Mark Mason

Guilty displeasures

I’ll go first: strawberries, beaches, champagne, Ella Fitzgerald and Richie Benaud

Guilty displeasures
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Strawberries. Ella Fitzgerald. Lying on the beach. They’re three of my ‘guilty displeasures’. You haven’t heard of the guilty displeasure? That’s because the concept hasn’t been invented yet. But it needs to be — and quick.

The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ is widely known. It was coined by the DJ Sean Rowley, who, not content with being the man on the cover of What’s the Story Morning Glory? by Oasis, applied a label to the songs we love despite them being uncool. The idea expanded, and now anything naff can be a guilty pleasure: chocolate spread, knitting, Countdown, you name it. But what about the opposite phenomenon, the supposedly cool things that we don’t like? When will we lift the social shame from admitting that something worshipped by everybody else just leaves us cold?

Strawberries, for instance. Underripe they’re like bullets, overripe they’re a cheap way of dying your clothes red, and for the 17 minutes in between they taste of not very much. Yet when I decline the offer of a bowl, people look at me as if I’ve touched their dog inappropriately. ‘You don’t like strawberries?’ they say. ‘What’s wrong with you?’

It’s the same with Ella Fitzgerald. Effortless panache my arse. It’s simpering, ‘listen to me emoting’ fakery, the precursor of all those tedious modern singers who signal how serious they are by groaning ‘oooh’ 29 times over the intro. Point this out, however, and you’re accused of being shallow. Listen bro, I got depth — which is why I can see that Ella Fitzgerald is spray-on style for sales reps from Dorking.

As for beaches: what’s the attraction? The tiniest gust of wind and anything you’re eating or reading gets covered in sand. As do you: beaches are a displeasure that doesn’t just grate but chafes. But for some reason, saying so marks me down as a nutter.

I also dislike champagne, which I thought made me odd until I wrote an article about it and discovered that lots of people agreed. ‘Thank God for that,’ they said. ‘I thought it was just me.’ It turns out that the champagne refusenik club includes the Queen.

No doubt you’ve got GDs of your own. A quick poll among friends produced ‘-chocolate’, ‘Star Wars’ and, believe it or not, ‘sex’.

It’s in childhood that the fear of being different is first instilled. At the age of about ten, I told our milkman I didn’t like Vimto. ‘What?’ he replied. ‘It’s my bestseller!’ After that he always looked at me with a slight air of mistrust.

The really irritating thing about a GD is everyone else’s assumption that it’s a temporary foible from which you’ll soon recover. A music journalist once confided to me that unlike almost all his colleagues, he happened not to think that John Peel was God. It got on his nerves, he said, the reverential tone that draped itself over any conversation in which the ‘great man’ was mentioned.

I’m the same with Richie Benaud. Fellow cricket fans worship him, perhaps even more now than they did when he was alive, but I always found him priggish and self-regarding. People bang on about how funny he was, but the true test of a sense of humour is whether you can laugh at yourself, and there Benaud bagged a duck.

Do I bother arguing my case, though? Not usually. It’s easier to keep quiet and let the pro-Richie platitudes pass.

This cowardly approach, however, needs to end. We live in an age when the word ‘minority’ is the trump card in any debate, so surely guilty displeasures are a movement waiting to happen. Come on: get out there — with your friends, down the pub, on Twitter — and nominate the things you hate that you’re meant to love. As well as my earlier suggestions I’m choosing Friends, Julie Walters and fish (it smells like that and you’re meant to eat it?). In fact, one of my GDs has come full circle, having started, for most, as a guilty pleasure. It’s Abba. They were crap in the 1970s, they’re crap now, and Mamma Mia! turning up in the interim and ‘reinventing’ them doesn’t make them any less crap.

Like pleasures, displeasures are a matter of taste. They shouldn’t have to be guilt-edged.