Saturday 19 February 2011

Giles Coren - Boondocks-Basher And Dream Lunch Date

I enjoy reading Saturday's edition of The Times. I don't always read it on the Saturday it is published, mind. The carpet is carpeted with unread sections of The Times from several weeks ago. Mixed in with those are bits of the Guardian from the Saturday before last, when I got up too late to catch my preferred paper. And the purchase of today's edition of The Times merely adds to this stealthy accretion of half read newsprint. It wasn't always like this - but since I started writing my own blog and enjoying other people's, my consumption of papers and novels has plummeted. I foolishly asked Mr Bonkers yesterday to name my top three faults and, quick as a flash, he replied:

1. Spending too much time on the Internet
2. Spending too much time on the Internet
3. Spending too much time on the Internet

So, you know, I may have to review my allocation of leisure time at some point... But meanwhile back to our muttons, and an article by Giles Coren that I did find time to read last week. Giles Coren, son of the late Alan Coren, Punch contributor and Sage of Cricklewood, is very funny. He is possibly not quite as funny as my all-time funniest journalist, Caitlin Moran, who also writes for The Times, but he is pretty darn hilarious. However, his coruscating wit can be near the knuckle and below the belt, which is quite a feat if like me you usually keep your hands at keyboard height. And while he is doing all of that, he also manages to sail very close to the wind - so close indeed that he is actually in the wind, busily putting it up other people. Two of his most vitriolic hatchet jobs were the columns he wrote about skiers and dog owners. I would link to these articles if The Times hadn't taken it upon itself to erect a paywall.

And in last week's column there was a telling throwaway line - I'm paraphrasing here, as the paper went out with the recycling and I can't verify the exact wording - but the gist of it was that anyone with an ounce of intellectual credibility moves to the capital at their earliest opportunity. The rest of the country was dismissed as the "boondocks". I had not come across the term before, but it is clearly another term for "cultural desert". A cursory glance at Wikipedia bears this out:

"The term boondocks refers to a remote, usually brushy rural area, or to a remote city or town that is considered unsophisticated. The expression was introduced to English by American military personnel serving in the Philippines during the early years of the 20th century. It derives from the Tagalog word 'bundok', meaning 'mountain'. According to military historian Paul Kramer, the term had attached to it 'connotations of bewilderment and confusion', due to the guerrilla nature of the warfare in which the soldiers were engaged."

Now Caitlin Moran, my favourite Times journalist, is from Wolverhampton, and I feel sure that she would never trash most of the country in such a sweeping, "broad brushy rural" manner. And if my memory serves me, Janice Turner is from Rotherham and Carol Midgley from Burnley. They may all be living in London now of course, but I still don't think they would condone this boondocks jibe.

Now I will cut Giles Coren some slack, because he has just given his baby daughter the sensible name of Kitty, rather than Allegra or Cosima or Calliope, as you might expect from a non-boondocks dweller. And for any humorist - or perhaps any writer - being provocative comes with the territory. As Michael Cunningham, author of "The Hours", sums it up:

"A certain slightly cruel disregard for the feelings of living people is simply part of the package. I think a writer, if he's any good, is not an entirely benign entity in the world."

So, after my annoyance about the use of this derogatory term had subsided, I decided to roll with the punches and let it go. Sticks and stones and whatever. And anyway, I know that it is actually a smart move to live up north, as the cost of living is so much cheaper than in the capital. Why, you can buy a whole terrace for the price of a glass of Merlot in a trendy bar in Hoxton!

But somehow this flip aside in an otherwise entertaining column managed to fester away in my brain, causing it to scramble my synapses in surreally surprising ways. Then out popped the following dream, epically combining subjects as diverse as blogging, the Internet, mental health, immigration, the recently enlarged European Union, food storage, perfume, gastronomy, technology, marine life and disappointment. Why, Wikio's filing system would have a field day with it! this dream Giles Coren is a practising psychotherapist, and I have checked in for a session to counteract my blogging and general Internet habit. In the consulting room is a big table, and GC is sitting slap bang in the middle, like Alan Sugar in the The Apprentice, with some kind of sidekick/friend/adviser/"eyes and ears" next to him. Now I wasn't expecting a friend, I thought to myself, especially not one who was biblically bearded and kept sniggering as I outlined the reason for my visit. GC himself just smiled inscrutably all the while. And then I spotted another person in the room, sitting cross-legged on the floor at one end of the table. He was surrounded by uncut loaves of white bread and empty Tesco carrier bags, and I knew instinctively that he was from Lithuania, and that if he didn't put most of those loaves in a freezer sharpish, there would be a lot of wasted bread tomorrow.

I hadn't got far with my explanation of my Internet addiction when I decided to tackle GC about the boondocks comment. Whereupon he promptly apologised and offered to take me out to lunch. I brightened considerably at this prospect, for GC is also a noted restaurant critic with access to London's best tables, so I was clearly going to be in for some top scram.

Then the dream cut to one of those long, thin, ultra modern restaurants - a bit like a sushi bar but without the sushi. Though with fish, as it turned out. We were sitting at the bar on high stools, and at one point I leaned over to sniff GC's cologne, but he saw me coming and spun away in time. It was a very forward gesture on my part, I know, especially between therapist and patient, but we fumeheads are driven to sniff strangers with the same compulsion that drives dogs to sniff legs and lamp posts.

Then all of a sudden GC whipped out from his jacket pocket a pair of what looked like 3-D glasses, but they were in fact Blu-Ray glasses, so named because, with them on, you could look into an empty plastic laundry basket (which had mysteriously appeared at our feet at this point), and see an aquarium of fish. There may even have been rays in there, but GC was hogging the glasses. They were so cleverly designed, apparently, that the water didn't run out of the holes in the basket. And then the cat miaowed, wanting her breakfast, and I woke up.

So I never sorted out my Internet addiction. I never got to eat lunch. Hey, I never even saw the fish. I did, however, get an apology out of Giles Coren for the boondocks remark. A retraction in print might be too much to ask. "In your dreams", as they say...

UPDATE: On a whim, I sent the link to this post to the man himself, and today received a humorous reply. GC wasn't apologetic as such, but he wasn't angry with me either for bashing the boondocks-basher back. And if he had been angry, he would have had all sorts of coping strategies at the ready from his book on Anger Management. The gist of the email was that most of the journalists writing for The Times at the moment are from the regions, and he therefore feels the need to defend his beleaguered metropolitan corner: "I am the last of a dying breed".

Photo of Giles Coren from, photo of Boondocks from, photo of the North/South divide and of a terrace from, photo of a bar from


Hazel said...

I feel in Scotland it should be 'doondocks' - as in: 'Ye banks and braes o' bonny'

Vanessa said...

Hi Hazel,

Definitely - I have been to the docks at Dunoon, which sounds similar, and it was pretty "doondocks" as I recall. Your husband will confirm that I cried a lot.

Ines said...

:) Well, the most interesting stuff happens in one's dreams.
And laws of physics never apply. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Haha, that was certainly the case here with the aquarium in a basket!

ScentScelf said...

Oh, how much fun I did have, snickering and nodding and shaking my fists throughout...that is, unless I was cowering under the rather bright spotlight of the list of "faults." (It's a phase, I tell you, a phase like any other, this online time....)

Dundering or blundering, doondocks or boonies, I'd say he ventured forth...and put his foot in it. For the pretentious love! You are wise to point to a quote like Cunningham's, though...but really? Must we fully separate and construct a moat in our minds and our sensibilities? Posh.

An interesting thing about my current general location as noted from space is that it is both a pinnacle of Un-Boondockiness and a Ne Plus Ultra of Boondockiness, depending on whether your eyes are located between coasts or on a coast. By which I mean the right coast, which is to say, the proper coast, or rather the "best points" along either seaboard. The construction is a useful conceit for certain purposes, but a boondoggle, if you will, when it comes to applications in value judgements.

Calliope. Hah!

I want those glasses, by the way. I have way too much laundry, a fish tank far too close to complete failure, to wish for anything else at the moment. Do you think the center will deliver to wherever it is I am? ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

Mr Bonkers is hoping it is a phase all right!

Interesting point about the boondockiness demarcation round your way. Just working out where Canada starts is already a bit of a challenge. I seem to remember a road tunnel near the border - I may even have a postcard of same.

Those glasses do sound fun, and could potentially restore North Sea cod stocks.

: - )

Angela Cox said...

Always thought we should turn the U.K upside down . Then we could have a taste of being northeners.

Vanessa said...

Hi Angela,

Novel idea! And failing that, there's a reasonable train service? : - )

Angela Cox said...