piping. I am also in the market, by the way, for a Latvian lagger, an Estonian electrician, and a Czech chippy.

It's not quite so easy, though, to tell you about the particular dislike which prompted my stand. Wildlife programmes on the television leave me as cold as the Winter Olympics (and another opening ceremony). I'm not proud of it, believe me. When I read about the forthcoming David Attenborough series, Planet Earth, I find it incredible that my attention will begin to wander during the wonder of snow leopards chasing goats in Tora Bora, golden eagles killing cranes over the Himalayas, and bats doing what bats do in deep caves in Mexico. But there it is. And what makes it worse is that the only nature presenter I find at all tolerable is Bill Oddie.

Now that's out of the way, there's no stopping me. Barry Manilow, back at the top of the charts? Marvellous. "Mandy", what a great song - almost as good as "Copacabana". And Andrew Lloyd Webber, well. Up until this moment, I've joined in the smirking, while humming "Memory" when no one was around. Now I've discovered Phantom of the Opera. What tunes! Not that I can stand going to the proper opera; or ballet, the transporting magic of which is lost to me amid the sound of squeaking pumps and heavy lifting. I like musicals, but nothing by Sondheim as I can't get the hang of all that talky-singy stuff - also the problem, of course, with the opera. Give me a good song, or failing, that, an aria, but only if Andrea Bocelli is doing it. Salad Days, that's my gold standard.

I'm not proud of this one, either: I prefer listening to music at home with my feet up rather than sitting cramped in rigid seats in the concert hall. I once asked Yehudi Menuhin about this, and although he remained as infinitely charming as ever, I could see that our acquaintance was not destined to blossom into friendship. Ah, well.

Food, that's another thing. Clearly, there are techniques in delivering tastes that require art, dedication and imagination. And fortunate, indeed, are those who can indulge. But, equally, there should be sympathy, rather than the barely concealed scorn which I have so often encountered, for those who are confined by palate and digestion to the plainer end of cuisine.

Indeed, there are those who seem to think that it is our fault, not that of our constitution. Perhaps they will now realise the seriousness of the problem when I reveal that one of my tip-top treats is the pre-prepared sandwich in the plastic container available at most good garages - and that I rather liked the sound of the tin of chicken in jelly given to Mr and Mrs Les Lailey of Manchester as a wedding gift and opened and consumed by them recently to celebrate their 50th anniversary. This has inspired me to do some research, and I can confirm that both Kraft Cheese Slices and Vesta Paella are still available. Yum!

Literature: I see crime fiction and thrillers are the most borrowed library books. I prefer Georgette Heyer, and, at a push, Howard Spring. I like, too, W J Turner's dismissed poem, "Romance" ("Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, had stolen me away"). Theatre: farce, please, particularly the great Mr Ray Cooney. Comedy: Perry and Croft, not Gervais and Iannucci. I used to like the Mary Tyler Moore show, as well. And Harry Worth.

I know, I know. But you're dealing with someone here who, if you ask him the time, always thinks to himself - but doesn't say: "Time you got a watch". And, if you were to ask me what day it is, I would tell you it was Monday, but I would also be adding, silently, "all day". And I say "Cheers" a lot. And "Gordon Bennett".

There. Now you have to join me. Come out. You'll feel better for it. And there is always hope. I've just been to hear The Kreutzer Sonata, sitting on a very hard chair. Absolutely stupendous. You had to be there. It is available as a ringtone, though. Cheers.

c.nevin@independent.co.uk

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