In contemplating the toilet-plunger ordered this week in response to a blockage, as so cordially invited to do by Amazon, the mind flashes back to the quagmire football pitches of late- Victorian England.
On reflection, I’m not convinced that the above makes any sense. It could well be that I’ve been at the magic mushrooms, and am in the midst of a mildly hallucinogenic reverie.
If it isn’t the ’shrooms, the point may perhaps concern the touching tale of the Corinthian Casuals football team and the penalty kick.
The Casuals, the story goes, were so outraged by the unfairness of shooting unchallenged from 12 yards out that in protest they deliberately missed all penalties.
I mention this vignette from the glory days of British amateurism only because those days, hugely against the odds in a mercenary era, have returned.
We’re all of us amateurs now in the singular field of written criticism.
I write with the bitterness of snooker star Shaun ‘the Magician’ Murphy, complaining a few years ago that a young Chinese who beat him had no business being on the green baize at all since he was an amateur.
For decades, I covered a slew of disciplines (radio, TV, restaurants, movies) as a professional critic. The career was exquisitely tailored for one as unremittingly idle and mediocre as myself. Those who can do, as someone clever almost expressed it. Those who can’t skulk behind a computer screen sniping facetiously at those who can.
For occupying this very bottom rung of the showbiz ladder, the ultimate ambition being mildly to entertain a commuter for a maximum of two District Line stops, I was well-paid.
Criticism was not only lucrative back then, but easy. For the reviewer of daytime telly, for instance, it was no tougher challenge 30 years ago to ridicule Eamonn Holmes and Anthea Turner than it has lately been to mine the captivating saga of Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby for mirth and merriment.
These days, the work is both unpaid and infinitely harder. What in the name of sanity are you expected to write?
The requests come by email, from one firm or another, all the time. ‘Your opinion matters to Spotlight Oral Care,’ reads the subject line of one recent droplet among the Niagaran cascade. ‘Thank you for your recent purchase. We hope you love it as much as we do.’
Do I, though? How am I to know? And, even if I do, should I? Wouldn’t it be presumptuous at best, and at worst positively creepy, for the mere buyer of an electric toothbrush to love it as much as its creators? Isn’t that just as unnervingly weird as loving a stranger’s child as much as its parents?
You wouldn’t want to admit to that in a review. To confess to an unnatural besottedness with a toothbrush would double as a formal application to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Still, duty calls. So for what it’s worth, while sidestepping the question of love, my opinion is this. The electric toothbrush works fine.
But that’s not going to win any prizes, is it? New Yorker magazine film- reviewer Anthony Lane might be the finest critic writing in the English language today. Even he would struggle to chisel a Pulitzer nomination out of a toothbrush.
‘Hey, M J Norman,’ goes another request, this one about drinking glasses, ‘will you please take a minute to share your experience?’
A minute indeed. It would be the work of months, or years, or a lifetime, to unravel whether, to quote one of various questions, ‘the product meets your expectations’.
On the surface, it does. One expectation was that these tumblers would hold liquid without leaking – and they do. Until the email arrived, I naïvely assumed this to be the sole expectation.
Evidently, however, given the plural, there must have been others. Did I subconsciously expect the tumblers, if rubbed in a certain way, to unleash a genie? Or to be the catalyst for a neo- biblically alchemical reaction that transforms water into malt whisky? I simply do not know.
‘Hi M,’ begins another of today’s communiqués, this from Amazon, either flirting with over-familiarity or confusing me with the late Bernard Lee, or possibly Judi Dench, ‘your package has been delivered. How was your delivery?’
How was it? Well, it wasn’t The Godfather, or the tasting menu at L’Enclume in the Cumbrian town of Cartmel, or Brideshead Revisited. It wasn’t even Phillip and Holly desperately faking mutual tolerance on the sofa.
It was identical to the last 973 deliveries. Some wildly over-pressurised, minimum-wage work slave rang the doorbell, and scarpered back to his van within the 3.27 seconds before I answered the bell, charitably leaving the parcel on the doorstep as an enticement for any passing tea leaf.
As for the plunger mentioned in that faintly psychedelic first paragraph, beyond reporting that it worked as advertised, I find myself in grave need of a psychic version to clear the feedback- writer’s block.