It sometimes seems, in these disturbing times, that the default mode of general conversation is disparagement. Up in the hills of South Shropshire where I spend much of my time (and where KCW distribution does not penetrate) I am responsible for regular restaurant reviews that appear in a small glossy magazine called Broadsheep under the disguised by-line, Mister Pernickety.
Mr P, as he is affectionately known in the Marches, writes all his reviews in the third person, allowing for a more detached, oblique perspective. His reviews are meant to entertain as much as to inform (which he intends that they penetratingly should) and he has found after a decade of doing the job that it is far easier to be humorous when unequivocally disparaging an eating house than when praising it.
A quick canter through the archives will show that the wittiest, most memorable reviews of books, plays, musicals, restaurants, or whatever have almost without exception been broadly damning: Dorothy Parker of Christopher Isherwood’s I am a Camera, ‘Me no Leica.’ Think of any reviews by the late and deeply cynical A A Gill, or a 1988 book review by Andrew Graham Dixon: ‘Bad novels are normally not worth reviewing, but Candia McWilliams’ A Case of Knives exerted such a grisly fascination I couldn’t ignore it.’
The uncomfortable truth for those of an optimistic philosophical outlook is that mankind finds it much more entertaining to see the creative endeavours of their fellow sapiens excoriated rather than praised. This original sin has been recognised and exploited by the cheaper British Press for a long time. Punning insults have spattered the pages of The Sun newspaper, at least since it was acquired by Rupert Murdoch, and carried on by a host of his former employees. Since then, including the occasion when Prince Philip let fall an ill-judged remark to English students in China, generating the headline, ‘Great Wally Of China’, and the more infamous anti-European ‘Up Yours Delors’, most of the rest of the press have adopted this practice of unconstrained loutishness in their pages, like the Mail’s infamous ‘Enemies of the People’.
I was more alarmed and depressed when a friend who still reads the Daily Mail (yes, I know people who read the paper) pointed out to me that back in 2017 The Guardian were indulging in the same practice, by publishing a piece by columnist comic, Stewart Lee, and I reluctantly quote: “As a student, David Cameron is rumoured to have put his penis into a dead pig. To outdo him as an adult, in an act even more bizarre and obscene, Michael Gove put his penis into a Daily Mail journalist”.
It’s hard to see where the Guardian was going with this. It was at least as gratuitously nasty, crass and empty of wit as anything ever published by The Sun. That a normally grown-up newspaper, even when eager to broaden their readership base, should think it appropriate to produce this kind of journalism illustrates that the race to the nadir of public utterance is contagious, perhaps an example of an unstoppable journalistic trend or simply reflecting the tide of nastiness that starts with the faintly damning review, lightly coated in humour, such as Mr Pernickety practises, to the out-and-out howls of vitriol deployed by the professional hate hacks, and millions of anonymous armchair snipers and napalm sprayers on Twitter.
During the six weeks of Lent, as I must have mentioned before, I always give up booze, on the grounds that a period without it will inevitably benefit my liver, and may, perhaps, go some way to improving the quality of my soul, if I have such a thing. This year I’m also making a second and, I hope, more successful attempt at foregoing the grim and questionable pleasure of bad-mouthing my fellow sapiens, which might indeed do something to improve my putative soul. More importantly, without looking as if I’m indulging in one of those mindfulness, wellness pieces that clog up much of the waffle pages of the Sunday press, perhaps I can propose a more general movement towards the practice of considerateness and thoughtfulness, or being aware of other people’s perceptions, or their own ‘truths’, however they might differ from our own. It might do a small something to counteract the hideous shite-shower that now emanates relentlessly from social media and the nation’s press. I’ve been doing it for a week, and I’m feeling better already.
Since writing my most recent piece for this paper, in which I was seeking the Silver L in the Cumulonimbus, I have found another way to escape the gloom caused by Trumpeters, Brexiters and Boris Buffs. Load the wood-burner with (kiln-dried) logs, fire it up with approved ovoid smokeless fuel, and binge-watch half a dozen episodes of The West Wing, when there were no smart phones or Twitter, and leaders of men aspired to be good.
Mister Pernickety’s latest restaurant review can be found on page 28 at this link: issuu.com/rumbajax/docs/broad_sheep_march_20.
Photo credit: ProtoplasmaKid / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0