Nothing could make me iller than a royal visit from Camilla
To my bed, with the curtains drawn and a cold, damp flannel pressed to my eyes. Fury, I have discovered, brings with it many of the symptoms of migraine: pain, nausea, fatigue. I do not wish to belittle the afflictions of genuine migraine sufferers, for whom I have boundless pity, but, frankly, have you been listening to The Archers lately? It's enough to make anyone feel sick and as though a hot skewer is being pushed through the temples.
Part of the problem is the habit engendered by long practice. If you do not go to an office then you have to have some routines, otherwise you just spend the whole day in bed eating biscuits. Having not worked in an office for over 20 years, apart from a couple of days doing shifts as a sub on the Independent in the early 1990s (never again, I vowed; and I came away with an abiding respect for the skills and temperament of the dedicated sub-editor), I have evolved a routine which, with now-devastating consequences, is loosely based around The Archers.
For those of you who do not know the programme, it is a 15-minute serial drama featuring rustic idiots, broadcast twice daily; the 2pm broadcast being a repeat of the show broadcast the previous evening at 7pm. For most sane people, listening to the show only once is plenty, or, for even saner people, more than enough, but there is a compelling, addictive quality to it and - just as some people are more prone to alcoholism or drug abuse than others - some people can't help listening to The Archers more than is good for them. Readers, I am one such person.
The evening show is when I sit down with the first glass of wine and the first roll-up of the day, after many long hours eating biscuits in bed - I mean working jolly hard. (I like to think pushing wine o'clock back from 6 till 7pm shows steely fortitude, don't you?) The 2pm show goes on while I prepare myself a little something for my luncheon. The routine is more or less automatic.
Unfortunately it has now, as I have said, become painful, and is the result of what looks at first sight to be a deliberate policy on the part of the editors and writers of the show to enrage and disgust its audience. For a start, one of the least unlikeable characters, a genial toff called Nigel Pargetter, was killed off in the most unlikely fashion. That a death was forthcoming was well known, and all the listeners were looking forward to his screeching harridan of a wife, Elizabeth, or her deranged cousin, Helen, being bumped off. Instead it was he.
Well, those are the breaks, and life moves on, although Helen has now become a mother through artificial insemination, this being how they do things in the country, and every episode has a few obligatory moments when the cast coo over her baby, a spectacle even less interesting on the radio than it is when presented visually, yet somehow just as repugnant.
But the real problem is the imminent arrival of Horse-face, or, as everyone on the programme is obliged to call her, the Duchess of Cornwall. The Archers has form on this, having got Princess Margaret to make a cameo appearance in the 1980s. The thought of the diminutive party hag and rancid anti-Semite ("a tedious film about Jews", she is said to have remarked after a royal screening of Schindler's List) scattering her fag ash all over the studio was at least good for a giggle. But it appears that Camilla is an Archers fan and wants to pop in and do her bit to blur the distinction between fiction and reality. The result is that half the cast is going doolally with servility and monarchism, begging for the day off so they can wave at her, or begging for the day on if they are working at the hotel where she'll be staying. To add further insult, the BBC broke its sternest rule by giving an outrageous free plug for the shortbread biscuits her husband makes. (I use the word "makes" in its loosest sense.)
The air of sycophancy is more than stifling: it is nauseating. I have yet to hear any character express even non-committal indifference to the prospect of her arrival (I write five days before her visit; it'll have been and gone by the time you read this). And I'm not expecting anyone to express active hostility on republican grounds either. For fuck's sake, no one's even allowed to call her "Camilla".
As I say, all this is making me ill, and I don't think I'm alone. The sensible thing is to stop listening, but that is not an option. To pursue the analogy with alcoholism: I am like John Berryman, ploughing through as much booze as he always did even through the effects of Antabuse, the drug that makes drinking alcohol intolerable. The sickbag, please.
Next week: Mark Watson