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Old 17th Jul 2005, 16:17   #1
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Default A.A. Gill

Grabbing a five minute break in the shade with the Sunday papers, I've just come across Gill's restaurant piece in the Style Magazine of The Sunday Times. He's their regular restaurant and TV critic , occassionally being commissioned to do some rather more serious socio-political pieces. He also co-writes highly entertaining travel articles - 'on the road' sort of stuff with best buddy, Jeremy Clarkson. Frequently, the man talks tosh - bolleaux so faux you want to clip his elegant lughole, and tell him not to be so silly; but always he does it with such style and wit you can't help but forgive him. Here's today's sampler. Think you might enjoy ....

July 10, 2005

Sunday Times

AA Gill

So there’s this right whale killed off Iceland, by accident. I don’t know how you kill a whale by accident. Maybe it was looking the wrong way on its way to school. Anyway, the whale snuffed it. And, waste not want not, the Icelanders sensibly stuffed it into five refrigerated containers and sold it to the Japanese.

On its way to Tokyo, the container stopped at Rotterdam, where Dutch environmental necrophiliacs chained themselves to the manslaughtered whale, rolled whale-size joints and said it was going back to Iceland. It was bought by the chef of a Reykjavik restaurant called, enigmatically, the Three Overcoats, who has been slowly working his way through it for the best part of a decade. I’ve helped him out with a chunk or two. It was incredibly good. Personally, I’d rather eat it than tuna. Apart from extinction, I’ve never understood the reason for not eating whales. They’re useful animals. They make corsets and oil — and whale sick is one of the most valuable substances on earth, being used in the perfume industry.

The International Whaling Commission met recently to discuss the moratorium on whaling. The Japanese had been stuffing the committee with countries that were likely to vote for a resumption. Afghanistan votes yes. Chad votes yes. Tajikistan votes yes. The liberalish, greenish, westernish nations want the moratorium to become a ban. Both sides tell whoppers. Now that a number of species could be commercially exploited, the argument isn’t extinction but size. You don’t want to kill whales because they’re bloody huge and they suckle their young. Well, so do cows. They used to say we shouldn’t kill them because they have vast brains and can talk to each other across oceans. Yet after years of research, the best guess is that whale language is like birdsong — just meaningless twittering.

The argument about whaling is split between countries that eat fish with the heads and those, like us, who insist on heads off. We have become uncoupled from the life of our food, particularly from the sea. We eat fish as blocks of bland muscle, camouflaged and disembodied. We cook it with rubber gloves on and eat it because it’s next to eating nothing at all. We huff over the Chinese cutting off sharks’ fins to make soup, but imagine farmed sea bass to be a kind alternative. What do you think they feed them on? Rice Krispies? It’s tons and tons of ground-up sand eels, the basic building blocks of the North Atlantic food chain, which are now endangered. Fish farming is more wasteful and destructive than fishing with dynamite.

It is the people who value the seas the most who should say how they are used. The Japanese, much as I think they are dismal, depressed little geeks, are not thoughtless, rapacious idiots. They eat lots of fish and hardly any meat. If there were a complete ban on eating fish for a year, you would barely notice. The Japanese, on the other hand, would either starve to death or have to completely rebuild their society. They have a far more pressing reason to conserve stocks than we do.

If you want to ban whaling because they are bigger than your house and make a twittering noise, and because you have a plastic one in your bath, here are a few stout facts to change your mind. One: they are ugly bastards. I’ve been on a whale-watch and, apart from being wet, cold and boring, with worse people than you would find in the nonces’ wing at Wandsworth, the whales are plainly malevolent, hideous and stupid. Two: they are turncoat cowards. They came out of the sea along with the rest of us, then got cold flippers, whimpered that they wanted to go home and left our team in the lurch, when we could have done with a few whales. And three: whale music infests every massage parlour, chiropractor’s, yoga room and beautician’s in the alternative world. It ’s the most annoying song ever made — like a collective of fat Enyas.

To remind myself of exactly what is on the high moral ground we keep, I went to a fish-and-chip shop. The Sea Shell on Lisson Grove is often said to be the best fish-and-chip shop in London, which is a bit like being called the best Relate counsellor in Lagos. London isn’t the place for fish and chips. They are a northern, no-coat-or-knickers thing. The Sea Shell calls itself Fish and Chips to the Stars, which I think means Paul Ross was in once.

There is a look that chippies get when they go posh. It’s sort of Penelope Keith’s spare bedroom. It is painted in various shades of salmon intestine and is clean, with that deep, reassuring smell that fried fish adds to soft furnishings, but with a forbearance bordering on perversity, there are no shell motifs.

The menu is longish, but the point is fish and chips. If you are from England, then your fish of choice is probably cod.

If you are from Scotland, it’s haddock. My haddock was competently made, had a crisp straitjacket and flaky, opalescent flesh that was freshly bland. Chips were the way I like them: soft and fluffy. Mushy peas were mushy and vaguely pea’d. I finished with a cup of bagged builder’s tea and the “famous apple pie” (which, presumably, is famous for having been made commercially somewhere soggy, with added tinned custard).

I was surprised to see that rock salmon is now the most expensive of the traditional fish. It used to be the cheapest, when it worked under its real name, dogfish.

Beside us, a television-style producer in shorts had a conversation with his plain mistress about whether they could get away for a week in New York between school hols and half term. It was very Notting Hill. They shared the chips.

I’m not sure that anyone would invent British deep-fried fish from scratch today. Covering a fillet in glutinous batter and dousing it in malt vinegar is a pretty grisly thing to do to a fish. I think we only like it because of the associations and heritage. It is our adolescence, fish and chips. Almost all the sex I had before the age of 25 tasted of vinegar, salt and a moist plaice. Its only pleasure is in reverie.

The cod family, which includes haddock, is too endangered and special to batter and drown in fat. The Japanese must think it the most hideously disgusting and immorally cack-handed insult to food. If you don’t hunt whales for a few years, the big lummoxes breed and come back; we’re the only enemy they’ve got. If we kick the North Sea in the cods, they’re gone for ever. There’s too much competition. It’ll be crabs and squid — and there goes the neighbourhood.
(Fyi - he was talking about: Sea Shell

49-51 Lisson Grove, NW1; 020 7224 9000

Mon-Fri, noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm; Sat, noon-10.30pm. Closed Sun
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Old 19th Dec 2005, 17:20   #2
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Default Re: A.A. Gill

Another review by Adrian Gill, this time with a spirited response...

(Apologies for poor formatting)

I've never been to Portugal, so my prejudices about the salty Iberian
appendix are unsullied and uncorrupted by acquaintance. It is with a
disinterested authority therefore, that I can say Portugal is Belgium
for golfers, a place so forgettable that the rest of us haven't even
bothered to think up a rude nickname for it.

Portugal is Britain's oldest ally - like that keen exchange student
your mother forced you to be nice to, and who turned up in paperweight
glasses and national costume. It's also the only colonial power that
was given independence by its own colony. Brazil told Lisbon it would
just have to stand on its own two feet now, because, frankly, being
seen out with it was getting embarrassing. Portugal's colonial
reputation was for being overfamiliar with the folk they were ripping
off. In fact, there is a theory that the Portuguese only got an empire
as a desperate attempt to get laid.

The world is dotted with plain mates on double dates, countries that
are gawkier, hairier, shyer, goofier and less entertaining than their friends.
Their main purpose is to make the next-door neighbour look good.
there's Canada, which is the ugly friend of America. New Zealand is
the dingo date for Australia. Ulster is the foul-gobbed psycho with a
neck tattoo out with lyrical, literate, craicing Eire. But how
depressing must it be to be the forgettable one out on a date with
Spain? It's a Ladyshave assault course.

Portugal has been doomed to be the mini-me España. It's Spain that's
famous for sailors and discoverers, when, in fact, the Portuguese were
better and braver at it. Spain got fascism and Franco; Portugal just
got some bloke called Salazar, but nobody noticed. Spain got
bullfights, flamenco, Penelope Cruz and Real Madrid; Portugal got golf
courses, Porto, gout and domestic servants. Name three famous
Portuguese who weren't sailors. Or three of your favourite Portuguese
dishes. Okay, so there's bacalao (salt cod), those little custard
tarts and, erm, another one of those delicious little custard tarts.

One of the problems with the communal, back-slapping,
one-for-all-and-all-for-France Europe is the rock-on relativism (by
the way, Portugal is in the EU, isn't it?). We're all supposed to be
uniformly good and nice and attractive. We're supposed to believe that
everyone's sense of style is equal, that their pop songs are jointly
joyous and that everyone's domestic cookery is equally, salivatingly
moreish. So in EU-topia, the food of Greece is as wonderful as
Italy's, although there's always the proviso that it has to be really,
really well made. How many people do you think there are who can make
Greek food taste good? Very few. And they're all Turks.

In gallant little Portugal, the food is well meaning and pretty dreadful.
And before you say anything, no, I've never had it well made, because
I've never found anyone who can be bothered to make it. Salt cod of
course, can be fantastic, but one swallow doesn't make a cuisine. Then
there are all those things made with chickpeas. The Portuguese are
very fond of pulses, bobbing like buoys in soups of old fatty fat.

I'm sure if you're born to it, it reminds you of your grandmother's
beard and your mother's mop bucket. Portuguese food is heaven - if
you're Portuguese. But if you come to it with a mild hunger and a
choice, it's just son of Spanish, but without the shrieking. Dinner of
the Dons always seems as if it's therapy to cope with the sensory
religious and emotional overload of being Spanish. Portuguese food, on
the other hand, is more your necessary ballast and seasick ammunition
for discovering Tierra del Fuego - or being the live-in couple for a
rock star in Sussex.

Tugga is a new Portuguese restaurant on a stretch of the King's Road
that is filled with barn-like grub bars, vaguely themed by country -
Italy, Spain, Mexico, Thailand. Their decor and menus are more style
indicators than authentic gastronomic experiences. The King's Road has
always been a notoriously difficult place to find anything decent to
eat, at least, anything that wasn't at school with your sister. Most
of the clients who trawl up and down here in the evening are up from
boarding school, clogging the pavement as they do intense and romantic
things on their mobile phones.

I love watching young people on phones; they come alive. Face to face,
they're mumbling stroke victims, with all the elegant body language of
a beanbag. But give them a handset, and they prance and pose like
Margot Fonteyn laying an egg and orate like Hal at Agincourt.

Tugga is just another in this series of dark rooms, which, I suspect,
do most of their business in the bar. The best thing about this one is
the wallpaper of gaudy flowers that looks a bit like they've skinned a
dead BA aeroplane tail and glued it to the wall. The Blonde says this
particular paper is very fashionable at the moment and comes from Scandinavia.
Jabberwocky food is now expanding into jabberwocky environments. You
get food from Lisbon, wallpaper from Stockholm, wine from Chile, water
from Fiji, music from Ibiza, waiters from Poland and a bill from the
Cayman Islands.

The menu is short and Iberian, starting off with the Portuguese
version of tapas, which is very like the Spanish version of tapas, but
without the thumbscrews. This includes that pata negra ham that just
is Spanish. The best I can say about Tugga is that it's trying to
improve the general food of the area. while providing a base for the
coveys of public-school children who have been at a loss for a summer
camp since Pucci's, the famous virginity brokerage, closed down.

This is laudable, but, sadly, this Atlantic-rim food is never going to
be fashionable or trendy. And it's not terribly well made. The ham was
sweaty and sliced too thick. The salt cod, which ought to be the
signature dish, was bland and resistant to swallowing. The chickpea
mush was really not edible for pleasure.

Tugga is going to have a hard time competing with its pounding,
tequila-slamming, chip-and-dip, youth-ogling, short-skirted neighbours.
But then, for Portugal, that's a familiar story.
Dear Sirs,

I am only now replying to AA Gill's "TableTalk" article in the Sunday
Times on August 21. If you find this letter too politically incorrect
for your readership, please forward it to Mr. Gill.

The article in question was about Tugga, a Portuguese restaurant on
the King's Road. I have never been to Tugga, although I know one of
the owners.
It is of no consequence what AA Gill writes about the restaurant. What
I found objectionable was Mr. Gill's comments about Portugal.

As a Portuguese who chose to live and educate his children in England,
I feel both extremely proud to be Portuguese and to live as a guest in
this great country. My comments are therefore aimed at the particular
breed of smart-ass-pseudo-amusing weasel that Mr Gill exemplifies,
certainly not the traditions, people and institutions which make
Britain a peerless nation.

True to Type, Mr. Gill opens by saying that he has never been to
Portugal, which of course gets him off the hook. How uncool would it
be to criticize a country if you had actually been there. Plus,
Portugal is a largely white, mostly catholic, funny little
old-fashioned country, and guess what, an ex-colonial power to boot!
All of a sudden, it's open season! You can be a smart-ass, make fun of
dignified people without even offending the average Times reader, all
without ever having visited the country- Excelente! I wonder if AA
Gill's quick wit takes quite so many liberties against slightly more
"ethnic" peoples.

AA Gill makes a few historical references which I would like to addresss.

1. Portugal is indeed "England's Oldest Ally", something it Portugal
is quite proud of. In the age of AA Gill and co. this is of course a
laughable matter.

What AA does not know, is that this alliance almost never was. Indeed,
had King Joao I and his court been met in England by the late-medieval
equivalent of the smart-ass-pseudo-amusing weasel-restaurant critic; a
group consisting mainly of jesters, male prostitutes, deserters,
pickpockets and thieves, they might have been less impressed with
their future ally. The King of Portugal would not have married the
formidable Philippa of Lancaster, their son Henry the Navigator would
not have been born, and The treaty of Windsor would not have been
signed. Four centuries later, Wellington would not have landed in
Portugal during the bleakest hours of the Napoleonic wars, and begun
England's "Reconquista" (look it up, AA) of Europe.

2. Brasil did indeed secede from Portugal. Not so unlike America's
secession from England. Except that in the former case, the process
was peaceful, and left behind two countries with huge cultural
affinities. Brasil is the greatest living tribute to Portugal's
colonization, as the largest integrated multi-racial nation in the
world. In the latter case, the 2nd largest standing army in the world
was defeated (twice) by barefoot irregulars, leaving behind two
nations that, under the guise of the "special Relationship" barely
understand, and don't really like each other. Maybe AA Gill has not
been to Brasil, so he is entitled to his opinion.

The pivotal point in Mr. Gill's incredibly well-structured argument,
delivered with nonchalant ascerbic wit, is that Portugal is the
perpetual loser country, the ugly sibling to its larger neighbor
Spain. As he inimitably puts it "...doomed to be the mini-me Espana."
Now there is a novel idea.

I adore Spain, and some of my best friends are Spanish. It is an
incredible country, one of the greatest. In fact, "Modern" Spain
certainly has a lot more cultural integrity that "modern" England.
Actually, Portugal is nothing like Spain. Of course it is difficult to
discern, having never been there.
AA Gill has probably rarely left the King's Road.

His pivotal point must be a nagging personal truth for Mr. Gill, that
strikes uncomfortably close to the mark. Perhaps He is the perennial
ugly duckling compared to his beautiful girlfriend, "The Blonde". Or
on a professional level, he must have an inkling that the
"all-expenses-paid-wisecracking-irreverant restaurant critic-cum parasite"
is also the mini-me of writing, the mini-me of journalism, and the
mini-me of most other respectable professions. Unless, of course, one
admires people who earn their living accepting free meals, to later
insult their hosts, in order to amuse.

In fact perhaps Mr. Gill is incensed against Portugal simply because
he has never been there. He has yet to see the magic of the place,
simply because no one has ever paid his ticket there, which is a sorry
excuse not to have visited. I am sure we could arrange it.

Summer 2004 would have been a good time for him to visit, to observe
some of England 's finest destroy half the Algarve while their small
children watched, encouraging their dads. Or a few days later, when
Sven-Goran, Becks, Posh and the rest of the A-listers and footballers
wives watched, as a much smaller country outplayed them in the 1/4
finals of the Euro. Of course, in the age of AA Gill and "Modern"
England, the press clamoured:
Wuz Robbed!!!" and people just went back to drinking themselves into a
stupor, intermittently smashing windows.

As I look at his airbrushed picture in the Article in the Sunday
times, a thought occurs to me. Maybe Mr Gill gets his dark handsome
looks from some Portuguese sailor who visited England long ago. After
all, there have been many advantages to being "England's Oldest Ally".
He really should angle for his next restaurant or golf junket to take
place in my fantastic country.
All he needs now is someone to pay for the trip.


Pascal Monteiro de Barros
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Old 20th Dec 2005, 10:43   #3
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Well said, Pascal. What a self-inflated twirp he made AA Gill sound!
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Old 20th Dec 2005, 11:13   #4
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Yes, that's a superb riposte. Where in the paper did they publish it, ono? It seems too long for the letters page.
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Old 20th Dec 2005, 11:25   #5
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What a self-inflated twirp he made AA Gill sound!
Self-inflated? Indubitably. Add to that arrogant and foppish and outrageous and vain, but a twerp? I think not. He may be addicted to making ridiculously extreme remarks, but this is just Gill at play; so ignore the taunting sweeping statements, just admire the fabulously athletic way he has with words; few others if any can match him in his ability to coin a phrase that so completely bedazzles with its wit and imagery. And he does have a far more serious side when he chooses. Read the opening to this next restaurant piece and you'll see what I mean:

Times Online November 13, 2005 Table talk

AA Gill

The deputy ambassador asked me out to dinner. I normally get the temporary media-liaison girl from the British Council, but as I was travelling with Jeremy off the telly, I got upgraded. “There’s a place we use, nothing special, obviously not what you’re used to,” he said, with that air of self-deprecation that miraculously increases the stature. It’s a trick diplomats are taught in the witchcraft school of the Foreign Office.
What was odd, not to say bizarre, about this was that we were in Baghdad. We sat outside in the balmy evening, around tables with gingham cloths under palm trees, in a courtyard screened by a labyrinth of blast walls and partitions of sandbags. At the other tables were men in smart tropical casual having a late dinner, their assault rifles propped against their chairs and 9mm pistols beside their duty-free Marlboro Lights.

It was all out of bounds to American personnel, so it was the only place in Baghdad that seemed properly international. The waiters were jolly Iraqis. The food was meze, some rather good hummus and a mixed grill and chips that was on the cold, clammy side.
But that was all beside the point. Just to sit here for an hour and go through the ritual of hospitality was an act of faith, homesickness and bravado. Restaurants are the summit of civilisation. It took us 10,000 years to get to one. You have to have a lot of other things in place before you hire a head waiter: safe streets, a reliable supply of utilities and ingredients, clean water, customers with disposable income, freedom of association, peace and goodwill. None of which Iraq can stretch to at the moment.

So, sitting here, chewing the tepid fat while the American Black Hawks wop-wopped overhead like Tolkien’s dark riders, was doing something that was either foolish or important. It was rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic — or a vote of confidence that you could, in fact, rebuild the Titanic at sea as it sank, starting with the chips.

I also ate at the American commissariat, Uday’s shag palace, now a huge canteen for soldiers; trestle tables of edgy, camouflaged men and women with that corpulent look of America’s underclass. Around the walls was a help-yourself cornucopia of American comestibles — gluts of burgers and hot dogs, flocks of fried chicken, sweet potatoes, pizzas, chops — all fatty, sweet and familiar, served on huge plates with supersize cartons of Day-Glo soda. I had never seen comfort eating of such concentrated, panoramic intensity. They were heads down, cramming their mouths with home. How you eat and what you eat are symbols of what and who you are — and this is never so potent as when a man is continuously scared, day after day, and a long way from his bedroom. The Americans regarded us with suspicion and blank hostility. This wasn’t the texture and taste of our home. We were trespassing on the communion of their lunch, the remembrance of a thousand small-town diners, trailer-park kitchens and back-yard barbecues. The high altar of the canteen was the ice-cream counter. It was the real thing, served in a one-size bucket you could have drowned kittens in. The flavours revolved, new ones arriving every three weeks as the old ones were sent home. Tank crews would drive hundreds of miles to get a new taste of Stateside. Soldiers carried tubs back to Humvees and personnel carriers like holy relics; a mouthful of sweet unction to calm the churning shock and awe. Someone dropped a tray. The crash echoed into the high dome and a thousand kids lurched for their weapons, ducked for the floor, eyes staring, teeth bared, choking on tutti-frutti.
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Old 20th Dec 2005, 11:39   #6
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Default Re: A.A. Gill

Originally Posted by John Self
Yes, that's a superb riposte. Where in the paper did they publish it, ono? It seems too long for the letters page.
I'm afraid I don't know. It was sent to me in text format by a Portuguese friend.
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Old 20th Dec 2005, 11:54   #7
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Twerpiness or not aside, I wonder if the following comment struck a chord with Gill:

on a professional level, he must have an inkling that the "all-expenses-paid-wisecracking-irreverant restaurant critic-cum parasite" is also the mini-me of writing, the mini-me of journalism, and the mini-me of most other respectable professions. Unless, of course, one admires people who earn their living accepting free meals, to later insult their hosts, in order to amuse.
Hasn't Gill, after all, published a couple of novels to a clamorous silence, one now out of print? Perhaps he is the archetypal critic who wants to be the 'proper' writer - only when he tried, he found that he was subject to waspish critics just as vicious as himself. Poor thing. Even his new book - a non-fiction work about the English, but illustrated with a large cover photo of, er, A.A. Gill, who is Scottish - attracts quotes which seem to be delicately pulled from much more equivocal surroundings and to lack the original preceding 'although' or the following 'but':

Jim Blackburn, WANDERLUST
'the author is on typically quick-witted form.'
Beryl Bainbridge, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
'one can admire the zest of the writing and applaud its splendid lack of political correctness.'

I did like this not-so-subtly sarcastic review of his new book on Amazon (though the book itself sounds quite interesting):

hilarious. worth six stars!, November 25, 2005
Reviewer: A reader from newquay For those unfamiliar with AA (Andrew Angus) Gill he is the funniest writer in the country. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland he is the author of two acclaimed novels Sap Arising (1997) and Stargate (1999), books on two of London's most famous restaurants, The Ivy and Une Caprice, and a travel book, AA Gill is Away Today. He is the TV and restaurant critic for the Sunday Times and the newsspaper's cutting edge satirist and is a contributing editor to GQ and Men Only magazine. He lives in London, is often photographed with comely women on his arm (he has charisma ) and spends much of his year working out and honing his body.
This book is no disappointment. It as funny as classic Gill.
This is the outline. Mr Gill says the English are naturally, congenitally, collectively and singularly, livid much of the time. Yes, yes, I said aloud to my wife's astonishment as I read this. Having been born in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and moved to Newquay to makie a fresh start while I was still young enough to do so and made a good fist of running a bakery aimed at hungry surfers I always felt the English were not right. Not having Mr Gill's ability I could not put this into words. Mr Gill says in between the incoherent bellowing of the seats in the opera house, where they know no better, and the pursed, rigid eye-rolling of the commuter carriage, the English do not quite reach the end of their silly tethers and the thin end of their foolish wedges. "They're incensed, incandescent, splenetic, prickly, touchy, prone to confusions of sexuality and fractious. They can be mildly annoyed, really annoyed and, most scarily, not remotely annoyed." Pause again fsor laughter! He carries on: " They sit apart on their half of a damply disappointing little island, always wet, rarely hot, nursing and picking at their irritations. Perhaps aware that they're living on top of a keg of fulminating fury, the English have, throughout their history, failed to come up with hundreds of ingenious and bizarre ways to diffuse anger or transform it into something benign. Good manners and queues, roundabouts and garden sheds, and almost every game ever invented from tennis to bridge to strip poker. They've built things, discovered stuff, made puddings, written hymns and novels,none any good, and for people who don't like to talk much, they have come up with the most minutely nuanced and replete language ever spoken - just so there'll be no misunderstandings." A wonderful book. Read it and laugh until you fall over!
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Old 20th Dec 2005, 12:12   #8
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Well, I have a copy of his first stab at novel-writing: Sap Rising. Emblazoned on the front jacket above the title: 'DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK' The Guardian. On the back nestling like a python in the usual jungle of sycophantic endorsements, 'Extremely badly written, hideously and unamusingly obscene' A.N. Wilson EVENING STANDARD.

Well, having attemtped (and failed dismally) to read Gill's woeful pile of shite, I can only say The Guardian and A.N. Wilson were being kind.

The trouble is, John, a journalist does not necessarily make a good novellist. No more than an opera singer makes a good reggae star. Both sing, but the two disciplines are so far apart as to require completely different talents. Gill is a performance artist. He, not the characters he writes about, is the star of the show. You read Gill for his colour, his savage wit, his wordplay, his outrageousness; you don't read him for his faceless, invisible character deliveries. And constructing a well-balanced entertaining article requires a totally different set of techniques to forming a plot - as Sap Rising proved only too lamentably, since it was pretty much plot-free and just an excuse for the author to turn tricks. Dazzling, bewitching tricks at times, but ones that had no place in a novel.
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Old 10th Dec 2006, 18:01   #9
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Found a review of A.A. Gill's latest book - mercy be, not another dreadful attempt at novel-writing - but a collection of his essays and piecies mainly written for The Sunday Times. Never has a reviewer so nailed the delights and irritations of this man and his writings so well, me thinks. Kate Saunders sums up my feelings about Gill beautifully. Here's the review in full.


Pieces of his mind

PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS Assignments from Here and There
by AA Gill
Weidenfeld £16.99 pp270

KATE SAUNDERS The journalist in me loves the work of AA Gill. The middle-aged Christian lady in me is appalled by his sneering, his snobbery, his political incorrectness. The novelist in me feels free to despise his ludicrous attempts at fiction. But anyone who scrapes a living doing essentially disposable writing for newspapers must acknowledge the sheer brilliance of this dreadful man. The point about a great journalist, after all, is not whether you approve of him, but whether you actually read him. I approve of Polly Toynbee, but I read Gill. His byline is a guarantee of all sorts of things (amusement, annoyance, offence) but never, ever boredom.

Previous Convictions is a collection of Gill’s journalism, at home and abroad. And Gill is one of the handful whose pieces are worth collecting. He is refreshingly unprecious about the ephemeral nature of what he does — as he says himself, he writes of today in the knowledge that he will be face-down in the parrot’s cage tomorrow. But many of these pieces definitely deserve an afterlife.

When Gill makes a pilgrimage to the Glastonbury festival, you expect him to swipe at all his usual targets (soap-dodgers, practitioners of alternative medicine), only to be surprised and disarmed by his marvellous talent for comedy. I can’t quote any of the stuff about the lavatories, but I laughed until I cried and only wish I could forget the details.

He is seldom entirely silly, however. Most of these pieces have a serious spine. He writes not only about the social absurdities of people who go deerstalking, but also about the desolate beauty of the Scottish Highlands, and the majesty of the hunted stag. “He carries cupped in his bony head the weight of his artistic, mythological, poetic and heraldic heredity with an elegant, imperious assumption.” The finest piece of writing in this book is Gill’s account of his father’s descent into Alzheimer’s — tender, yet militantly unsentimental. “It’s got him,” he begins, “and it’s slowly and capriciously losing him, rubbing him out so that in the end all that will be left is the whine of dementia and a hieroglyph that looks like him.” Available at the Books First price of £15.29 (inc p&p) on 0870 165 8585
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Old 11th Dec 2006, 9:39   #10
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Default Re: A.A. Gill

He was nominated for the Bad Sex award for Sap Rising. I find him pompous and opinionated but still read and enjoy all his (non fictional) work, which must mean he succeeds as a journalist. The only part of his reviews I find lame are the puerile comparisons with things he can't possibly have experienced - things taste like cat's sick or fried dog's penis etc. In the first article above, the bit about the walls being painted in various shades of salmon intestine is typical. However I do think he's highly entertaining and readable. Interestingly, good pal Jez Clarkson has a totaly different style of writing which I actually prefer. Clarkson never ever digs out his thesaurus or dictionary to look for the longest, most obscure word he can find, which Adrian does frequently. And Clarkson's wit is much less contrived. But both are great fun to read, always good for a laugh.

Btw, AA is severely dyslexic and his copy has to be completely reworked by the subs - so good on him to overcome that and overthrow the common misconception that dyslexics are 'thick'. I also think he should bin the fiction and write an autobiography - I'd be fascinated to learn about his days as a drug addict and alcoholic, and how he managed to curtail those habits completely - he's totally teetotal now. And about his stints in various menial jobs before becoming a restaurant critic. He certainly didn't travel the conventional route to The Sunday Times, like, say Giles Coren of The Times (Oxford etc).
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