Life is punctuated with various personal battles, emotional demands, philosophical challenges. And it is through these individual journeys, these rites of passage, that we deconstruct and ultimately reconstruct ourselves. We work out who we are and where we are going in life. Lately, my personal battle has been with rhubarb. I love rhubarb. Unlike the taste buds of so many of my contemporaries, mine weren’t indelibly marked by the traditionally overcooked offerings of the mid- to late 1970s. (I can’t say I ever enjoyed any sort of stewed fruit course, but my Glasgow diet 30 years back had far more pressingly objectionable components.) And while I have not pursued the way of the rhubarb through most of my adult life, I now find myself drawn back to it. The problem was negotiating my way through its many complexities. My crumble oscillated wildly between saccharine sweetness and total tartness. When poaching, I veered between slushy substance or an al-dente accident. I had rhubarb issues. However I knuckled down, tuned into the Force and managed to synthesise all my energies into achieving rhubarb nirvana: poached rhubarb served on a lake of chilli-infused, cardamom-spiked rhubarb coulis. Now it’s time to see if I can garner similar results with the rest of my life.
Years ago, when I had little work and fewer prospects of gainful employment, I used to spend time sitting on benches and watching life unfold around me. Monday’s sun and a gentler than usual schedule afforded me a seat down memory lane. I parked my posterior on a south-facing bench in Soho Square and welcomed the world into my life, my life into the world. There’s something so very egalitarian about bench-sitting. And such a sense of stillness in a seemingly constant world. To my right a pinstriped gent with a panini-based sandwich; to my left a Hispanic-looking seamstress who, rather than mend and hem indoors, had decided to catch the sun and employed her undoubtedly well-practised close needlepoint alfresco. Around and about me a genuine cross-section of British life was brought together, the wooden cradle of the bench below and the canopy of blue skies and a be-hatted sun above. ’Twas the stillest, most rewarding half hour of my week.
It was like a scene from one of those movies. In the wide shot of the city a man in open-top sports car speeds by elegant cycling lady. Cut to a close-up as she beams the broadest of smiles into his rear-view mirror, an invitational smile, a smile to begin a conversation rather than one to end it. Impulsively, unthinkingly, he waves back at her, a reversed gesture into the rear-view from which he first caught sight of her. His devil-may-care insouciance elicits a second smile. As is inevitable in any major city, traffic lights allow them to come together for a stationary moment. (It is at this point in the 1950s version of the movie that she stops her Raleigh bicycle beside his Jaguar sports car and details are exchanged in the time it takes for red to get to green via amber.) But this is 2009 and the city streets are scored orange with bus and bike lanes. He is forced to sit and watch as she ghosts her two-wheeled way through the empty bus lane past nonexistent lights and off into the hubbub, the metal and flesh of the summer evening ahead. A cycle lane lost me a potential date. We really need to get the transport of London sorted, if only to aid my love life.
I don’t think the word expenses will ever be the same again. It’s astonishing what has happened to our political process of late. If there has been anything to enjoy in the debacle, any schadenfreude to embrace, surely it has been the blend of denial, ignorance and shock expressed by our elected representatives. One notion became apparent to me, and forgive me for going slightly biblical on your ass. The claiming of expenses is diametrically opposed to the notion of charitable giving. The New Testament quote about almsgiving that refers to the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing couldn’t be more appropriate to the current porn, dog food, tennis court, lawnmower and lightbulb claims. It seems that our politicians were claiming with their left hand while their right hand knew not what they were doing. It seems that all the hands, be they left or right, have one thing in common: they are all red.
There are many misconceptions about me. People think I am taller than I am, better-looking than I am and more able than I am. Obviously, since these misconceptions all work to my advantage, I’m hardly about to draw attention to the generous errors of people’s views. One misconception I have been forced to embrace is the notion that I am a stand-up comedian. Many people find me so painfully unfunny that they will struggle to imagine any such misconception exists. However, for many this correction may well come as shocking news. But rather than simply correct and move on, I have decided to test my stand-up comedic mettle by taking to the stage for the first time. I have decided to do my own show. A comedy show. With comedy. And where better to die horribly on my oversized backside than in my homeland of Scotland at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh? They say that charity begins at home. Here’s hoping.
Hardeep Singh Kohli is a contributing editor of The Spectator.