Monday 31 March 2008

Turning into Jack Woolley

13st 13lb; zero alcohol; 1,404; Slaley.

Every week I write a newspaper column, which needs to be submitted by around lunchtime on Monday. Normally I start thinking about it seriously on Saturday, perhaps composing it in my head in the course of a walk, then writing it when I get home. Then I rewrite it on Sunday (or do something completely different if the news agenda has moved on) before sitting down on Monday morning to make final amendments and send it off. Today I have done precisely sod all because I felt rotten all weekend. I did think that I could always bang out 650 blackly comic words on the crass incompetence of BA, with special reference to Terminal 5, but the paper’s Monday columnist has already done that. And done it with much more authority and conviction that I could ever muster, since he actually flies with BA quite frequently. I have not done so for years, and am unlikely to do so ever again. Along, I suspect, with several thousand people who have just been the victims of their latest hubristic illustration of how not to handle the opening of a major new facility.

As I am having my bath this morning, I think how it would make 14-year-old Olly’s day if I rang the paper and told them to stick one of his columns in tomorrow instead of mine. This gives me the willpower I need to get to my desk, where I spend half an hour tapping out the first thing that comes into my head. I have overwritten, as I usually do, but once I have pared back by stream of consciousness to the required number of words I simply press the button and send it off. I don’t have the energy to do anything else. I do put in an apologetic covering note explaining that I am unwell and will not be in the least upset if it is not considered to be of publishable standard; my editor’s reply implies that he thinks it is rather better than usual. Another columnist, to whom I have sent the draft for comment, responds that it is “great: one of your best ever”. This is all a bit worrying.

Every year I buy an Alnwick, Morpeth and Berwick parking permit, even though a rational calculation suggests that I could save about £75 by just buying a ticket on the comparatively few occasions I would need to (usually when I park on the cobbles in Alnwick, and there will soon be no occasion for that when the new Sainsbury’s has killed off the few remaining worthwhile town centre shops). But then I’d never have the right change, and it would almost certainly be raining, and the machine would be out of order … In short, anything for a quiet life. The old permit expires tonight so I drove into Alnwick to replace it, and took the opportunity to do a little light shopping. This enabled me to make supper tonight my first proper meal since I got back from London: Turnbull’s excellent sausages with mashed potatoes. I resisted the temptation to stick the sausages upright in the mash, as they always did in The Beano when I was a boy, but it was a close-run thing. Then I slumped in front of the television and watched Coronation Street, an excellent BBC4 documentary about Marty Feldman and an edition of his 1970s TV show, of which I remembered every sketch from the first time around (and only regretted that it was not the one featuring the monster in the basket).

As I was about to switch off the set on came Round the Horne Revisited – the stage show with some costumed inserts to keep the audience’s interest up. It is not so long ago that I went to see this at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, but this seemed completely different so I kept watching, thinking it must be another version of the show. Then they got to the Julian and Sandy sketch where the pair are lawyers and one says, “We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time” – the best line of the evening. That was the moment when it dawned upon me that I had indeed sat through the whole thing and it had gone completely out of my head. The rule of thumb goes like this. Books read or shows watched in the 1960s and 70s: retained in their entirety; 1980s: patchy recall; 1990s onwards: no, it’s gone. It’s distressing to think that I would probably make a much more reliable witness of a crime that happened in 1968 than of one which occurred yesterday, but I have just got to face it. I am rapidly turning into Jack Woolley, Ambridge’s celebrated Alzheimer’s victim. It can only be a matter of time before I progress from going into rooms full of people I should know and thinking “Who the hell are you?” to the even more dreadful “Who the hell am I?”

No comments: