Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Guardian Columns 1998-2000 - Julie Burchill


More huff and puff from everybody's favourite sociopath, Julie Burchill.
I'll tell you what, reading her columns en masse with no seven day gap between each leaves you reeling, as though you've just had a fight in a pub car park with some bloke who's accused you earlier in the evening of giving his pint funny looks ('Are you looking at my pint, mate?'). Your chest is pounding, your shirt is ripped and you've a bloodied lip though you've neither lost nor won because your opponent is one of those who just won't stay down or concede defeat because they've no comprehension of the concept. So you've both had to call it a draw just to bring the fight to an end to enable you both to get home for some sleep as you've got work in the morning...

I remember reading these columns when first published in the Guardian and waiting for the inevitable angry denunciations from irate liberals in the following week's letters page. I always felt these responses from the readers was what Burchill actually thrived on and if it didn't happen then it meant she wasn't doing her job properly. Which was all probably part of her remit as handed down by her employer. The editor of the Guardian at that time was Alan Rusbridger, I believe.

Am I a masochist for reading them all over again in book form? Probably. And how are you meant to read this collection of columns, I wonder? In one big sitting? Are you meant to dip in and out of them? I don't know what lesson it came in at school but I surely missed the one entitled 'How to read a book of Julie Burchill columns'. Perhaps it was in human biology? Or woodwork?

So with trepidation I started reading it (in short bursts on a train, actually) and it didn't turn out too bad. Burchill's reputation goes before her but it's a bit like swimming in the sea here in Exmouth: you dip a toe in and you think it's going to be freezing but when you immerse yourself fully, it's really not too bad.
I'm not sure if Burchill was at the height of her powers when writing for the Guardian but even if running on empty, she's better than most other columnists. Which means that Julie Burchill - The Guardian Columns 1998-2000 is an okay if not dizzying read even if it does come in an atrocious cover.

All human life is here, from the sublime to the ridiculous; from the precise aim of the assassin to the scattershot blasting of the shotgun wielding cider-addled farmer. Burchill's humanity is given a good airing, particularly in such pieces as when she writes about the death of her Dad - killed by capitalism: 'They tell you how many people communism killed, and how many fascism killed. But they don't tell you how many capitalism killed, and is killing, because a) they wouldn't know where to start, and b) it would never end'.
So too is her sense of humour particularly when the spectre of David Baddiel falls under her gaze: 'One of the most embarrassing questions, right up there with 'Are you really going out with David Baddiel?', must be, 'Do you know who I am?'.
Or even certain male poets: 'Ted Hughes. Another pet hate of mine. His poetry is like being slapped around the face with a wet mackerel, and I don't mean that in a sexy way'.
Or even lidos: 'If there's one thing I love, it's lidos. More than parks, more than pubs, more than President Clinton's penis, they seem to me to be the greatest expression of a very public hedonism, attractive and accessible to all, regardless of age, sex or social status'. Interestingly, Burchill was one of the features of Banksy's Dismaland show at the old lido in Weston-super-Mare recently.

It's when she goes out of her way to intentionally cause mischief or controversy for no other reason than for controversy's sake that she's the most annoying, however. No better illustrated than by her attack upon the late, great John Peel who was alive when her column about him was first published, causing him considerable upset. To whose benefit was it to launch such an ugly attack upon him? No-one's, of course, apart from her own. That particular column is included in the book and it's not a pleasant read. Neither are her attacks upon John Lennon, come to think about it, though this is more than made up for by her attacks upon her very much more deserving (middle class) targets.

When reading this book it struck me, actually, that both Burchill and I have ended up living on the coast (though different ones - she now lives in Brighton) having both been born and raised in Bristol. Both members of the West Country working class that she never neglects to mention.
Perhaps I should Facebook her and become her friend? Dare I?
On finishing it I returned it to the charity shop from whence it came for some other masochist to enjoy, which I thought was a good fate to befall it as it means it will continue generating money for some decent cause or other until it one day finds a proper home on someone's bookshelf.
And from there, sadly, it will remain forever more unread simply gathering dust...
John Serpico
Where it all started...


  1. God, that woman almost makes me ashamed to be Bristolian. Glad she left town a long time ago.

    1. There you are! Been looking for you and couldn't find you. Where's your blog gone?

    2. Having just managed to find myself some part-time employment I suddenly discovered (a) I actually have very little time to consider blogging (that may sound far-fetched but 'tis true) and (b) I just can't think of anything worth saying right now. Thus, they are no more but do still place meditative sounds for universal peace at 'The Gong Farmer Presents...'. If I get inspired again, I'll blog again. Just remembered, Julie Burchill went to Brislington Comp, didn't she? Explains it all.

    3. Right. I always thought the content of your blog was very good and was coming from an unusual place. I'll check out Gong Farmer.
      Re Julie Burchill: Spalding Gray once said in Swimming To Cambodia that after suffering five years of carpet bombing by the USA; living on a diet of lizards, bugs, bark and leaves; and having been educated in Maoism with a touch of Rousseau - the Khmer Rouge were born. In Bristol, after suffering years of bullying at school, living on a diet of fishfingers and semolina pudding, and having been educated in Stalinism with a touch of Tony Parsons - Julie Burchill was born. There's a lesson in there somewhere.