December 15, 2016


The Full English : AA Gill, 1954-2016 (Mark Steyn, December 14, 2016, SteynOnline)

Everyone of Gill's generation will recognize that vanished Britain, but only a few could evoke it that deftly and economically - and with the sense of wistfulness that comes from realizing that the life you're living has somehow become the life you've lived. It's one typical passage from a routine journalistic assignment:

Last week an editor breezily mentioned that as I was coming up to a milestone decade would I perhaps like to write something about it? You know, is 60 the new 40? Why do you make those little noises when you get out of a chair? Am I considering getting a shed, or a cruise, or Velcro? And what about sex?

The only people who ask about significant birthdays are younger than you. No 70-year-olds are inquiring about my insights on being 60. Age is the great terra incognita. But then, all the people who tell me to do anything are younger than me now. [...]

I liked this bit, too:

Every morning, after taking our twins to school, Nicola and I read the papers over breakfast and I recite the birthday list and she will guess the ages. She's uncannily accurate. Yesterday The Guardian will have said: AA Gill, critic and baboon-murdering bastard, 60.

I share a birthday with Henry VIII and the shot that started the Great War. I've always read the anniversary roll and over the years I've watched people my age go from rarely mentioned as sportsmen and pop stars to more commonly as leading actors and television presenters and now ubiquitously I find myself in the thick of captains of industry, ennobled politicians, retired sportsmen and character actors.

As I said, all that's from just one A A Gill column, written at a far higher level than a dying industry demands, at least to judge from The New York Times or The Washington Post. It was published just two years ago, when he confidently expected to live to see another four World Cups, as he put it. Thus he neglected to note that another sign of the accumulating years is that more and more of your contemporaries, whether former pop stars or mighty captains of industry, migrate from "Today's Birthdays" to the obituary column. And so a few weeks ago he mentioned to his readers in the course of a restaurant review that he had "an embarrassment of cancer, the full English" - for non-Britons, that's an allusion to the huge and indigestible "full English breakfast" (which, credit where it's due, is a vegan snack next to the full Irish).

So he coined a phrase even for his death sentence, and one that's almost too perfect for a gourmand and restaurant critic. And its rueful if faintly parodic stiff-upper-lipped stoicism would have earned the gruff approval of all those long-gone Englishmen of the Fifties opening up pub doors and asking if the major had been in. Rest in peace.

Posted by at December 15, 2016 6:40 AM