Maybe we should listen even if we think we won't like the story

As a matter of principle I haven't liked the mauling Bob Geldof has been subject to
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The Independent Online

Been brooding over Geldof all week. Not the man in person but the case, the consequence, the illiberality of spirit of which he seems to have been the victim. Geldof and the women.

Been brooding over Geldof all week. Not the man in person but the case, the consequence, the illiberality of spirit of which he seems to have been the victim. Geldof and the women.

I have no reason to hold a torch for Geldof. He never wrote or sang my kind of music, nor wore my sort of clothes. It's got to be lieder and tails if you want my vote. And then there's who he was. Fine when you're a boy, but I don't think it becomes a man to have been a pop singer. What the boy is supposed to do when he turns into a man I am not the one to ask. Change his name, maybe, like Gazza. Or retreat into existential weirdness like Bob Dylan. There are old rockers it suits to be shrunk to the size of a raisin and to have ruined larynxes like Don Corleone, but Geldof appears to have kept his size.

Didn't go much on Band Aid and Live Aid either. Didn't care for the pun in the first, and hated the sanctimoniousness of the second. Sure, they did good. Measurable good. But who can ever measure the harm that sanctimoniousness does? If you think a little sanctimony is a small price to pay for easing starvation in Africa, then remember what we say about that child of sanctimoniousness, Tony Blair. Hasn't he, in his piety, brought the planet to the brink of destruction? Isn't that what we think?

And anyway, what are rockers doing associating themselves with good causes? It's an unacceptable confusion of the categories. Rockers exist to question our assumptions of what's good. When rockers start practising philanthropy, who do we look to to smash the place up again? Fischer-Dieskau? Dame Felicity Lott?

Then there's Planet 24, the production company that gave us the Big Breakfast. Geldof's company. I was making programmes for Channel 4 when the Big Breakfast hit. I saw the deterioration with my own eyes. Overnight, the place went from being a hothouse of cutting-edge experimentalism to a kindergarten. Executives put on ginger wigs and geek's spectacles and made inane jokes in the lifts. It was as though someone were showering lollipops on them from a Disney sky. Viewing figures hit the roof, and the channel hit rock bottom.

This is not sour grapes. I was offered my own Big Breakfast moment. I was invited onto the infamous bed, not by Paula but by Vanessa. I declined. It doesn't become a novelist to have lolled suggestively on telly. Not even when your bed companion is a woman as well read as Vanessa.

So no, taken all round, I don't have much to thank Bob for. But as a matter of principle, I haven't liked the mauling he has been subjected to. I didn't see his programmes about wedlock and its obligations, which puts me in a better position to discuss them than those who did. You can attach too much value to knowing what you're talking about when what you're talking about is what someone said on telly. It can get you too hung up on the rightness or otherwise of their conclusions. And people's conclusions aren't usually what's interesting. What's interesting are people's experiences.

I suppose it's possible that Geldof said a woman's place is on her knees in chains, polishing her husband's boots, but I'd be surprised. From the animosity he has aroused, though, you would think he had added the Chinese water-torturing of his wife to a husband's rights.

I'm not looking for a gender fight. As far as I'm concerned, women have morally and philosophically won most of the arguments, even if the practical consequences of those victories are not everywhere in evidence. In my old age, I seek the intellectual companionship of women, not men. When I publish a new novel, I pray for women to review it. They have a better ear. The difficulty that women briefly experienced with male narrative seems to have passed. Now it's men who cannot bear to hear another man speak. So I am disappointed that Geldof's narrative - for that surely was what it was: a narrative from a bruised heart - has hit the old obstruction.

"Outrageous, arrogant, stupid, unhelpful and furious," was how Bea Campbell, speaking to this paper, described his views on mothers and divorce. Bea Campbell is one of the most intelligent people I know. Better an hour in her company, I say, than a week in almost anybody else's. But why cannot she, in her fury, allow Geldof the logic of his? So he's wrong - so what? Everyone's wrong. Even those who win the argument are only a little less wrong than those who lose it. Bea Campbell is wrong when she adds that "women are impoverished by mothering". What, all of them? Not a mother to be found who isn't the poorer than she was before she became a mother? Drivel. But if that's how Bea Campbell sees it, if she believes that by stating it that way she can wake us to a grievous social iniquity, good for her. She has her story and must be allowed to tell it.

As Geldof must be allowed his. Calamitous, what befell him. A public tragedy which he suffered with more forbearance than is common. It defined him, of course. And no doubt limited him, too. We don't escape what's been done to us. So what he has to say is - as how could it not be? - partial. That's how we build the picture, a dab here, a dab there, no single brush stroke illuminating it all. And that's why we listen to every report the living bring back from the hell which is sometimes marriage. Yes, the hellish stories which have gripped us most, in our time, have necessarily been women's. We bow to that necessity. But there is always more than a single narrative, and we are in trouble if we cannot listen to a man's, a) because it isn't a woman's, and b) because it happens not to be the story we want to hear.

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