Mark Mason

Diary - 10 August 2017

Also in Mark Mason’s diary: the problem with ‘partner’ and researching Princess Diana

Diary - 10 August 2017
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No sympathy from me for the Brits stuck in the European heatwave. I’ve never understood people who go abroad for their holidays at this time of year. OK, as this week shows, you’re not absolutely nailed on for sunshine back home. But it’s probably going to be at least pleasant, and certainly won’t tip over into the furnace-like conditions of Italy and Greece. Even France gets too hot. Why not stay and explore all those places in Britain you keep meaning to visit, and take your foreign sun in January, when you really need it? If funds or holiday allowance permit only one trip per year, copy the family I heard of whose summer break entailed getting out their passports, leaving them by the back door and walking into the garden where their sun-loungers awaited. The symbolism is all you need. No expense, no four-hour wait at the airport, no peeling yourself off the sweat-soaked bedsheets.

I’m also delighted to report a new member of the ‘Venice is crap’ club. My friend Jane, just back, says that even without the heat and mosquitoes she wouldn’t have liked the place: it’s too pretty-pretty. I used to worry that my dislike of the city was simply me being an uncultured oik, but John Pearson (biographer of everyone from Ian Fleming to the Krays, and as cultured as they come) tells me he agrees. Venice isn’t a real place: hardly anyone lives there now, and those that do are only there to cater for tourists. It’s a theme park, not a city. If Disney were going to do Venice, they would do Venice.

RIP Robert Hardy, whose Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small was a highlight of my childhood Sunday evenings. (In one of those coincidences novelists would never dare use, Farnon and Basil Fawlty were both based on someone called Donald Sinclair — different Donald Sinclairs.) The radio and TV tributes to Hardy included several uses of ‘thee-air-ter’. This is how today’s luvvies pronounce ‘theatre’. It used to be ‘theerter’, but in recent years the middle syllable has become more and more elongated. One of those snobbish affectations people copy purely to show they’re in the know. Watch Michael Caine from 30 years ago: he said ‘theerter’. Now his ‘a-i-i-i-r’ goes on for months. How did it start? My money’s on Michael Gambon and one of his legendary wind-ups.

While we’re on language: please can we have a new word for ‘partner’? As in someone you live with but aren’t married to. There’s (in my case) ‘common-law wife’, but that sounds demeaning. ‘Partner’ itself could mean business partner. ‘Other half’ is dated, ‘significant other’ was only ever a joke, and ‘girlfriend’ is absurd when we’re both in our 40s and have an eight-year-old child. Acronyms (off the top of my head: ‘POMO’, ‘Parent Of My Offspring’) are always gimmicky. Solutions, please. And don’t say ‘get married’.

Sunday’s Diana doc on Channel 4 pulled the usual tricks to get nearly two hours of screen time out of not very much material: moody tracking shots, interviewees wandering around looking thoughtful, yards of archive soaked in dramatic music. You can do that on TV. On radio it’s different. I was working at the BBC when Diana died, and a few of us radio researchers spent the week before the funeral digging out material for the commentary. One of my topics was Diana’s interest in alternative medicine, and I stumbled across the stats for her colonic irrigation (12 gallons, thrice weekly). If in doubt include it, so I did, thinking the commentator would only be dipping into the notes. But on the day there was so much time to fill he had to read everything out verbatim. Listening at home I held my breath as he got to the colonic irrigation bit. There was a short pause – obviously he was reading it to himself – then he moved straight on to the next fact. Even in that incredible week, there were some areas where Auntie feared to tread.

Moeen Ali and Hashim Amla were spotted having dinner together during the final Test match at Old Trafford. I’ve spent the entire series yearning for them to form the world’s first Muslim ZZ Top tribute band, so can only hope this was the first planning meeting. Even if it wasn’t, we can still relish the fact that Moeen’s triumph in the previous match was England’s first ever bearded Test hat-trick.

Final low-cost tip for your staycation: jigsaws. I was given one last year as a present, and have taken to them like a Mitford to Hitler. They’re a pleasing cross between logical deduction and artistic creativity. You’ll be in good company: the Queen is a fan, though to save money she gets hers from a jigsaw library. The first one ever (1760) was a map of the world designed as a geographical teaching aid. Why not bring out a modern version? Once it’s done you can use it to choose where you’ll go on holiday next winter.

Mark Mason defends staycations on the Spectator Podcast.