I don’t come from a family of quality newspaper readers. In fact I suspect that I may be the first Guardian reader amongst the entire extended clan who have managed to cross my path so far. My mother always liked to read the Daily Mirror in the mornings and my father looked through the sports pages at night, and apart from the long-forgotten “Pink Paper”of football results (which came out at the weekend,) that was the lot in terms of printed news entering the orbit of the young Graham. Not that my dad wasn’t informed about the world, he picked up enough news from his colleagues whilst sorting letters all day, (no doubt discussing pressing events in Cyprus and Rhodesia (as was) based mainly on the amount of tinned food being sent to said countries by concerned relatives) . But in his view broadsheets were read by the kind of people that he had delivered meals to whilst working in a central London restaurant between the wars- staid and dignified gents who sat in clubs reading the Times and offering a ten-shilling tip when the waiter brought their meal from the Dorchester. (he was fond of rather regretfully telling the story about how he had not on that manifestation of great munificence kept the tip for himself, but had put it in the pot to be shared by all the staff – such was always the way he did things.)
By the age of fourteen I was positively seeking something more from life than Andy Capp and Marjorie Proops, and was off and out into a world of SWP meetings, (where a different kind of tabloid was read) and squat-bound hippies, (who probably would have been ideal Guardian readers if they had not usually been too smacked-out to get up and buy it.) As riots erupted in Brixton in 1981 I moved out to share a basement flat in West Norwood with my first “serious” girlfriend of the “possibly 2.4 kids on the way” variety.
Three years of attempting to live in a Squeeze song later, and after an over –enthusiastic Hells Angels gang had trashed the flat and stabbed one of my friends at a party, we moved out east, and Ms Bromley 1979 later buggered off to live in Gillingham with an Irishman. Truly relieved, (and still not a Guardian reader,) I set out to face the world for the second time: Dick Whittington in patched levis. The world yawned disinterestedly and tossed me a series of community programme jobs in place of a career. You may not remember the Community Programme (perhaps you were at Oxbridge) it was what the Thatcher government offered people in place of work. Firstly, I filled the grandly titled position of “publicity officer” for a draughtproofing charity. All of us office types sat upstairs looking busy and celebrating our “status” whilst the “fitters” were (I kid you not) kept in a cage in the basement awaiting the chance to mangle old-people’s windows. Secondly, I pitched up in a project which had set itself the task of interviewing all the disabled people in Greenwich (nobody ever knew quite why. ) Young and eager, we were were dispatched to interview those suffering from everything from ingrowing toenails to terminal cancer, and thus add to the great sum of the world’s knowledge. Occasionally , when turning up for an hour-long interview, the prospective interviewee had thought better of letting a semi-unemployed waster in and refused to answer the door, and it was on an occasion such as this that I first bought the newly published Independent newspaper and sat down on a pedestrian bridge over the A2 at Rochester Way to read it.
It is. Are you? Was the tagline of the newspaper at that time. I am! I am! I wanted to shout. I can’t imagine how new that newspaper was to those brought up on the Guardian, but it certainly was a revelation to me. News in detail, no annoying silly Royal stories, even the cartoon Yuppie: Alex, seemed part of an interesting new world which was full of possibilities (if beyond reach,) . Despite doubts about Mr Fisk and others I continued to stick up for the Indy for years, and then one day, around the time of the invasion of Yugoslavia (a country I had visited several times) I made the switch to the other side.
For some reason the Guardian had always struck me as a wishy-washy version of the Times, and I have never really changed my view on that. You will be glad to know that I don’t really have space here to critique the whole paper and tell in detail of the affected snort which I have developed when coming across such pearls of wisdom as Marina Hyde -apparently with a straight face- attempting to compare Danielle Lloyd with PW Botha (yesterday) or Tony Blair with Comical Ali (today.) Or how I always chuckle at the “Single transferable article” about Blair’s impending resignation/deposition (nearly every day since 1997) or even about the curious mixture of fatherly care and er, something else, which would have me forgiving Laura Barton for almost anything. There is no time for such trifles , and I will use my remaining space to concentrate on the one aspect of the Guardian which has never failed to get me laughing loudly in all the years which I have been reading the paper: The saturday magazine.
It surely can’t only be me who thinks that many of the regular articles and fashion pages are unintentionally hilarious unless your name happens to be Jemima Khan and you live in Chelsea? It hasn’t always been totally silly of course. Once, La Burchill (I can hear the hissing) stood at the front of the publication like an ironic chavvy Charon ready to transport us into a pantomime where people with improbable names like Heston Blumenthal and Monty Don were paid ridiculous sums to come up with recipes for snail porridge or invent a way of pruning artichokes. I’ll say this once and let it sink in. It is (and has always been) impossible for people from a certain background to read the Guardian magazine with a straight face.
Lets look at today’s offering as an example; Burchill’s latest replacement Jon Ronson seems to have moved on from his endless angst about fitting into suburbia with a story about being stopped at customs, Singer Rickie Lee Jones has a Q&A session in which in response to a question about who she would most like to say sorry too she informs us: “I guess I should say sorry to me when I was younger, because I left me there untaken care of…”(Oh fucking yuck.) Radio 4 interviewer Tony Staveacre has a piece under the title “a man died while I was interviewing him” (I knew middle-class journalists were boring, but really.. )The readers letters are mostly about last week’s issue when some wag had the bright idea of dressing up Wayne Rooney’s girlfriend and posing her in a series of pastiches of Renoir and other artists (they get paid for this?) There is a piece on what your teenagers may be doing when you aren’t looking (probably getting blasted in order to forget their insufferably smug Guardian-reading parents) David Lynch is interviewed (yawn) A “crime-ridden Manchester estate” is “re-branded” as the “new Islington” (you couldn’t parody that) There is an actual, real, serious article about Kosovo (astonishing.) and then we are into clothes nobody wears and food nobody eats etc etc etc.
Its a truly awful experience to read- how the hell do they get away with it? I mean really? Somebody tell me.
Maybe I am just a “grumpy old man” these days but I really would love a newspaper which was designed for people like myself. People who are not rich but who also no longer aspire to the endless Dixons and Comet ads in the Tabloids. The reason why there isn’t one is because in England, in the year 2007, there are still not enough people who over the course of their lives, have grown out of reading the Daily Mirror.
And that is a sad indictment of the society in which we live.