Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 25 May 2017

People with an accent like mine, my fellow guest seemed to imagine, should be either petty criminals or pearly kings

‘Jeremy, I want you to sit here next to me — unless you’re frightened of me?’ We were briefly introduced at her father’s funeral party; otherwise our hostess and I hadn’t met before. We were about to sit down in her recently deceased father’s house, which she has inherited, and this, she said, was her first dinner party. Her father and I became friends two years before he died, aged 82. Everyone told me he was a terrible snob with a vile temper but I only ever found him entirely jovial and an erudite and witty conversationalist. ‘Should I be frightened of you?’ I said.

‘I am who I am,’ she said. ‘What you see is what you get. I’m sorry. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I know I’m not. But I’m not going to change for anyone. Among my friends and family I’m known as “Marmite”. People either love me or they hate me. Understand?’ I gave her an ambiguous shake of the head that could have been construed as either solidarity or disbelief.

Now that she had made her defiantly uncompromising nature clear, she wanted to get to the bottom of the astonishing disparity between my Essex accent and my being a writer on a respectable magazine. She seemed to imagine that people who speak like me should be either petty criminals or pearly kings. I ought to have put her mind at ease by observing that vulgarity was not entirely incompatible with British journalism, but couldn’t be arsed. I volunteered instead a rough outline of my unexceptional career to date. She was enthralled. When I had finished, she wildly exclaimed that someone really must make a film of my life. The idea gripped and inspired her and she tried to recruit other guests at our end of the table to her project.

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