Althouse | category: Giles Coren



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"In a world where widely available AI thingummies such as ChatGPT can generate a 90,000-word 'thriller about a bloke with a tough British name racing against time to cut through some red tape'..."

"'... about something vaguely nuclear, written in the style of Sir Michael Caine' at the touch of a button, it is terrific to know that Sir Michael has gone to the trouble of writing such a thing himself, with his own hand. His publisher says he is 'bursting with ideas for fiction' which is good news, because when a chap is 90 years old and at the start of a seven-book deal then you want him at least to have the ideas for each one ready as soon as possible (talk about 'race against time')."

"People have realized that workplaces are full of bullies and weirdos and they don't want to deal with them anymore."

Says Esther Walker at 6 minutes and 9 seconds into this week's episode of the podcast "Giles Coren Has No Idea."

They're talking about the post-lockdown phenomenon of refusal to go back to work in the office. 

I enjoy her mode of expression. It's hyperbole, but it's getting at something true, no? It's a subjective matter — what's bullying and what's weird — but the topic is human behavior. It can't be anything but subjective.

"The right to be rude to people in public has been upheld as a fundamental legal one by a supreme court in the United States."

"Not the Supreme Court of the United States, admittedly — it really would be astounding if those pompous geriatric arseholes could take a break from sending women’s reproductive rights back to the Stone Age and legislate on something useful — just the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. But it’s still a thing. Even if the court itself is barely more than a provincial Portakabin of self-important windbags I would hesitate to characterise as bog-trotting, gin-soaked hayseeds had they not just loudly decreed that my right to do so is mandated by their constitution.... Rudeness is funny and useful and democratising and classless and easy and brilliant and sexy.... [Rudeness] is letting your mouth and brain go full tilt when you’re pissed off with someone, deliberately eschewing the rules of politeness and gentility to make absolutely clear what you think of them."

A slight qualification emerges: You're "free to say absolutely whatever you like to anyone, as long as he is a rich, white, able-bodied, educationally normal straight bloke of about 53. But don’t worry, I can take it."

"For our £120, we got 45 minutes of brightly coloured splats [David] Hockney has done on his iPad..."

"... blasted around the four walls while the old ham belted out his... platitudes in quadraphonic stereo all around us ('I love life,' 'the world is beautiful when you look, but most people don’t'). There were all the old banalities about the 'quality of the light' in Los Angeles, lots of film of him 'being inspired' while driving round the California mountains in a convertible while listening to Wagner (even duller than your best mate’s hourly Instagram posts from holiday) and then endless minutes of his opera sets, complete with cringey faux-naif animations that reminded me of when it said 'cartoon' in the TV schedule in the late 1970s and you switched on hoping for Tom and Jerry but got some depressing shadow puppet thing from 1950s Czechoslovakia.... [W]e were laughing so much we had to leave, through a shop in the foyer where they had attempted to find interesting things he has said over the years to put on their brightly coloured 'quote totes' (£20 a pop, if you please) but clearly couldn’t find anything better than 'If you’re not playful, you’re not alive,' 'I’m greedy for an exciting life,' and, from the militant old smoker, 'Health is wealth'...."

Writes Giles Coren in "Don’t splash out on Hockney’s splats and platitudes" (London Times).

The ellipsis before "platitudes" in that first sentence originally contained the phrase "sub-Alan Bennett," which was a stumbling block for me. Either I think, he's somebody known for belting out platitudes and move on, or I look up "Alan Bennett" in Wikipedia, which is what I did, and that got me nowhere... other than into the dead end of gazing at that 1973 photo and wondering who he looked like a combination of Robert Redford and.

Such are the hazards of reading comic columns in the London Times, which I actually subscribe to. But I removed the stumbling block for you, then felt a little bad to have interfered with Coren's rhythm and even fretted that some reader of mine might find "sub-Alan Bennett" especially funny. Let me know in the comments if you did. That's the kind of insight I seek, though I wouldn't pay £120 to have projections of it washed over me for 45 minutes.

The world is beautiful when you look, but most people don’t... but the show assumes we need a roomful of giant colors streaming at us from all directions. Good luck getting better at taking notice of the subtle beauty of the world after that. Or maybe you'll emerge as one of the cognoscenti, aware of the beauty of the world that is the notion that you are not in the disdained category, "most people."

"What’s with all this whingeing about the raising of the retirement age? Ye gods, what a bunch of..."

"... lazy, workshy, good-for-nothing, stay-at-home, Deliveroo-scoffing, unproductive, couch potato cry-babies we have become. Well, you have become. I’m fine. Work is good! Work is fun! Work is what you were made for! What the hell else do you think you’re supposed to be doing with your time: surfing the internet for good deals on comfy tracksuits, posting your lunchtime sarnie on TikTok and nipping up to Scotland every three months to flip genders on a whim?... What do you want to do when you’re old, anyway? Work is the only thing. You want to play golf or bridge or mahjong all day or go on some awful cruise? Or sit alone in the pub staring into the bottom of one of the three pints you can afford, that you have to make last all afternoon?...  Come off it. We all know what happens when you retire: you die. Because the cessation of work famously accelerates the decline of physical and cognitive functioning...."

"Yes, ban the office cakes. Obviously.... I have been campaigning [against obesity] for more than 20 years...."

"And all I have met is anger, abuse and accusations of 'fat-shaming.' From the right, because I seem to be after restricting people’s right to choose how they live; and from the left because, since obesity disproportionately affects the poor, I must be motivated by class hatred and snobbery.... I have moved on from any notion I might once have had about personal culpability and now hold the government and 'big sugar' (which pulled a nefarious con on the public by repositioning sugar as 'energy' when it is, in fact, sloth, weakness and depression) entirely responsible. Which is why I am with [ chairwoman of the Food Standards Agency, Professor Susan Jebb] all the way in calling on people to stop buying this poisonous shite in pretty packaging and forcing it into their ailing colleagues like corn down the diseased gullet of a Perigord goose. An unrelated story in The Times on Wednesday celebrated a new wonder-drug proven to prolong the lives of mice, inspiring the dream... that it might work on humans. But do you know what is also proven to prolong the life of mice? Severe calorie restriction. Cut their intake by a third and they live up to 40 per cent longer. Before we plough billions into yet more drugs, shouldn’t we at least give that a go?"

Writes Giles Coren in "Cake debate is no laughing matter — seriously/Snigger at comparisons with passive smoking if you must, but only if you’re blind to the scale of our obesity crisis" (London Times). 

And here's the relevant episode of his podcast "Giles Coren Has No Idea": "Giles and [his wife] Esther burn through this week's papers looking for a column idea; from Clarkson's apology and the death of electric cars, to evil office cake and changing perceptions of Henry VIII. Giles if off to exchange his infamous electric Jaguar and Esther counts the amount of times the burglar alarm goes off during the recording." 

He chose the cake!

The passed-over Henry VIII topic was based on "Henry VIII was disabled, National Trust decides" (London Times):

While jousting in January 1536, Henry’s fully armoured horse landed on him and crushed his legs, which were then plagued with ulcers. The accident forever hampered his mobility, while apparently affecting his mental health and triggering his obesity.
Henry’s waist went from 32 to 52 inches and he might have weighed over 28 stone (397lbs) at his death in 1547. He required sticks, wheelchairs and pulley systems to move. These facts about Henry have been hiding in plain sight but the nature of his disability is often overlooked, partly because he suppressed it in his public image....

Mulling this topic in the podcast, Coren considers making a string of jokes about the physical ailments of autocrats and their connection to the evil they did. How funny is that? I guess I enjoyed hearing him spin out what the column would need to be, which, in retrospect revealed why he didn't choose this topic. There was a line about Hitler — did his... what?... cause him to murder 6 million Jews?

What ailment of Hitler's did Coren discuss in his podcast? Instead of searching through the podcast, I looked on Wikipedia, where there's a long article "Health of Adolf Hitler."

During World War I, Hitler served as a dispatch runner for the List Regiment of the Bavarian Army. On the night of 13–14 October 1918, he and his comrades were victims of an Allied mustard gas attack near Ypres, Belgium. They had been leaving their dug-out to retreat when the attack occurred, and were partially blinded by it.... 

As a result of the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler – in which he survived a bomb explosion at his Wolf's Lair headquarters – both of his eardrums were punctured, and he had numerous superficial wounds, including blisters, burns and 200 wood splinters on his hands and legs, cuts on his forehead, abrasions and swelling on his left arm, and a right arm that was swollen, painful and difficult to raise, causing him to use his left hand to greet Benito Mussolini, who arrived that day for a previously scheduled summit meeting. 

The punctured eardrums were the most serious of these injuries. Weeks later, blood was still seeping through Hitler's bandages, and he suffered sharp pain in the right ear, as well as hearing loss. The eardrums took several weeks to heal, during which Hitler suffered from dizziness and a loss of balance which made him hew to the right when walking.... 

I'm skipping the speculation about syphilis, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, mental illness, and inbreeding. And then there's the drug use: "He regularly consumed methamphetamine, barbiturates, opiates, and cocaine, as well as potassium bromide and atropa belladonna...."


During his younger days, Hitler's health was generally good, despite his lack of exercise and a poor diet, which he later replaced with a mostly vegetarian one. Even then, though, Hitler had a very strong sweet tooth, and would often eat multiple cream cakes at a sitting.

Oh, no! There's an office cake joke there to be made, but how can we make Hitler jokes?

"And as the Christmas season comes and goes over the next eight or nine days, composting down into a farty mulch of colourless, stodge-based meals..."

"... eaten at weird times, afternoon sleeps in hot telly rooms, and leftovers swallowed between slices of white bread with a large glass of Christmas table 'mine sweep' (three parts prosecco to one part port, one part advocaat and two parts 'grandma spat that coffee out because she thought it was tea'), we will be seeing an awful lot... [about] Detox January, New Year/New You, and all that tired old annual post-party guff."

Writes Giles Coren in "Get fit next year with the Benny Hill Sprint/Forget the Body Coach, it’s all about the silly walk — or another of these fun-packed workouts from our slapstick greats" (London Times).

1. He's reacting to a Times article called "A ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ workout could burn 100 calories in minutes" ("Adopting a John Cleese-style silly walk for 11 minutes a day could, a study suggests, be the key to achieving the amount of vigorous physical activity recommended for most adults by the NHS.")

2. I'm mostly blogging this because I was intrigued by the word "stodge." I know "stodgy," but what's a "stodge-based meal"? The OED says "stodge" is colloquial and means "Food of a semi-solid consistency, esp. stiff farinaceous food; spec. heavy and usually fattening food (often with little nutritional value)." I think in America, we'd say "glop."

3. The adjective "stodgy," when used to mean "Dull, heavy; wanting in gaiety or brightness," is figurative. The original meaning was to describe the kind of food that would be called "stodge." The oldest recorded example of the figurative use of "stodgy" is  from Laura Troubridge, "Life amongst Troubridges" (1874): "We had meant to play Rats and Ferrets, but we had to begin a stodgy game of Old Maid."

4. Now, the most useful thing I have to offer you is that "stodge" can be used figuratively, to refer to things that are stodgy — "stodgy notions" (as the OED puts it). Instead of saying, "Your ideas are so stodgy!" for example, you can say, "Spare me this stodge!" 

5. What are you planning to eat on Christmas and through New Year's — stodge?

"When you run, you get out in nature, you see things, breathe great air, smile at other humans, bump into friends... in a pool..."

"... you’ve got those horrid goggles on, you’re inhaling smelly water, seeing nobody, discombobulated, repeating, repeating, repeating, like a sprat in an aquarium, or a prisoner in the exercise yard. That’s going to give you mental health issues, that is. Not solve them. And if you do go and try to have fun, especially with your children, they come over and tell you to stop having fun. No diving! No bombing! No running! What the hell are you allowed to do? Just grind up and down, or stand there in the shallow end, talking about your divorce, or the pizza you’re going to have later? I gave up trying to teach my children to swim.... Swimming beautifully is just another dreary middle-class accomplishment like skiing and bridge and playing the cello — an indicator of wealth and class and very little else."

Writes Giles Coren in "No one’s impressed by your hypothermia/Addicts think their icy dips sharpen the mind, but what addled lunatic wants to go swimming outdoors in December?" (London Times).

By the way, I love his podcast, "Giles Coren has no idea," where he brainstorms with his wife about what he should write about in his column. The 2 of them talk very fast, so if you like to hear smart married people banter, this is just great.

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