Several years ago I was happily writing a weekly column for a local newspaper on topics of my choice. My aim was to amuse people, and if I conveyed a message that was close to my heart, so much the better. But essentially I was just enjoying myself, having a one-sided conversation, not raging at the dying of the light – in fact not raging at all, but pointing things out and hoping to get the occasional inner smile out of the reader.
Then I was offered what was pitched to me as promotion: the features editor wanted me to comment on ‘issues’, criticising what the paper saw as injustices and bad moves, making fun of politicians and so on.
It wasn’t the first time this had been suggested to me. The directors of a magazine I was editing 10 years earlier had gone as far as to outline some hilarious japes I could get up to in their name, the highlight being to christen a prominent politician, large of stature and Richard by name, as Big Dick.
Then a couple of years ago in a different part of the country I was offered a column in which I would be expected to articulate the views of the non-writing (illiterate might be a better description) owner.
I turned down each of these offers for a simple reason: I wasn’t interested in what I saw as disingenuous pontificating against easy targets.
In the last case I did agree to write a pilot piece on the subject of council tax in the area (his choice). My research led me to the conclusion that the council in question was by no means unreasonable, certainly in comparison with others around the country, so the article reflected that. I watched the proprietor read it, smirking and grunting happily until he reached my conclusion, at which point his face fell and he said it wasn’t what he had in mind at all.
One question this raises is this: when does having opinions turns into being opinionated? There are people who have trenchant views on just about any subject you cast in their direction. My father was like that. An intelligent and often charming man who worked hard to support a sizeable family in the civilian world even though he would have been happier staying in his beloved RAF after the Second World War, he would rant and rave at the slightest opportunity, topic no object, and to spend time in his company, particularly in the last 20 years of his life, was to either get into an argument every time or to ride out the storm until we could move on to a subject that didn’t poke him in the arse with a sharp stick.
The other significant thing about old Eric was that if he was railing against something a member of his immediate family had done, once it was out of his system he would support you steadfastly against the world. Thus his sons growing their hair long would lead to a protracted barrage of verbal artillery, but once his ammunition was spent and the armistice was signed, woe betide anyone outside the family who made remarks about long-haired yobboes.
I suspect, though, that even a natural ranter such as he would, if he had been a journalist, have refused to manufacture an argument on a theme he didn’t actually espouse. ‘Bloody bastards,’ he would growl, using his two favourite swear words. ‘They can do their own bloody dirty work. ‘
So welcome to The English Pedant, the blog that has a go at subjects the hired assassins don’t consider worth examining.