Saturday, June 21, 2014

In praise of Jeremy Clarke

Jeremy Clarke is the Low Life columnist for the Spectator magazine. He lives in Devon's South Hams and mixes humbly (a word he's fond of) with the ordinary, poor and raffish, reporting on them and himself with lapidary prose and that quality the ancient Chinese prized and called "human-heartedness".
A collection - not to be missed, we were re-reading it aloud this morning with our wake-up tea, and laughing - is available here (a gift for yourself, and maybe for some of your friends too):
Here (16 Aug 2003) he is helping out on the Whack-the-Malteaser stall at his sister's annual charity fete held in the local centre for those with learning difficulties:
After Ray, Maurice came over and tried his luck. My sister loves Maurice. He's her pet. She found him a work experience placement recently, at Tesco's, as a bread packer. Every day he packs bread until they tell him to stop, then he goes home. He loves packing bread so much, says my sister, he can't wait to go to work again the next day. Maurice was accurate with the mallet, but his timing was way off.
He was far too slow. By the time he'd brought the mallet down, the Malteaser had already crossed the table and been picked up, examined, and eaten by an onlooker. Maurice then walked away with the mallet in his hand, the silly arse. I didn't notice it had gone until the next customers presented themselves, and I had to close the stall temporarily to go and look for it.
The terrific heat was a major problem for the stall this year. This year's fun day was the day of the hottest temperature since records began. The Malteasers' chocolate coating began to melt and they stuck to the inside of the tube.
Customers were standing at my table, mallet raised, eyes narrowly focused on the pipe's exit, and the Malteasers wouldn't come out. The only way to shift them was to blow down the pipe. This was unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, but mainly because it meant putting my head nearly in line with the mallet's descent.
I requisitioned Jim, gave him my supply box of Malteasers and asked him to take them inside and shove them in the fridge. 'I can't do it!' said Jim, which is the only thing Jim ever says, and he trotted away with them towards the house. Later, when I popped over to get the Malteasers out of the fridge, they weren't in there. 'Jim,' I said when I found him, 'what did you do with the Malteasers?' I can't do it!' said Jim pointing at his mouth. 'I can't do it!' Jim had only gone and scoffed the lot. I seized his face with both hands and gave him a big kiss.
Because with no more Malteasers to Whack, that, thank God, was that for another year.
His collection is subtitled "One Middle-Aged Man in Search of the Point", but like the Chinese sages, in a way he's found it, in seeing and loving.


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