Grumpy Old Men by David Quantick
David Quantick is, according to his author bio, “an active journalist.” This fact will be well-known to people who read his entertaining articles in Word or Mojo magazine, others perhaps puzzled over his bizarre column in Select (which I remember as always being full of references way over the heads of the 16 year olds who read it).
Now I have a theory about journalists and why they drink so much. In order to bash out daily copy, you need to have a selective memory. If you remembered all the crap you consumed – reports, other journalism, bad books, records – you would be crippled by the excess. So they drink to destroy the detritus of the day, relying on received opinion to aid their long-term projects. For how else can I explain the catalogue of cliche that confronts me?
Firstly, however, one should note that it is not be confused with Stuart Prebble’s book of the same title, the latter being the official BBC companion to the TV series. The key difference between the two is not the contents but the way of arranging them. Prebble’s has long chapters, Quantick follows the popular path of endless subdivision, as seen in Jeff Green’s indescribably awful A to Z of Being Single and, of course, Schott’s Miscellany. No thought is longer than a couple of paragraphs, no attempt is made to tie things together. You can probably see that I’m becoming grumpy just describing it, which is the only reason it ever works.
Grumpy Old Men is a compendium of untruths, spuriousness, and falsehood. By about page 50 you are extremely grumpy indeed. And as soon as you hit that level of grumpiness, you actually start believing in and identifying with it. You might even enjoy it. But first you have to get over the extensive collection of dead, cliched jokes: Supermarket trolleys, they won’t go in a straight line!! The French, they think Jerry Lewis is funny!! Taxi drivers, they talk rubbish!! Call centres, useless!! And on and on and on. It’s like being stuck in hell for all eternity with an observational stand-up with no talent.
The only time the book really works is when it actually uses evidence, rather than redundant opinion, like the section on Speed Bumps which tells us the cost (£2000), the number of deaths caused by ambulances slowing down (500 a year in London) and the increase in pollution (carbon monoxide up 60%) as well as being mildly amusing:
“The whole language of speed bumps, in fact, is pretty odd. Take the phrase ‘traffic calming.’ It’s unclear how traffic is supposed to be ‘calmed’ by being slowed down to four mph while cars have the bejesus whacked out of their chassis and the old chap in front of you is approaching each bump as though it were the River Styx itself.”