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Life’s too short for dog stories, foodie lists and yearning for alfresco sex

September 20, 2020

There are some questions in life that can never be answered. Perhaps that’s because they aren’t worth asking.

One, for example, is whether newspapers create their audiences, or their audiences create the newspaper.

Take the London Times. When I read some of their stuff, I increasingly feel that I’m a square peg in a round hole. If yesterday’s Weekend section was created to satisfy an audience of dog lovers, foodies and gym bunnies, then I’m definitely in the wrong place.

I recently said goodbye to a life of picking up dogshit in the garden, of walks in the park in terror that Poppy would bite the legs of some yappy Jack Russell that got too close and thereby pitch me into an angry confrontation with owners that look like Jason Statham or that MP’s wife who spilt the beans about David Cameron and his buddies. How, therefore could I possibly be interested in people who give their dogs homeopathy and acupuncture, take them to a psychic, serve them their own Sunday roast dinner and let them have the window seat on train journeys?

I’m not a dog hater, and neither am I a dog lover. Poppy arrived by family vote. I was outvoted three to one. And a few years later, long before the end of her natural lifespan, two of the voters, who vowed fervently to clear up the shit and do the walks but ended up rarely doing either, disappeared to university, leaving us holding the canine baby. And a fine, faithful, companionable baby she was.

But having avoided for all of my life movies and TV shows about hero dogs, slushy tales about unbreakable bonds between men and their large dogs and those hundred and one bloody Dalmatians, the last thing I need on a Saturday morning is to be confronted by a picture of two of the ugliest mutts on God’s planet with their nervous-looking owner.

The reading got worse. After spending much of lockdown mocking Waitrose customers for their decadent shopping preferences, on page 4, after the dogs, came a listicle: The delicious top 50 – this year’s award-winning food. Chosen, we are told, by experts.

Yes, I know taking the mickey out of food and wine reviews is in itself decadent. But after wading through gushing descriptions of various gins, coffees, teas, honeys and oils, with ridiculous foodie names such as Teapigs honeybush and rooios, 88 Organic Molecular Gin and Whisky Smoked Black Garlic Sea Salt, I ground to a spluttering halt when I came across Cornish Yarl, a cheese about which the “expert” said “This smooth, nettle-wrapped cheese has a creamy flavour with hints of nettle”.

What in the name of heaven is a hint of nettle? Is it the tongue, after tasting this cheese, telling the brain: “just to let you know that my taste buds are experiencing a light tingling sensation that might be evidence that the thing you just shoved in your mouth might be similar to the obnoxious weed that you just spent the last hour eradicating from the bottom of your garden. Don’t blame me if I swell up and thereby choke you to death”?

This possibility reminded me of a time in my youth when I worked in a chocolate factory. It was a summer job, and it required me to sit for hours on end watching a conveyor belt full of delicacies called walnut whips. It was the most boring job in the world. Occasionally, to alleviate the tedium, I would place a dead wasp underneath the walnut that sat on top of the chocolate. I can admit this now because I’m way beyond the window afforded by the Statute of Limitations for a prosecution. And anyway, I’m not aware that anyone was adversely affected by my juvenile folly.

I only mention this disgraceful little episode because I wonder how an expert might describe the taste of this extra-crunchy delight in a newspaper review. A hint of wasp, perhaps?

The magazine continues with the agony aunt counselling someone who says she misses the alfresco sex she had on a staycation with her husband, and wants advice on how to continue the fun in the city. What do you say to someone so clearly lacking in imagination? Try dogging? The answer was too boring to describe. All I can say is that here in leafy Surrey, we have quite enough copulating dogs, foxes and pigeons, so my answer would be not in my back yard.

Then we get Brian Cox (the actor, not the astronomer), telling us about his newly acquired cannabis vaping habit, and that he still feels like he’s in his twenties. As if I, approaching my seventies and feeling like a dead rat some mornings, really want to hear that.

And to round things off, we get “Midlife muscle: the secret to a good brain (and body) after 50.” Talk about stating the obvious. But despite my dead rat mornings, I think my brain’s working fine, and I’m not about to place myself in the hands of some demented personal trainer, only to keel over with a heart attack when attempting an unachievable contortion with weights. And as for the advice that I should do one minute of squats every day, I already squat on a regular basis for other reasons, and that’s quite enough, thank you very much. Sod weights. I’ll stick with golf.

I have other reasons for questioning whether I should stay with the Times. One of them is their annoying columnists who argue for a return to the gold standard and appear to believe that another four years of Donald Trump would be a jolly good thing. This is also the paper that backed Boris for Prime Minister and now think he’s an incompetent shit of the first order. Well, I suppose we all make mistakes, and they do have columnists who have always thought that way about Boris.

So I’ll stay with them a while, despite their obnoxious owner and their silly lifestyle content. The alternatives, such as the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, are too polarised to contemplate for an ideological agnostic like me. The only alternative might be the Guardian, but will they exist as a newspaper much longer? And anyway, I read plenty of their stuff online.

So to return to the original question of whether newspapers create their own readers or the readers create the newspaper, I’m really not sure.

Perhaps at my age and given my querulous disposition, no publication offers me a square hole, just as the last thing I want is to belong to any tribe that would have me as a member.

PS: Another thing about the wasp episode is that if I’d been standing as Prime Minister in a general election, I suspect that by telling it in response to a question about my misspent youth, I would have won more votes than Theresa May, whose only indiscretion was walking through a field of wheat….

From → Politics, Social, UK

6 Comments
  1. Truth. Pure unadulterated truth.

  2. You’re neither a dog lover or a dog hater Steve – when it comes to dogs you’re obviously a Stoic kind of guy. I’m not. My motto is ‘The Only Good Dog Is A Dead Dog’.

  3. I read the Guardian and send a pittance each month to support it.
    Perhaps that’s a solution? Add your pittance to mine, and suggest others do so also?

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