Friday, 25 February 2011

Dr Jekyll but what happened to make Hyde hide?

Here they come, struck by a coup de foudre, hand in hand, dancing down the years, benignity and senility.

It's a transformation. I don't get mad any more. Not even when: "I- have- just- lost- three- quarters- of- the- mss- of- a - book - I am writing - I- bought - three-data- recovery- services- none- of- which worked -so- I tried- to- get- back- a system- I- used- to- have- on- my- computer- which- retained- all- my- output- but I- have- been- on- the- phone- this morning -to- every- known- bloody- continent - interrupted-by-my-wife-seeking-my-opinion-on-the-fourth-new-outfit-she-has-bought-this-week-(which-is-puzzling-because-whenever-I-ask-about-an-outfit-which-is-new-to-me-it-is-always something-she-bought-years-ago)- and- until- the- last-call-l could-not- find- anyone- among-the-thousands-of-staff-in- the- bt-shops-worldwide- who-knew-what-I-was-talking-about-an d-when I tried-as-they-suggested-to-email- them-I-got-a-failed-message-which-said-their-email-box- was-full-so-they-weren't-taking-any-more-messages!!!!”

Don't feel envy any more; no twitches of resentment, not even distaste.
Dammit, I have even begun to like Anne Robinson. Only met her briefly forty years ago when the insecurity which is at her core was still bubbling on the surface. Didn't like her, which was odd because I was champagne chums with one of her ex-hubbies, Charlie Wilson, who once when he edited The Times called over to a sub: “C'm here, fingers.” When the sub asked why he called him fingers he said, “Because that is what you are holding on to your job by.”

I met him when he was news editing The Daily Mail and I went in to do a casual shift, and he said: “We must be scraping the bottom of the bucket.” And I said: “Well, you know how it is with buckets. All the shit floats to the top.”

When I really went off Ms Robinson was when she became quiz mistress on “The Weakest Link” and adopted this faux-dominatrix role, coupled with the weakest wink in show business. Also I couldn't understand how every time she was photographed she got younger.

What changed my mind? It was her transformation on “My Life in Books”, which is high on my list of favourite programmes. You may have noticed that the BBC has discovered literature and the hills are alive with the sound of readers. Not the bogus Notting Hill intellectuals who put you off reading by their carefully assumed, just for the broadcast, views. The unlikeable in full pursuit of the unreadable.

Ms R clearly loves books and it shows. She picks guests who share her love and skilfully gets from them trenchant comment. She has found from somewhere an attractive smile and a look that says she cares. The guests blossom as they realise this, and their choice of favourite books is commendable: ”Wind in the Willows”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Great Expectations“, “Nicholas Nickleby”, as well as books unknown which always sound worth reading.

I do not always agree with them, though. I even, Buddha Forgive Me, disagreed with the saintly P.D. James. She said - and I was sad to hear that Ms R agreed with her - that she liked books by their touch and their smell. Dammit, all that's what I used to like about women. Books I read as portals to another world.

They were very rude about E-books. I cannot think why. I have two which means that I can carry 7,000 books in my pocket. In the old days I knew chaps who wore two raincoats for extra book portage.

At which point I will take advantage of the liberty of senility to digress.
Two warriors whom I admire are among the signatories to a letter warning that the dismantling of the Harrier fleet and the Ark Royal will rob us of the ability to defend ourselves from the Wahabi-driven Middle East which is emerging like Ovid's dragon's teeth. Not worried about the Chinese. They dominate cyber space and will beat anyone by hacking into their nerve centres. As usual, a weak response from a defence secretary without a jot of the letter writer's experience of battle. “We have no money,” he bleated.

I was in Lewis's this week hovering over a demonstration of Ipads, longing to know how they work but afraid to touch them. As I hovered, a selection of sundry teenagers, even ten-and-below-agers, rushed up, waved their hands and all sorts of things began to happen. Greatly daring, I asked one young man in the throes of virulent acne whether since I had an E-book I needed to get an Ipad. “Not really,” he said. “I have an Ipad and a computer and a Kindle. The trouble with the Ipad is that the batteries need recharging every eight hours.”

Not only did he save me £400: he could save the country countless millions. What is this fuss over library closures>? Close them all. The argument in their favour is outdated. Certainly I was educated in them and the best moment in my young life was when I qualified for an adult ticket and could borrow four books at a time. Today you can download around two million books free of charge and buy new ones online at a greatly reduced price. Second-hand paperbacks are available for the price of an ice cream or a lollipop. The few people who haven't got assorted computers could be given them free. Couple that saving with the money you would save by closing down the universities and replacing them with an Open University network and we would be literally quids in. Think of it. Streets free of feral student mobs, parents no longer having to scrimp and save to give their children the right to drop out in their second expensive year.

“Ah Bliss! Ah Toot, Toot!” to echo the magnificent Mr Toad.