Chapter 1: Persuasion
Opinion is ultimately determined by the
feelings, and not by the intellect.
Do you wake on Sunday mornings feeling bright and cheerful before you step out to buy your favourite Sunday newspapers, and spend the next four hours reading the print off the page? Does this weekly ritual result in a change of temperament — signs of irritability, aggressiveness and a distinctly argumentative frame of mind? I do. To be more accurate, I did. Everyone around me suffered from my inability to avoid the very thing that caused the Jekyl and Hyde mood swings. The news items did not affect me much, but the journalists with a point to make were my Achilles' heel. To a manand a woman I disagreed with all of them. We were as black and white to one another as the printed pages before me. There was no grey area, no common ground, no compromise. How could there be compromise in a situation where they wrote and I read? In order to see one another's point of view I would need to explain mine. To inflict regularly my own half-baked ideas on my family would have been unfair and yet they probably suffered more from my silent fuming than they did if I succumbed to soap box outbursts. The more thoughts I kept to myself, the greater the irritation, but at least by 1994 I recognised all the symptoms of Sunday paperitis.
Prejudiced journalism can be very amusing if you are fortunate enough not to be one of the people, for whom the cutting remarks touch the very core of who they are. Carefully chosen put-downs of idiosyncratic behaviour make me laugh out loud; recognising odd traits I do not share raise am smile, because, in common with many newspaper readers, I have a highly developed, warped sense of humour. Having a sense of humour does not preclude anyone, and certainly not me, from suddenly not seeing the funny side of journalistic provocation, if they are unfortunate enough to be in the target group of a particular journalist's pet hate of the week. Before 1994 I had habitually read, and been greatly entertained by, a highly critical writer in one of the leading Sunday papers, the Sunday Guardian. Slowly he crept under my skin and eventually became a permanent irritation.
16th January 1994
Vogue : Platter patter
By-line: Nick Crosby, the new Sunday Guardian restaurant critic goes to Clwyd to test Welsh fare.
"Platter patter" was a regular feature in the topical section (Vogue) of the Sunday Guardian newspaper. It was not a column I was accustomed to reading, but on this particular Sunday I noticed the name, Nick Crosby, the journalist who amused and irritated me. I associated him with the type of cut-throat journalists who, as a teacher in the minds of schoolchildren, is stored away in a cupboard at the end of each day. It was difficult to imagine these journalists having normal, family lives, with life-styles that
included socialising and eating in fancy restaurants. However, by now, I was accustomed to reading snippets of information referring to Nick Crosby's wife and two children, so maybe he was human after all. As
human as being a newspaper critic allows.
The column was non-controversial and full of harmless banter about Wales and the Welsh. No reference was made to anyone but himself, maintaining the pre-conceived notion held by readers that hacks eat alone because they have no social life as they train-hop and taxi-hail their way
around Britain, chasing stories and meeting deadlines. At this point, I was willing to accept Nick Crosby as one of a host of journalists who enjoyed writing in a way that would keep the reader awake without sending him ballistic.
27th February 1994
Vogue : Platter patter
"...I was sitting with a man who considered himself to be an expert on desserts... We were graced by the company of a striking brunette, who had a pastry concoction of warm, translucent onions with melted Greek cheese and succulent tomatoes." Mouth watering as this warm pastry tartlet may be, it was not as attention grabbing as the striking brunette. Who was she? Suddenly we had leapt from eating alone in the Welsh mountains to eating in company with a man and a striking brunette. Now I was all ears, or all mind or whatever a reader is when their curiosity is tweaked.
13th March 1994
Vogue : Platter patter
"...I took the Brunette and William Swift, who is the illustrator for this column, to Café Noir." There she was again: the Brunette.
27th March 1994
Vogue : Platter patter
"...for this review we were accompanied by an up-market, glossy magazine editor and a satirist. A group of four comprising: a big-wig, a joker, the Brunette and me." The Brunette is obviously becoming a permanent feature of this column.
10th April 1994 Vogue: Platter patter
"...Dad and BB had trout with pasta al dente, so al dente it only had fleeting contact with boiling water." Who is BB? Is this the brunette Brunette, and how much of a fleeting contact has she had with Nick Crosby?
17th April 1994
Sunday Review: Editor's Page
"Editor's Page" appeared in the Sunday Review section of the Sunday Guardian. It included letters sent in from readers, who were sufficiently motivated to write their responses to mainly inaccurate reporting. Some people wrote simply as a knee jerk reaction to a particularly barbed piece of writing. One such letter appeared in the April 17 edition. It read more-or-less as follows:
"Full marks: Nick Crosby's "What we wear is what we are" (Vogue, April 3) proves that Crosby continues to have the Midas touch for annoying absolutely everybody, reinforcing his position as the Sunday Guardian's most irritating and infuriating critic. Crosby has mastered the fine art of provocative writing, thus ensuring that he is read. Congratulations Nick. — Mohan Singh, Wolverhampton."
I remembered reading this chronicle of modern day fashion and found it very
inoffensive. At the time I thought it might hit a few raw nerves, but it certainly did not raise my blood pressure. I could remember previous bits of writing by Nick Crosby that had amused and entertained me, knowing that they would have been annoying the hell out of many readers. This, of course, was part of the enjoyment. My irritation, at Nick Crosby's expense, was yet to come, all I needed to do was walk to the corner
shop every Sunday and buy the same newspapers and Bingo I would win the right to feel affronted. I did not realise that while I waited, the coming irritations were queuing like buses and, eventually, they would all come rushing by, one following another.
24th April 1994
Scrutiny : TV Review
In the "Scrutiny" section of the Sunday Guardian, Nick Crosby writes the
weekly television review. True to all critics, he has honed his craft, and can
detect bad acting/script writing/producing/ directing/broadcasting quicker than the shutter speed of a VHS supercam camera. After reading his TV Review page on April 24, I can now add adaptations to this list. I enjoy television adaptations, especially of great literature. Television is about escapism and seeing things you do not see in real life. This medium allows you to see imaginary characters in a real life setting with countryside backdrops and the interiors of real houses, unlike the theatre, which is limited to one or two sets for each performance.
Poor adaptations deserve poor reviews but excellent productions also deserve reviews that reflect their excellence. Nick Crosby began his appraisal of "Persuasion" by Jane Austen with the kind of praise used sparingly by critics. He said it was above reproach, a truly splendid and marvellous piece of costume drama which had been wonderfully adapted for television. Everything about it was top class: the adaptation, the acting, the directing, the camera work, the costumes and the make-up. It was clearly a great achievement and he was willing to admit as much. So why did he have to spoil everything by attacking this production just so that he could annoy a great many people, and me in particular?
After the glowing report of this classic work, Nick Crosby pored out scorn, and his own particular brand of childish sarcasm. To repeat his words would only add credence to them, and to show too much annoyance would be to play into his hands. I will, therefore, only add that I felt this was a tacky piece of journalism.
So he had succeeded in getting up my nose at last. This was to prove to be the start of a very slippery slope.
However, the sting of the review subsided as I read on:
"I was accompanied by a young woman during the first episode of "Persuasion". She sat demurely at the opposite end of my sofa until the passionate, screen kiss, by which time she clung to me like a wet suit." A young woman? A brunette, by any chance?
8th May 1994 Vogue : Platter patter
"This year was my fortieth. A time to take stock and look back at my life. With the onset of the annual school break I was able to reflect at leisure, in the company of my two small children. My daughter is four and my son is nearly two, and teaching them to eat is one of my favourite pastimes. The sight of these two tiny tots, who share my genes, beaming with delight as they taste toasted marshmallow for the first time, brings a tear to my eye." A tear to his eye? I would take great delight in blackening his eye, the cad. Here is a man who takes out brunettes to expensive restaurants and wears them like a second skin on his sofa. A fist in the face would be too good for him.
8th May 1994
Scrutiny : TV Review
The above programme appeared on television sometime in May 1994 and was reviewed by Nick Crosby.
"Wilde was not a trustworthy sort and often showed contempt and condescension towards his so-called friends. Wilde's grandson, who bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather, showed great feeling and empathy towards his ancestor, especially with regard to Wilde's distress at being parted from his children."
Well, he is a fine one to remark on the parting of fathers and children. In the very same issue of this weekly paper he talks about his own two children, knowing that he is set on a course that will mean the loss of day-to-day contact with them. The irony of the two statements remains a sore point.
For the next few weeks, the Platter patter column in the Vogue section of
the Sunday Guardian, written by Nick Crosby, covered a variety of restaurants, and each time he made reference to BB. By June 26 1994 he was writing "BB and I" — a sure sign that they were definitely regarded as a couple — pass me the sick bag.
Since she was obviously a permanent fixture of this column, I began to wonder about her name. Was BB a shortened version of her first name? Barbara, maybe? Or was she a raven haired Brigitte Bardot? Whatever it was, he was not sharing it with his readers, but it must have been common
knowledge among his circle of friends. Talking of which, he was very
fond of name dropping. His dinner guests often included editors of
glossy magazines, ex-rock stars, television personalities, entrepreneurs — BB certainly knew what she was latching on to.
3rd July 1994 Vogue : Platter patter
"I am testing in-flight fare on a Boeing 747. One of my editors agreed to let me travel to the United States because so many Sunday Guardian readers take trans-Atlantic flights these days. Of course, this was just an excuse, the real reason is to accompany BB on one of her modelling assignments."
So BB is a model. What a nice editor, paying for in-flight refreshments — I wonder if that includes air fare these days?
10th July 1994 Vogue : Surviving the Jungle
By-line: Can you succeed and still be popular in the office? Nick Crosby offers
some insight into why nice guys always come last.
I was wryly amused by a couple of things in this feature. The first referred to employees confusing company goals with personal goals. Crosby suggests that company goals are strictly for the Japanese. Personal goals should be the only target and he lists a number of goals worth pursuing: foreign travel, expensive cars and bits on the side. I presume bits on the side include BB.
The second referred to recognisable office types: The soft touch, the big ego and the "I am going to make it off your backs" type. The latter category is definitely the one to be in, according to Nick Crosby. He goes on (he does go on sometimes) to list some golden rules to ensure success. These began with: do not be a player unless everybody is playing the same game, and concluded with: become a good liar because no-one will check the paperwork.
Oh, they will, they will. I am doing precisely that, right now, I am checking the paperwork. More to the point, I am checking your paperwork, Mr. Crosby. I am a researcher. This is what I do. I enjoy sifting and sorting information, and at this very moment I am slowly checking through old newspapers. I am looking up the paperwork — your work in the papers in front of me. Without realising it you persuaded me to write this novel.