Books

Rod Liddle reminds me of old women moaning on the bus

Richard Littlejohn, on the other had, has a great story about a guy called Frank the Bummer. A review of Selfish, Whining Monkeys, by Rod Liddle and Littlejohn’s Lost World, by Richard Littlejohn

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

Selfish, Whining Monkeys Rod Liddle

4th Estate, pp.256, £14.99, ISBN: 9780007351275

Littlejohn’s Lost World Richard Littlejohn

Hutchinson, pp.288, £18.99, ISBN: 97800091944001

Books by bellicose columnists with the initials R.L. are like buses — none comes along for ages, then two come at once. Having been given the heave ho from my last column some years back, I was looking forward to putting this regularly employed, high-profile Pushmi-pullyu through its paces before filleting it thinly and serving it up sliced seven ways.

The best way to read the Liddle book is as a self-loathing joke, otherwise the sheer level of sumptuous hypocrisy may choke you; this is, after all, a book bewailing modern-day selfishness by the man who left the mother of his children months after their wedding in order to be with his young mistress. He bangs on ceaselessly about what ‘we’ve’ lost, but exactly what golden age he’s yearning for isn’t clear; in the first chapter he writes that his parents didn’t like abroad as it was full of ‘wogs’, although his mother fancied a holiday in Egypt in the 1970s as they were at war with Israel and she didn’t like Jews. What a pair of charmers! Incredibly, he writes a few pages later of their ‘morality… anchored in decency’.

But Liddle’s often right about some things. He loathes Islamists, as do I, and admires Israel, as I do. He believes that Eastern European immigration has been divine for the middle class — all that cheap, biddable labour — and disastrous for the working class. And yet even our agreements made me tut loudly, as these important issues are tackled with the same level of indignation as fast food and limited leg-room on aeroplanes. He’s totally inconsistent; a chapter about women suggests ‘outrageously’ (yawn) that ladies, bless ’em, were happier before feminism because they ‘knew where their place was’. But in the next chapter, he’s bemoaning the lack of social mobility for the working class. If women were happier knowing where their place was and not striving for achievement, why not the workers?


The constant beleaguered ‘we’ whom Liddle speaks for in this book is immensely irritating; what about all ‘we’ jolly fiftysomethings who absolutely love the modern world? After a while I realised that he uses it in the way the appalling Liz Jones does; it seems somehow less sad to claim that ‘a generation’ is disappointed, bitter and joyless than to admit that this is a personal affliction.

As a working-class provincial adolescent, I frequently defined myself by who I didn’t want to be, and the main culprits were old women moaning on the bus. Liddle, for all his metropolitan swagger, reminds me of them — all he misses out is the state of his corns and the dire repercussions which followed his friend Hilda’s hysterectomy. Richard Littlejohn, on the other hand, is all man — a twinkly uncle who will comment on how one is ‘shooting up’ before presenting one with a shiny half-crown. (Steady on!) Though his reputation is nastier than Liddle’s, his book is far cosier; though it similarly deals wth things we have lost, it’s strangely cheery, as opposed to Liddle’s long wail of misery. This is probably because Littlejohn follows his own rules of good behaviour, and therefore isn’t constantly aware of being hoist on the petard of his hypocrisy, as Liddle obviously is.

The portrait Littlejohn paints of his early childhood is far from appealing, full of sadistic dentists, freezing schools and sunshine-free holidays. But born in 1954, he was a child of the 1960s more than the 1950s, and the time he details most lovingly was in fact the decade when the old rules were overturned and things got messy. It’s ironic that the Sixties are now referred to nostalgically by so many people appalled by the 21st century; at the time, to people who had grown up in a black-and-white world, the decade must have seemed absolute insanity. My first father-in-law, a teenage soldier in the second world war, was amazed when a group of Italian soldiers he had taken prisoner combed their hair, while looking in mirrors! I remember my own dad washing his hair, once a week, with soap. Can we imagine how the fey lock-tossers of the Beatles, Stones and Kinks seemed to these men?

I enjoyed the writing about lidos best:

The Lido also had its own resident nonce, who would stand in the shallow end on club nights and encourage children to swim between his legs. Parents would warn their kids not to go anywhere near him. The clue was in the name: he was called Frank the Bummer.

Though Littlejohn looks back with affection, you get the feeling he knows exactly the limitations of these sepia memories, and is far happier in the modern world he takes such savage amusement in defrocking. The difference between these books, basically, is that Littlejohn comes across as the little boy mocking the emperor who has no clothes, and Liddle as the emperor himself, frantically trying to cover his embarrassment at being caught out with any scrap of polemic that comes to hand. I’ll take the mockers over the moaners any time.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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Show comments
  • Colonel Mustard

    The decade of change wasn’t the 1960s but the 1970s. The catalysts were in the late 1960s, circa 1968, but most people alive then were virtually unaware of any significant change to the routine of their own lives and communities during the whole decade of the 1960s. The agents of change and “struggle” were visible and especially audible then but they had not yet risen into the new establishment that would subsequently re-write facts and create myths about that past.

    Many aspects of life were worse then but many were better too. For everyone it was an inconstant glass half full vs glass half empty thing. You were 10 years old in 1969 so you may not have appreciated that. By the time you were old enough to rebel the 1970s was in full swing and you would have been railing against an adult generation who had lived through the 1960s by and large quite happily. The divergence of values was such that it was not easy for them either so cut them some slack.

    • Puss in Plimsolls
      • Colonel Mustard

        Never read it.

        • Puss in Plimsolls

          Quite interesting and well written.

    • girondas

      I think the Colonel is right on this. The 60’s didn’t happen to most people. The Beatles were on Radio Luxembourg and you could read in the News of the World of scandalous goings on amongst beautiful people who consumed exotic things called drugs and engaged in something called sex, but you didn’t actually meet any of them. ( or have any sex)

      • La Fold

        there was a comedian years ago saying the exact same thing and he would read a bit from his mums diary on the day of Woodstock.
        Her entry, “So excited, im going to Woolworths today, hope it doesn rain!!”

      • Kitty MLB

        ‘The 60s didn’t happen to most people’ Is that a clever
        way of saying if you remember it you weren’t there?
        all those tree hugging types eating strange mushrooms.
        And of course, some of us didn’t happen ourselves
        until the mid/late 60s so it didn’t happen for us either.

        • girondas

          No – I’m not that clever!
          I was around then and it didn’t happen to me or anyone I knew.
          You didn’t miss a lot Kitty.

          • Kitty MLB

            ‘I’m not that clever’ The whole point of being
            clever is your not supposed to tell anyone. Yet
            luckily words are like xrays when used correctly.
            I didn’t miss much from the 60s, also
            a blogging chum said the 50s were not very good either.
            I would have liked the 20s and to have been
            one of Evelyn Waughs Bright Young Things.

        • Kaine

          I was in fact going to use that line Kitty. As you say, either you weren’t part of that culture, or if you were you won’t be able to summon it beyond vague recollection!

      • Shorne

        I was born in 1950 and until I was 21 I lived in a small village, no buses after 6:30pm, the couple who kept the only pub had known me since I was a baby and gave me birthday cards, hence no chance of an under age drink. My mother worked in the village shop so no chance of acquiring a packet of fags. When my children asked me about the ‘Swinging Sixties’ I told them that for most of us they barely dangled. I loved the 70s though.

  • global city

    The whole multicultural initiative must have been based on certain conclusions reached about the population at the time.

    What was wrong with them?
    Why was it decided that they would have to be improved?
    How were the policies chosen settled upon?
    When does the drive end?

    Perhaps Douglas Murray should do a piece about the academic/political attitudes to British people of the time?

  • PeteCW

    Burchill, Liddle and Littlejohn – the Unholy Trinity of Narcissistic Twattism.

    • James Lovelace

      Liddle is like a slightly more feminine, slightly frumpier version of the moaning old woman on a bus that is Julie Burchill.

      I suppose the main redeeming virtue of Liddle is, that unlike Burchill, he was never a Stalinist. Stalin was the inspiration for Hitler.

    • Colin

      You were just dying for the opportunity to use that line, weren’t you?

      Deep…

  • edlancey

    Strangely all three of them (Liddle, Littlejohn and Burchill) look like various incarnations of Christopher Hitchens, with Liddle the most hedonistic and Littlejohn vaguely teetotal. Burchill could use a photo of Hitchens in her passport.

    • Puss in Plimsolls

      What — the ciggy, the bouteille, and the paunch?

  • Puss in Plimsolls

    Ms Burchill: Liddle is a contradiction (from this distance, and from yours). He lived like a cad, as far as we can tell, but writes like a (scrappy) gentleman. I don’t understand it. But I like him.

    • IainRMuir

      “He genuinely believes in freedom — a sadly unusual position for an Englishman”

      Maybe – for an Englishman in the media or in government. Not unusual elsewhere, as I hope we’ll be able to demonstrate quite soon. It wouldn’t be a bad idea in Scotland, either.

  • Frank Marker

    Oh well, at least she didn’t mention her dad in this piece.

  • John Lea

    At least Rod Liddle can write and has something to say. But then again, Burchill has built a lucrative career on bitching about other – more talented and usually male – writers. Perhaps she felt it was time to give Tony Parsons a break.

    • Puss in Plimsolls

      Ooerrr!!

    • Kitty MLB

      Indeed you have a point. There is really not much depth
      to some and even humour.But at least Lucy Vickery’s
      articles regarding poetry are superb and Melissa Kites
      artlcles in regards to wildlife.
      Rod Liddle is a twerp at times and can produce ludicrous
      articles but usually they are highly amusing.
      But I wish he would trim the hair, he resembles
      Byron burning the midnight oil.

  • Fergus Pickering

    A working class provincial adolescent, eh? But did you wash your hair?

  • Blancdenoir

    Rod’s book: Where’s the American Kindle edition?

  • Robertus Maximus

    Apart from voting Labour – as I assume he still does – there’s not much to dislike about Rod, and a lot to admire. Not many in the media are willing to openly voice what most of us feel about the “joys” of multiculturalism.

    • Don’t assume, R. M.: he states quite plainly that he does. But I agree.

  • edithgrove

    Rod used to remind me of you, Julie, which is a compliment (to you) but then I heard you on the radio and noticed you ‘talk up’ at the end of sentences and sound like a teenager, so I’m afraid I went off you a bit. Unless it was a teenager who ‘talks up’, like a valley girl, and who just happens to have the same name as you, in which case I apologise.

    • Ted Cunterblast

      Julie’s been boring some of us to tears since she first started writing in the The Sunday Times and The Face in the 1980s. She’s past it.

  • Gwangi

    Oh don’t be silly – Rod’s too rich and impatient to take the bus. But if he did, one thing would be sure – he’d never meet you on one, eh, missus B?

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