COLUMN: December 27, 2018

The Bee Gees

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.

Must do something about that. Maybe next year.

COLUMN: December 20, 2018

An empty cinema

EVERYBODY 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.

COLUMN: December 13, 2018

I used to be Prime Minister, you know?

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.

COLUMN: December 6, 2018

What it looks like inside a pub

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.

It was thoroughly humiliating. Like Brexit.