"Write about whatever you like," they said. "We want a sort of personal yet transcendental view of life." OK. I wasn't here last week and I shan't be here next week, so why not. My personal yet transcendental view of life is that there are too many columns. Now, marvel, dear Reader, as, in less than 700 words, I write myself out of a job.
I shall be bold in doing so with a two-prong plan to a) decry the current concept of the column and b) defend Judith Chalmers. (All right, it's an unusual approach, but I'm new). It doesn't seem possible to turn the pages of a British paper without the photograph of some journalist's face leering out with a "personal opinion". I use the word "journalist" with some caution. It still has an ancient aura of being connected with fact or, heaven forbid, analysis, and that doesn't quite cover a lot of today's contributors.
I don't quite know what the photograph is for. Maybe it's to make us think what a nice person the writer must be even though they may be writing perfectly horrid things about other people. Which brings me to Judith Chalmers. The other week I was reading a column that alleged to be a television review. It was written by a very smiley woman called Jan Moir, whom I've never heard of. She had obviously had a very tiresome week and perhaps hadn't had time to watch much actual television. Instead, she spent half her allotted wordage in an astonishing attack on our Ms Chalmers. Here was thrust, here was insight, here was, I should have thought, the makings of a rather good libel case. So cross was Ms Moir with Ms Chalmers' very existence that she concluded Judith was a "jammy old madam". That's not very nice, is it? If you follow the advice that a critic should be "the midwife, not the abortionist" to creative work, that's not exactly helpful.
But Ms Moir is merely treading a populist path of prose where insult replaces insight and (can I say this without being hurtful? Oh, what the hell, it's a one-off), one suspects, that cruelty makes up for any lack of actual creativity. (Let met put my hand up for a personal interest here. The "columnist" Victor Lewis-Smith once said there couldn't be a caring God or he wouldn't have given ugly people like me a sex drive. I've never met the man, so I don't know what's made him quite so grumpy, but, then again, I can't think of a single piece of creative work from him. Such a void probably would make you bad tempered.)
This week everyone who ever had an opinion on anything has been spouting on about Fergie and Clare Short in fairly equal measures. Here's a curiosity - neither of them is very popular with opinionated columnists because both of them dare to express opinions.
The Daily Express got a "celebrity psychic" to bring us the inside story on Clare. In contrast to other ramblings, it was a rather a nice piece. Said Clare was "refreshingly gutsy, down to earth, and a colourful good sport". Good oh, but instead of that wouldn't it have been more interesting to analyse what appears, from the outside, to be an increasing reluctance on the part of the Labour Party to allow internal debate? You know, politics not personal.
Well, there we are. I'll never get a nice review from Jan Moir, Victor Lewis-Smith will think of something else horrid to say about me and no one will ever ask for my opinion again. Still, for what it's worth - I've never met Judith Chalmers, but I bet she's really nice.
David Aaronovitch returns next week from holiday.