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August 05 2018


Tap to tip a busker? I’d sooner sue the lot of ’em | David Mitchell

Street performers and contactless payments – two of my least favourite things – are now in unholy alliance at Edinburgh fringe

The fact that buskers and street performers at this year’s Edinburgh fringe are accepting contactless payments will have raised a few smiles. In just the same way the performers’ pavement-blocking antics inexplicably seem to. “Oh look, how marvellous – he’s swallowing fire and he needs a haircut! Let’s go and stand around that for a bit. Oh great! I mean, it’s a bit repetitive but, in my mind’s eye, I’m watching us watch this and it’s exactly how I imagined the weekend. Pity about the overpowering smell of paraffin.”

Once you hit middle age, you might as well be honest about what you dislike – unless you’re running a political party, in which case it can be more prudent to keep it to yourself. Intellectually, I know that buskers probably possess the same average level of niceness as the wider population, but if I got chatting to one and they actually seemed nice, I would be doubly charmed because of my prejudice that they were going to be a twat. That would show me, wouldn’t it?! Well, I’m not worried – I bet they’re all twats.

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July 29 2018


Oh for the days when it was all Brussels’ fault! | David Mitchell

Jeremy Hunt blamed our Brexit shambles on the EU – the favoured whipping boy that has served British politicians for decades. That won’t wash any more…

Who would have thought Jeremy Hunt was such a massive nostalgic? I mean, he’s not called Jeremy Hostalgic! Seriously though, it turns out he’s a real old softie and I fancy there must have been a tear in his eye on his visit to Berlin last week.

I’m not saying he misses the Nazis! Honestly! I know hyperbole is fashionable at the moment, so it’s probably worth making clear that I don’t think Jeremy Hunt is a Nazi. I mean, he’s not called Jeremy Hazi! Seriously though, the man’s not a fascist, even if I don’t much like his politics. Having said that, English is all about usage and I reckon the word fascist is regularly used online to mean “someone whose politics you don’t much like”. Which, oddly, makes it a synonym for communist.

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July 15 2018


Why Boaty McBoatface had to be torpedoed | David Mitchell

When it comes to important stuff such as naming boats or theatres, petitioners can’t always have the casting vote

The hull of the ship they’re not actually going to call Boaty McBoatface is complete. By the time you read this, it will probably have already slid into the River Mersey, bobbed along massively for a bit and then been tugged off into a harbour. It won’t be the first time that’s happened.

It’s going to be called the RRS Sir David Attenborough instead of Boaty McBoatface, despite the fact that Boaty McBoatface won an online poll to decide its name. I think we can all agree, though, that RRS Sir David Attenborough is a much more sensible name. Then again, to put the contrary point of view, RRS Sir David Attenborough is a much more sensible name.

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July 01 2018


Heterosexual civil partnerships are for better, not worse | David Mitchell

Now that civil partnerships are open to everyone, maybe we could stop meddling with weddings

As a retailer of attempts to amuse, this is going to do me no favours. I am about to express an opinion that some people will agree with, but those who don’t will just dislike me for it and maybe be a bit hurt and alienated. They might tell me to “stick to comedy”, like lots of people do whenever I mention Brexit.

In fact, I’m slightly surprised, in retrospect, that when I turned up at the polling station on referendum day, no one barred my entrance telling me to “stick to comedy”. I mean, I didn’t vote Remain as a joke. In my view, it would have been funnier to vote Leave – as a piece of geopolitical slapstick, a massive national pratfall. So my vote was not a humorous act, and therefore it was outside the remit of comedians, and straying offensively into the purview of human beings.

There’s no doubt that the history of the institution of marriage is riddled with religious and patriarchal bias

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June 24 2018


Parting a rich fool and his money? Child’s play | David Mitchell

The luxury-goods market with its rocketing prices tells us much about our class system

Scampi, I remember once reading, used to be very expensive. In the 1950s, ordering scampi in a restaurant was a really swanky thing to do. To contemporary ears, the word would have the same connotations that lobster and champagne do today. It feels a bit incongruous, like Princess Grace having a cheese ploughman’s at her wedding breakfast. But there it is: scampi was a prized and pricey luxury.

So what happened to it? Did it somehow get much less delicious, but still basically palatable, so restaurateurs concluded that they couldn’t charge top dollar for it any more and it became the basket-borne bar snack of the 1970s and beyond? Obviously not. It just got more plentiful and so cheaper. Because of fishing or farming or freezers, I suppose, it was suddenly possible to dish out millions more plates of it, so it lost its cachet and ceased to be a luxury item.

Those who make or sell all the overpriced crap have decided to put prices up because they know people will pay them

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June 17 2018


As a society, we must get over the green loo | David Mitchell

The avocado bathroom suite is an interior design no-no these days, but it hardly proves that civilisation has reached its zenith

For some reason, Samsung has commissioned a study into what people think are the worst interior decoration fads of the last 50 years. I say “for some reason” because, at heart, I’m an optimist. I try to believe there’s a good reason or, failing that, some sort of reason for most of the things people do. But I must admit, in this instance, I’m struggling to think of one.

Raising brand awareness perhaps? It certainly will do that, to a modest extent. Articles mentioning the study will probably mention Samsung, so it’s getting more mentions. But are they apposite mentions? It’s not as if Samsung makes interior designy things – or, if it does, there’s still a lot more brand awareness work to be done where I’m concerned. Can you get Samsung sofas, or curtains, or lamps, or wallpaper? Why didn’t Dulux or Laura Ashley or Ikea pay for this survey? I thought Samsung made mobile phones?

Our culture has completely lost its sense of perspective about avocado bathrooms

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June 10 2018


So how would Heinz rebrand British Gas? | David Mitchell

As the Big Six energy suppliers hike up their prices again, it seems there’s only one way to beat them…

The news that Salad Cream is considering changing its name to Sandwich Cream put me fondly in mind of British Gas. Kraft Heinz, the vast conglomerate that makes the 100-year-old goo, is considering a change because, as its spokesman told trade magazine the Grocer, the name no longer “fairly represents the product’s ingredients or usage occasions”.

Obviously this raises as many questions as it answers, and I haven’t even got to why it made me think of gas. In fact, I probably mentioned that too soon because there’s quite a lot I need to get out of my system first about this quote – a process that coincidentally may make you think of gas as well.

We’ve given it a go, people didn’t like it, they couldn’t be arsed to keep changing supplier. It's time to renationalise

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May 27 2018


If life isn’t lived through a lens, is it lived at all? | David Mitchell

It’s easy to moan about compulsive Instagrammers – but is ‘living in the moment’ really all that great?

Are you properly experiencing this moment? You know, making the most of it? Here you are, leafing through a Sunday newspaper, or browsing articles online on some state-of-the-art device. That’s not too shabby: “Syria, dear oh dear; Brexit, hmm; an exhibition – I shall consider attending!” This is part of who you are – you’re really doing this. You should “own it”, as they say these days, demonstrating capitalism’s colonisation of language itself.

So how can you most fully know, feel, experience and indeed project this fact, this moment that you’re in? How best to consciously, but not self-consciously, inhabit it – to immerse yourself in it, but not let it thoughtlessly pass by, as if it never happened at all, as if you never existed, your constituent carbon already earmarked for different biomass: some worms and beetles and weeds. Plus a couple of rats if you’re lucky. Or one of those forest trees that doesn’t even necessarily make a noise when it falls down.

Existing in a maelstrom of documentation, it’s easy to feel that a memory isn’t evidence enough that something happened

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May 06 2018


If you must fake a photo, it had better be good | David Mitchell

The disqualification of an award-winning snap of a stuffed anteater reveals a complicated truth about what a lie is

A winning photograph in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 competition has been disqualified because the animal in the picture turned out to be dead. That’s according to the people running the competition. The photographer swears otherwise.

This isn’t the overall winner, I should clarify – just the winner of one category. The overall winning photograph is coincidentally also of a dead animal, but in that case it was considered a good thing. In terms of the competition, that is. In general terms, it’s a really bad thing: it’s a picture of a black rhino that’s been killed and had its horn hacked off so that someone evil can sell it to someone ignorant.

It doesn’t really misrepresent nature: anteaters do attack termite mounds – he just failed to capture it happening

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April 22 2018


My enemy’s enemy is now my Wetherspoons | David Mitchell

On the news that pub chain Wetherspoon’s was to close down its social media accounts, I was surprised to find myself rooting for it

Are pubs rightwing or leftwing? Let’s decide. We live in a very divisive age, so I reckon it’s as well to get some practice in.  You’ve got to be on one side or the other. In everything. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as they say. (And we say. A bit of consensus there.) And, of course, anyone who says anything remotely disobliging about my friend is my enemy, as you’ll know if you follow Momentum on Twitter.

When I say that, I don’t mean to be slagging off Jeremy Corbyn. In case you thought I was. If I did that, I’d never hear the end of it. For the more rabid Corbyn fans, suddenly that’s all I’d be: one of the accursed slaggers-off. (To be clear, I’m not saying Corbyn has rabies. Hardly anyone has rabies. In fact, it’s a compliment: I’m saying Corbyn has so many fans that the group includes people who have rabies. Which is a vanishingly small percentage of the population. Which makes his fan group enormous. Go Jeremy!)

A proper pub is a little bit rightwing. More rightwing than a toy shop or a dry cleaners

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April 15 2018


Are you cheesed off by restaurants? Don’t be | David Mitchell

A customer took a Bristol restaurant to task last week for serving Asda camembert. But consider the bigger picture...

The people who run Severnshed, a restaurant in Bristol, have had a tricky week and their mood won’t be improved by this column popping up on their Google alert. Sorry, guys! Don’t worry, it really will blow over. This is all part of it blowing over – honestly, this is the same section as book reviews so it’s basically a secret.

You may be wondering what the Severnshedders have done – unless literally everyone reading this works there, which I must glumly acknowledge is possible. Nevertheless, just in case, I’ll tell you. According to a post on TripAdvisor, they served their baked camembert starter (£12.95 for two to share) in an Asda camembert box. Or, to be accurate, the camembert part of it was in an Asda camembert box, which was itself on a board (which I’m actually fine with, so pipe down plate fascists), alongside bread and chutney. The bread and chutney were not in a Mother’s Pride bag and a Branston jar.

I'm happy when a service charge is added – it mechanises the mortifying emotional maths of calculating how mean you are

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April 08 2018


Minimal scents smell of nothing but hypocrisy | David Mitchell

The trend for undetectable perfume and no-makeup makeup conceals a minefield of vanity and self-delusion

There are two types of cosmetics, in my analysis. Lipstick and mascara. Oh, and blusher. Hang on: and powder and eyeliner and moisturiser and perfume and hairspray. Blimey, there are loads. And styling mousse and hair dye and spray tan and unnecessary surgery. Do shaving products count? Maybe. Hats? No. Even tiny, sparkly impractical hats that don’t keep the rain off? Fascinators and tiaras and coronets and the like? No, I think we’re entering the realm of clothes and jewellery. What about stick-on sequins? And moustache wax? I’m thinking of changing my look.

But there are, I still think, two types of cosmetics. You can remember it like diabetes: type one is naturally occurring and type two is something you’ve clearly done to yourself. Except, obviously, nothing is naturally occurring in the field of cosmetics. So type one is what appears to be naturally occurring (ie a lie) and type two is the open truth. Concealer on the one hand, painted nails on the other. Or actually on both, as a rule.

It seems unfair on men that there’s shame attached to them dyeing their hair when women can openly colour theirs

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April 01 2018


The bitter taste of Theresa May’s BlackBerry crumble | David Mitchell

The PM has been forced to give up her ageing device and replace it with an iPhone. I can’t help but feel sorry for her…

When Peep Show, a Channel 4 sitcom I was in, was first broadcast in 2003, it was watched by a disappointingly small number of people. Over the many years we made the show, that disappointing number crept marginally downwards. However, the vertiginous decline in television viewing figures surrounding it meant that, by the time the programme finished in 2015, it was a mild ratings hit. Our initial failure, recontextualised in a worsening world, had become a success.

Which brings me to Theresa May. Maybe she’ll do now? What do you think? She used to seem so awful: unashamedly careerist, blandly cunning and not particularly bright. But now that doesn’t seem like the end of the world – instead, everything else does. Suddenly, recontextualised, she looks kind of OK.

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March 25 2018


There are good reasons for ignoring the news | David Mitchell

Wealthy American Erik Hagerman has entirely cut himself off from current affairs following the election of Trump. Here’s why I support him

Did you hear about the rich American who’s cut himself off from all news since Donald Trump was elected? There’s no reason why you should. He wouldn’t have done, if it hadn’t actually been him. His name’s Erik Hagerman and he used to be a Nike executive, but now lives on a pig farm and doesn’t even farm pigs. He just works on his art and goes for coffee and plays guitar and gives interviews to the New York Times. Which presumably he then doesn’t read, so the interviewer could have indulged in a rare consequence-free, easy-to-write hatchet job, but didn’t.

I don’t mean to be snide – things I say neutrally just come out like that. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of people whose faces’ resting expressions look deeply sad or intensely cross, so they have to smile to seem normal (which must cumulatively be depressing or irritating, thus retrospectively giving them temperaments to match their looks). Because, as it happens, I support Erik Hagerman’s life choice.

I think I’ll always value a vague sense of what seems to be generally going on

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January 07 2018


How Hitler could solve our housing crisis | David Mitchell

Thanks to the unhappy residents of Bell End, I’ve come up with a foolproof way to stop house prices soaring

The residents of Bell End, like many of us, hope 2018 will bring a fresh start. To be clear, I mean the residents of Bell End, the street in Rowley Regis, not Bell End, the village in Worcestershire. The latter Bell Enders probably hope it’ll be a fresh start too, but not in the same way as the Rowley Regis ones.

The English grammatical convention that names of places seldom take a definite or indefinite article is what prevents me from humorously clarifying that I also don’t mean the residents of a bell end – the microbes presaging a venereal disease, perhaps. But, let’s face facts: there’s no way that’s what anyone would really think the phrase “the residents of Bell End” could possibly mean. That double entendre simply will not hold together. Not even in a desperate last-minute script gagging-up session for a Carry On film would they get away with that.

For most people, the housing ladder is dangling above their heads from an oligarch's money-laundering zeppelin

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December 31 2017


The news from 2018. You couldn’t make it up | David Mitchell

Opening up the tax system to sponsorship? Speaking to the dead? You remembered it here first

There goes 2018 – did you miss it? It really flew by, didn’t it? But it’s over now and tomorrow morning it will be 2019. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And it’s safe to believe me because 2017, that time of rampant falsity and inexactitude, exemplified by the fact that “fake news” was named word of the year, is long gone. Here and now (2018), we can’t get away with the untruths that there and then (2017) were so prevalent people would even lie about what year it was. In those bad old days (2017), someone might say it was another year – maybe 2018 – an act that now (2018), no one would ever get away with.

Despite generating a lot of publicity around its opening, the Fatberg hotel, was plagued with operating glitches

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December 17 2017


Our modern designs for life are no oil painting | David Mitchell

The dominance of modern art in galleries is reflected in minimal, ‘designed’ style in the home – but why should we clear our comfy clutter and gilt frames?

My parents are the owners of what I’m pretty sure is a bad painting of Neath Abbey. I can’t be completely certain because I know nothing about painting and I’ve never seen Neath Abbey. But it doesn’t look much like anything I have seen, so I’m willing to believe it looks like Neath Abbey. Though not that it looks exactly like Neath Abbey – it’s not credible to me that any medieval ruin (Neath Abbey is a medieval ruin) could, in real life, so closely resemble a vertical plane of dried paint.

My best shot at an objective conclusion about it is that someone of above average painting skill for a human, but below average for a professional artist, has rendered on canvas some shapes which, if you knew Neath Abbey, would remind you of it, but wouldn’t come close to fooling you that you were really looking at it.

Big expanses of floor or wall are perfect for a giant pair of neon lips, or half a Fiat Uno

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December 10 2017


Want a tip on weight loss? Don’t ask Mick Jagger | David Mitchell

There’s no point looking to celebrities for dietary advice – they have their own weird reasons for being thin

People won’t take dietary advice from obese nurses, but they will from stick-thin film stars – with terrible results in both cases. That was the news last week.

The first half of the above is an inference from a study in the journal BMJ Open saying that about 25% of nurses in the NHS are obese, a discovery the report’s lead author, Dr Richard Kyle of Edinburgh Napier University, declared to be “deeply worrying”. The depth of his concern surprised me considering that about 25% of the adult population is obese, which he must have known. So, what he’s found is that nurses are, on average, neither thinner nor fatter than the general population which, if I were him, is precisely what I would expect to find. Then again, calling the findings “deeply predictable” would probably have been a kick in the teeth for the people who’d just paid him to find them.

People unquestioningly believe the thin and rich, and ignore out of hand the utterances of the poor and chubby

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November 19 2017


The Earth may not be flat, but it just might be doomed | David Mitchell

A rise in the belief that scientists are lying about the planet being spherical is just one aspect of an internet-fuelled, progress-threatening suspicion of facts

“Nobody likes this uncomfortable feeling of being this tiny ball flying through space,” Mark Sargent, who believes that the world is flat, told the BBC the other day. I thought that was a revealing statement. I mean, don’t they? Personally, I don’t mind it. In fact, I’m not sure you can really feel it at all. Then again, I wouldn’t say I positively liked it either. I’m not against the world being flat. I’d be fine if it were. I’m content for the world to be whatever shape the world is. Unlike Mark Sargent, I don’t have a preference.

The remark gives an interesting insight into his approach. I’d say, if you’re trying to convince people of something that flies in the face of scientific orthodoxy, it’s advisable not to let slip that, before you started your researches, you had a huge emotional preference for what you ended up concluding. It may lead people to believe you’ve attached more weight to evidence supporting your theory than to evidence refuting it. And, let’s be honest, people are going to be pretty ready to believe that anyway because you’ve been trying to convince them that the world is flat. And it isn’t.

Boundless doubting could take us back to the stone age – and not in a time machine we’ve invented

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November 12 2017


Paddington and the Law of Unintended Consequences | David Mitchell

M&S’s Christmas advert has Britain’s favourite bear hugging a criminal while McDonald’s unwittingly casts McNuggets in an unsavoury light

The new M&S advert may not, I’m sorry to say, be as conducive as its producers hoped to the spirit of Christmas. On the face of it, it’s sweet enough: very much a Christmas advert of the new school. No mention of M&S products, no “Massive boxes of Chrissy Chocs going cheap!” yelled in a persuasive voice. No scenes in the shop: “I’m looking for a present for a disliked uncle and I’m on a tight budget!” “This way, madam – these cardigans look much better than they really are!” Not even an idealised depiction of a shopping street with thickly falling fake snow.

No, as is the current fashion, they’ve gone with the heartwarming yuletide fable format, as pioneered by Charles Dickens and then at long last given a capitalist raison d’etre a century and a half later by John Lewis. It’s set on Christmas Eve, in a quiet street near sleepy, snow-covered Primrose Hill – the closest Marks is a Simply Food in Camden – and it features the lovable Paddington Bear, the second phase of whose sensitive reboot is certain to be the star atop the glittering tree of our cinemas’ seasonal offering. So far so adjective. But adjective is a noun! So far so nounlike. Festive! That’s it.

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