SO, a few weeks ago, I released the third volume of my columns, Massaging A Ghost. You’ve probably forgotten that I used to write a column. I rarely mentioned it.
It is totally still available from Amazon, by the way, if you want it. It’s in paperback and on Kindle because that’s what people like and I am a people pleaser. In theory. Technically, I am what they call an aspiring people pleaser.
Anyway, these columns went up to the beginning of 2006. But my column finished at the beginning of 2009. That means there were three years of columns still uncompiled. I don’t know about you, but I reckon that state of affairs simply cannot stand.
So I am delighted to present to you, the largely indifferent public, the fourth volume of my columns, Accidental Gravy.
Just like its predecessor, it is available in paperback (£7.99) and on Kindle (£3.99). “Why is it so much more expensive in paperback, Gary?” I hear you ask.
“Well,” I reply, “printing things costs money, and putting things online costs less money, and that’s basically why they don’t print The Independent any more.”
Anyway, buy it. I don’t mind which format you use. It’s none of my business.
IF anything epitomises my ability to self-sabotage, it is my love of a nice cup of tea.
First, you have to bear in mind that only about one in six cups of tea could possibly be called nice, because people’s taste in tea, far more than in coffee, is a subjective thing.
This is why I am not in the tea round in the office. I would find it an administrative nightmare if I were making the tea, and intolerable if I were receiving the tea.
There are charts, for instance, of ideal tea colour, which are fine as far as they go. But they don’t take into account the amount of milk that people like. You could ask for a 4B on the Tea Colour Scale, but that could be stronger in the brewing stage and more lavish in the milk addition stage than you like, yet still be the correct colour.
And every tea bag is different. Every kettle of water is different. Sometimes they react in subtle ways to each other, meaning you can have a transcendent cuppa, or you can have something that tastes like Katie Hopkins sounds.
The point is that I am drinking five cups of average-to-poor tea for every one satisfying cuppa, even if I am making it myself. If tea were a football manager it would be sacked before Christmas.
Second, tea makes me look like a loser when I am attempting to look like a sophisticated man about town.
You see, the sophisticated way to finish off a meal is a coffee. I have no idea how we came to decide that. Presumably somebody thought the best way to finish off a beautifully cooked, balanced, and seasoned meal would be to destroy the taste buds with the bitterest substance known to man.
Just because I refuse to abandon tea for this upstart, waiters give me that look when I ask for tea, the international symbol for “Technically, the customer is always right – I’ve been on a course – but I’m looking at you now and if I owned this joint, not only would you be barred, but I would see to it that no restaurant in this town would admit you in future. And I would set fire to your trousers.”
So they bring me a small pot of tepid tea, a jug with too much milk, and no biscuit, even though my companion, who is unaccountably drinking coffee like a traitor, gets one. And I drink it, because it’s one of the five-in-six and increases my chances of getting a good one next time.
Third, I work a hilariously stupid shift, from 1.30-10pm. It means I usually get home just before 11pm. In order to get enough time in the morning to do something practical, or merely enjoy the moments that I am not at work, I should really go to sleep around midnight.
But what I actually do is walk through my front door, and put the kettle on. Because I am programmed to wind down by having a cup of tea. I am northern. It is what we do.
And when I get to bed, just before midnight, that is the moment when the caffeine in the tea kicks in, along with all my brain’s synapses. A potentially sleepy person is transformed into Dynamo, The World’s Widest Awake Man.
This is when I wonder things like which brave soul first decided that you could eat blue cheese, why they invented parachutes before they invented aeroplanes, and if Top Cat would now live in a wheely bin.
It means I never get to sleep before 1.30am, which is why I’m tired all the time. Either the tea or the job has to go.
And it’s not going to be the tea, I’m afraid.
I have been writing this weekly column in some form since 2009, but all mediocre things must come to an end. I’d like to thank the people who have made it possible – especially Charles and Eddie, MD and Figgis, and Rihanna and the estate of the late Sir David Frost. And bus drivers.
I’d like to thank the people who supported my column, and those who are no longer with us, especially my mum, and my good friends Suzi Moore, and, heartbreakingly recently, Simon Ricketts.
And finally I’d like to thank all my readers, even the ones who write to me about Brexit. Please buy my books. I have a tea habit to maintain.
I’M HAPPY to announce the first annual Gary Bainbridge Column Awards Of The Year For Things That Are A Bit Sub-par – the GBCAOTYFTTAABS, or Geebees, if you’re in a hurry. These, of course, are not to be confused with the Bee Gees. In fact, you would be a total idiot to get them mixed up.
The Geebee for Missing The Point goes to the people who the BBC keep finding on the streets of Britain who say, “I don’t understand why we can’t just get out”, when asked their views on Brexit. Simply put, if you don’t know why we can’t just do it, you shouldn’t have been allowed to vote for it. Or you’ve resigned as Brexit Secretary.
The Geebee for Being In The Right Place At The Right Time goes to the man who was in my lift last Tuesday, who stepped forward when we got to my floor, leaving me in no doubt that he was exiting, then stopped, blocking my path, and allowing the doors to close.
Special mention should go to the man who tried to blow up a cash machine near my home – I heard the explosion at 11.45pm and assumed it was a firework, which, frankly, is an argument for conscription.
This man did not realise that if you want to set off an explosive device, it is sensible to be as far away from the blast as possible, and was therefore witnessed absconding from the scene blackened and smouldering, like Wile E Coyote after the failure of a Road Runner/firework rocket scheme.
The Geebee for Supportive Opposition goes to the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP. The Prime Minister’s greatest asset, he steps in ably whenever she is in trouble and yanks her out.
Mrs May is having the sort of bother with Brexit negotiations that would sink most leaders on the morning of Prime Minister’s Questions? Mr Corbyn will ask six questions about buses and libraries. There isn’t a ball rolling gently in front of an open goal that he won’t send ballooning over the crossbar and into Row Z.
The Geebee for Unsolicited Decoration goes to birds. This is probably not all birds. We can probably dismiss emus and penguins. This year, partly owing to my purchase of a car, I have been plagued by birds, and, specifically, their droppings. I was attacked, for instance, on my way to a swanky book launch.
But also there is a parking spot on my road which I had noticed was always clear, and I wondered why nobody ever parked there. Then, one night, I came home from work and the road was packed. So I parked in the spot.
Next morning, my car looked like Worthy Farm after the Glastonbury Festival. I assumed it was just one of those things and took my car to be washed.
But the next time – the number two time, you might say – I parked in the spot it happened again. The spot is underneath a tree, yes, but there are many trees in my road. I can only assume that this tree is the lav-a-tree.
The Geebee for Dawdling goes to the two mums who brought their sons to my barber when there was only one barber on and when I was in a hurry. Both of these mothers kept getting the barber to do a bit more.
The gall! I have only once in my life asked the barber to do a bit more after being shown the back of my head and even that turned out badly. These women did it three times each and they didn’t even look embarrassed.
Even worse, the barber had Basic FM on his radio, which made the wait feel even longer, and they played the Take That cover of How Deep Is Your Love? instead of the Geebees version. Imagine having access to all the records in the world and playing that version instead of the original.
Other winners of Geebees this year include people who think Jacob Rees-Mogg is clever because he’s got glasses and he’s got an O Level in Latin, people who use the term “umami” without thinking of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, busking accordion players who only know one song, slow walkers who stop suddenly, dog owners who say, “Oh, he’s only being friendly”, waiters who call your party “guys”, and long-running newspaper columnists who don’t know when to call it quits.
has perks of their job. Teachers get 30 presents at Christmas. Binmen
have people chasing them up the street at this time of year with
money instead of rubbish. Window cleaners get to judge strangers’
wallpaper without having to wait till they have the big light on and
the curtains open.
Even journalists get perks. We get free green eye-shades. We get to shout “Hold the front page!” and “Stop the presses!” And occasionally we get invitations to swanky events at which we will be comfortably – or uncomfortably, in my case – the least swanky person in the room.
Most of these invitations we have to turn down. Most functions occur during the time that newspapers are actually produced, as well do many of the people who work in public relations know, as they have jumped ship from journalism. They are poachers turned gamekeepers, or gamekeepers turned poachers, depending on your point of view.
We can always tell, by the way, which PR people have never worked in journalism, or, indeed, have never read a newspaper, as they will ask us when we finish for Christmas. The short answer to that is “We don’t.” The longer answer to that is unprintable.
Anyway, I had had quite the week, personally and professionally, when an invitation popped into my email. Would I like to go to a screening of an upcoming film in an unspecified venue in the West End the following week? It is a film I have been looking forward to seeing, was being introduced by a writing and performing hero of mine, and would be followed by a question and answer session with the writer and director of the film.
Would I like to go to that? What do you think? I booked the day off, RSVPed in the resoundingly positive, and went online to buy the cheapest train tickets I could find.
The PR person who had invited me replied to me asking if I would like a “plus one”. Now there are people in London who dislike me less than most people. I would probably be able to rustle up a more or less willing companion. So I replied that I would.
Two days later, a different PR person from the same agency contacted me to ask if I would like to go to the screening. My word, I thought, these people are very keen to ensure that beloved columnist and wit Gary Bainbridge is at their event to lend it a touch of class. This, I thought, must be what it is like to be Rihanna, or was like to be the late Sir David Frost.
I said I had already accepted, and asked how it was going with the “plus one”. The new PR replied that she had checked, noted my request for a second ticket, and would get back to me. That was a bit rum. It was hardly a request. If somebody asks if you want a ginger nut and you say yes, you haven’t requested it.
Anyway, my mind was at rest. These people definitely wanted me there. In many ways, these people were going to be my new friends. It was safe, therefore, to book a hotel…
The day before the event, I still had not received details about where the screening was, or confirmation of my “plus one” ticket. I emailed the original PR for clarification.
Two hours later, and less than 24 hours before I was due to catch my train or check into my hotel, the PRs’ manager emailed me to say that there had been a change in ticket allocation, and that my request for tickets had been declined. “Apols for the confusion”, said a man who was so sorry he couldn’t even write the word “apologies” in full.
I pointed out that telling me less than 24 hours before my train or hotel reservation meant that I couldn’t get a refund, and that I did not request tickets, I was flipping well invited.
Then, in a rage, I cancelled my tickets and reservation. There was no point in going to London and spending more money if I wasn’t seeing the film.
Mr Apols emailed back. It turned out that they did have a pair of tickets available.
I told him not to bother, and banged my head on the desk a number of times.
The PRs won’t be reading this, of course. They’ll be on their Christmas holidays. It’s a perk of their job.
DAVID Cameron was on the television the other night, after the latest calamity at that point to befall the Brexit process. There were probably three or four more calamities that followed that night, and there will be about another dozen between the writing of this column and your reading of it.
Anyway, a reporter asked him if he regretted calling the EU referendum and he said he did not because he had promised to have one in his 2015 manifesto, before jumping in his car and being driven off, ignoring questions about whether we should have a second referendum now that we know what the Brexit deal looks like.
One has to wonder what it is like inside the previous Prime Minister’s head. He spent years agreeing, presumably for political effect, with the rabid right wing press and his rabid right wing backbenchers, that the European Union was an absolute shower of bounders obsessed with giving us straight bananas and time off work when we have a new baby.
Then he pulled the Conservative MEPs out of their natural grouping in the European Parliament and put them in with the harder-right head-the-balls. He pandered to Ukippers over immigration – Theresa May was at the Home Office, for goodness’ sake.
Then he went to the EU to get a better deal for the UK, despite the fact that the UK had a pretty cushy deal from the EU anyway. We’re not in the Schengen area, which means EU residents still need their passports to enter our country, we’re not in the single currency, and we get a massive rebate despite the fact we’re one of the richest members of the EU.
And, of course, when he came back with a mildly better deal, there was no way it would placate his backbenchers or the Daily Mail, because it was an article of faith with them that the European Union was as bad as the Nazis.
He could have come back with the political equivalent of you finding a £20 note down the back of the sofa, and they would have still complained that he didn’t find a £50 note, and, besides, the sofa was lumpy.
So he spent years doing the European Union down, mostly because it was politically expedient. And then he announced the referendum and put himself down in the Remain camp.
Why did he do this? Because he expected to win. He thought he would be able to settle the issue in his party for a generation, and stop his backbenchers from banging on about Europe, because people like him always expect to win.
What he did not realise is that he had played his entire professional and political career up to that point on easy mode. He went to Eton and Oxford, he got a job at Conservative Central Office after a phone call of recommendation from Buckingham Palace. He was handed a safe seat in Oxfordshire.
His smooth manner put him in prime position when the Tories finally realised they needed a Blair-like character, rather than an oddball, to win elections. And then he was lucky in his opponents, a tired Tony Blair himself, a grumpy Gordon Brown in the middle of a global financial crisis, and Ed Miliband.
And this would be the third referendum he would fight, after the voting reform and Scottish independence polls, which he won convincingly. Because he had the overwhelmingly Tory press behind him.
He still had the Tory press behind him for the EU referendum, but this time they had knives. They were overwhelmingly pro-Leave, pumping out anti-EU propaganda for decades. They were never going to help him. He didn’t stand a chance.
I’m going to assert that nobody who voted in that referendum voted intentionally to make this country poorer or to close factories or to destroy jobs. Nobody who voted Leave did so thinking that it would be a disaster.
That’s why what people on my side of the debate call Project Reality was dismissed as Project Fear by people on the other side. Because, really, if things were going to be that bad, there was no way a sensible PM would put it on the ballot paper.
No. A sensible PM would not have done that. So, if David Cameron is telling the truth, after we crash out with no deal, or limp out backwards, bowing and scraping, with Theresa May’s deal, the only one who won’t regret it is the one who is to blame.
OCCASIONALLY, when the planets align and my shift pattern allows it, I go out for a midweek drink with three colleagues.
I do not want you to think that these are evenings of debauchery – far from it, although once we got pizza and one of us (me) burped over his Pepsi and didn’t even say “excuse me”.
In fact I have come to appreciate their sedate nature, nights of sitting down and becoming gently sozzled while working out where the worlds of politics and the media have gone so very wrong. They are about as far away from the sort of night out a normal 21-year-old would enjoy that you could imagine.
“Where should we go for our night out?” I asked in our online chat group.We have a group solely concerned with making arrangements for our bi-monthly night out, even though we sit so close to each other in the office that we could hit each other with a paper aeroplane built with little skill.
These arrangements make the Brexit negotiations look like a piece of cake,though not one we can eat and still have, because four adults with responsibilities and mortgages and shoes cannot just decide to do something.
This is the reason I knew that, when the Brexit head-the-balls, with their men-of-the-people-I-might-be-a-toff-but-I-know-what-you-salt-of-the-earth-gorblimey-trousers-sorts-want shtick and their hedge funds, were waltzing around two years ago saying, “Oh, it’ll be the easiest deal ever, we don’t even have to do the reading, we can just turn up in our pants”, they were talking absolute nonsense.
Because if four people take the best part of a week to come up with a mutually satisfactory date, time, and location for a night out, then Brexit was always doomed to failure. You might as well tell the tide to get on with it.
Anyway,the answer to “Where should we go for our night out?” turned out to be “I thought we might go to that cool quarter where they have the sort of night out that normal 21-year-olds enjoy”.
I was sceptical. But nobody else raised any objections, and I thought,“Well, life is about taking risks, otherwise you might as well be dead, so I suppose I should do this”, which gives you a sense of what it’s like to go on a night out with me.
We met in a quiet pub on the tepid outskirts of the cool quarter. We were the only customers. I tossed a gag grenade at the barman about it being Bedlam in there that night, but he wasn’t having it. We drank up and entered the cool quarter.
That was also quiet, with hints of off-season seaside resort and dripping tarpaulin. A wet wind lashed us. “Why is it so deserted?” I asked. It looked like a science-fiction film in which the population had mysteriously vanished.
“They’ll be inside,” one colleague said, “on account of the wet and windy conditions.”
They weren’t. We entered a bar about the size of half a football pitch with a dozen customers and sat down with our drinks until a man with a guitar and a microphone made it intolerable to stay.
We went into another bar, and entered another sort of middle-aged nightout. There was a group of women dancing to Dancing Queen between the entrance and the bar.
There are only two ways to get through a group of women dancing to Dancing Queen. One is a sort of awkward shuffle around them, the choice of my colleagues, the other is to indulge in some fancy footwork.
I am no dancer. Sober me has come to terms with this fact. Mildly sozzled me will never accept this.
So I strutted through them, because I had had two drinks, and straight into the gents’ toilets, because I had had two drinks. “Got away with that,” I thought, as I washed my hands.
I went to rejoin my friends, this time on the right side of the dancing women.
But they had vanished, deciding amongst themselves that this was not the place for them. They had abandoned me, the weakest antelope among lionesses.
“You’re dancing with us now,” the alpha female said.
And so I was forced to dance with the women, in the manner a normal 21-year-old would enjoy, until I was able to manoeuvre myself into a position to Moonwalk out of the bar and to safety.
I DO NOT know if you are familiar with the Elephant Man Syndrome. This is not something which involves medical intervention, I am happy to say.
The Elephant Man Syndrome is what happens when you have, for example and by chance, a couple of elephant ornaments. “Oh,” people think when they pop round to your house to borrow a video or cup of sugar like somebody from an 80s sitcom, “I see from his mantelpiece that Terence is clearly a huge fan of elephants. I know exactly what to get him for Christmas/his birthday.”
Before you know it, your house is full of elephant-themed teatowels and elephant clocks and tusk-shaped candles, and people start describing you as The Elephant Man, and you’re not even allowed to be offended.
All of a sudden you have a collection without doing any collecting, like one of those people who buy full Panini sticker albums on eBay.
But there’s the opposite syndrome too. Let’s call it the Elf Syndrome. I’ve been suffering from the Elf Syndrome at this time of year for a few years now, ever since I published a column in which I explained, at great, even tedious, length, the many reasons why I do not like the film Elf.
I won’t go into the reasons here, except to say that the film is clearly a practical joke being played on the credulous, and the producers are laughing all the way to the bank, though not at the script or performances.
I am keenly aware that mine is a minority opinion, but, as Brexit has shown us, the majority is not always correct.
The problem is that I have been identified as an Elf hater, which is fine, and this means that people who are full of mischief keep throwing Elf-related things at me, which is not.
“Oh, I’ve got just the thing for you,” they tell me. “Gosh, really?” I think, excited by the thought of a lovely present, for I have feelings and enjoy the idea of people liking me enough to give me gifts.
And then I open the attachment and it is a picture of an Elf onesie, or an Elf bedspread.
Sometimes it is a picture of tickets to Elf The Musical. I cannot imagine anything worse than a musical version of Elf, apart from a musical version of Mrs Brown’s Boys, or a musical version of being tied to a stake while arrows are shot at me. Imagine. It’s the story of Elf, but performed by the sort of people who enjoy participating in musical theatre.
And sometimes it is just a picture of Will Ferrell, the star of Elf, gurning while wearing the clothes of the eponymous character, with a quote from the film overlaying it.
These last ones are the worst, because the sender hasn’t even gone to the trouble of looking on the internet for Elf merchandise. It is the difference between being insulted in a creative way, as Oscar Wilde might have done to me, and being called a four-letter word in a rough pub.
The only thing these messages have in common apart from the Elf content is that they all appear initially benign. They lull me into a false sense of security by making me feel loved for a moment. And then – BAM! – I’m smashed in the face with a picture of the man who has ruined my Christmases for a decade and a half.
I am like Charlie Brown from the Peanuts strip taking a run up at that football time after time, only for Lucy always to pull it away. It is not good for a person with trust issues, who tries again and again, despite my inherent pessimism about human nature, to see the good in people.
I know I am taking a risk by telling you this. In fact, it is no risk at all, as this will definitely happen. Now they know how needled I am by Elf bombs, the people responsible will redouble their efforts. My email will be spammed with awful memes, dinners ruined by syrup, and pictures of a man in tights who thinks it’s fine to go into women’s locker rooms.
But this is not OK. If I told you I had a phobia of creepy-crawlies and dungarees, you wouldn’t send me endless pictures of Super Mario riding on the back of a tarantula.
It’s enough to make me pack my trunk and say goodbye to the circus.