Confess your guilty displeasures

I’ll go first: strawberries, beaches, champagne, Ella Fitzgerald and Richie Benaud

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

Strawberries. Ella Fitzgerald. Lying on the beach. They’re three of my ‘guilty displeasures’. You haven’t heard of the guilty displeasure? That’s because the concept hasn’t been invented yet. But it needs to be — and quick.

The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ is widely known. It was coined by the DJ Sean Rowley, who, not content with being the man on the cover of What’s the Story Morning Glory? by Oasis, applied a label to the songs we love despite them being uncool. The idea expanded, and now anything naff can be a guilty pleasure: chocolate spread, knitting, Countdown, you name it. But what about the opposite phenomenon, the supposedly cool things that we don’t like? When will we lift the social shame from admitting that something worshipped by everybody else just leaves us cold?

Strawberries, for instance. Underripe they’re like bullets, overripe they’re a cheap way of dying your clothes red, and for the 17 minutes in between they taste of not very much. Yet when I decline the offer of a bowl, people look at me as if I’ve touched their dog inappropriately. ‘You don’t like strawberries?’ they say. ‘What’s wrong with you?’

It’s the same with Ella Fitzgerald. Effortless panache my arse. It’s simpering, ‘listen to me emoting’ fakery, the precursor of all those tedious modern singers who signal how serious they are by groaning ‘oooh’ 29 times over the intro. Point this out, however, and you’re accused of being shallow. Listen bro, I got depth — which is why I can see that Ella Fitzgerald is spray-on style for sales reps from Dorking.

As for beaches: what’s the attraction? The tiniest gust of wind and anything you’re eating or reading gets covered in sand. As do you: beaches are a displeasure that doesn’t just grate but chafes. But for some reason, saying so marks me down as a nutter.

I also dislike champagne, which I thought made me odd until I wrote an article about it and discovered that lots of people agreed. ‘Thank God for that,’ they said. ‘I thought it was just me.’ It turns out that the champagne refusenik club includes the Queen.

No doubt you’ve got GDs of your own. A quick poll among friends produced ‘-chocolate’, ‘Star Wars’ and, believe it or not, ‘sex’.

It’s in childhood that the fear of being different is first instilled. At the age of about ten, I told our milkman I didn’t like Vimto. ‘What?’ he replied. ‘It’s my bestseller!’ After that he always looked at me with a slight air of mistrust.

The really irritating thing about a GD is everyone else’s assumption that it’s a temporary foible from which you’ll soon recover. A music journalist once confided to me that unlike almost all his colleagues, he happened not to think that John Peel was God. It got on his nerves, he said, the reverential tone that draped itself over any conversation in which the ‘great man’ was mentioned.

I’m the same with Richie Benaud. Fellow cricket fans worship him, perhaps even more now than they did when he was alive, but I always found him priggish and self-regarding. People bang on about how funny he was, but the true test of a sense of humour is whether you can laugh at yourself, and there Benaud bagged a duck.

Do I bother arguing my case, though? Not usually. It’s easier to keep quiet and let the pro-Richie platitudes pass.

This cowardly approach, however, needs to end. We live in an age when the word ‘minority’ is the trump card in any debate, so surely guilty displeasures are a movement waiting to happen. Come on: get out there — with your friends, down the pub, on Twitter — and nominate the things you hate that you’re meant to love. As well as my earlier suggestions I’m choosing Friends, Julie Walters and fish (it smells like that and you’re meant to eat it?). In fact, one of my GDs has come full circle, having started, for most, as a guilty pleasure. It’s Abba. They were crap in the 1970s, they’re crap now, and Mamma Mia! turning up in the interim and ‘reinventing’ them doesn’t make them any less crap.

Like pleasures, displeasures are a matter of taste. They shouldn’t have to be guilt-edged.

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

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Freddythreepwood

    Ok, I get it; you needed a column filler. But your kidding about Ella; yes?

    • Malcolm Stevas

      He has to be kidding about Ella, certainly – or more likely, he’s hardly ever listened to her music and/or thought he’d be contentious and provoke comment. He’s succeeded: I think it was Bing Crosby who said that Ella was the best singer ever, anywhere, male or female, bar none. For me, her voice makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up – effortless indeed, amazing control, hits perfect pitch every time, mellifluous, stirring, beautiful.

      • Yorkieeye

        Totally agree, she’s the cats pyjamas. Even a person who doesn’t like ballads would have no critical faculties if he couldn’t see how accomplished she was.

        • Malcolm Stevas

          Quite. I’m not musically trained and I know little technically about it, but as you say, just to hear her voice tells you she’s superior.

      • MikePage

        That’s the point, surely? The freedom to stick your neck out and be different if that’s where your taste leads.

      • oldoddjobs

        Oh well if Bing said so well THEN

    • Freddythreepwood

      P.S. Agree absolutely about lying on a beach. Especially when the pubs are open.

  • Embo

    bloody radiohead

  • Yorkieeye

    Perhaps GD hasn’t caught on because you clearly feel the need to justify your bête noir by being rude. This is self regarding and tedious.

  • SunnyD

    Jeremy Kyle

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Amy Whinehouse, Stephen Fry, Soccer, Mexican food and Beards.

      • greencoat

        But nobody likes Stephen Fry!

        • Father Todd Unctious

          Why is he always on TV and radio then? An idiots idea of a clever bloke. If I can’t nominate Fry my first reserve is coffee in little buckets with lids.

      • William Matthews

        Yes, to Amy Winehouse. Can we throw in a Princess Diana, too? Yeah, I know.

        • Father Todd Unctious

          She has been much less annoying for the past 18 years. I must say her two sons are starting to niggle now though.

  • greencoat

    Andy Murray – plus his wife and his mother.

  • Andrew Smith

    Frank Sinatra

  • Ingmar Blessing

    Obama, Spaghetti, Snowboarding, Islam

  • Charlie Angel

    Ice cream. Hated it as a child and still do. Many is the dinner party when I have to tell a disbelieving host that no, a big bowl of ice cream is not my fantasy dessert thank you very much…

    Game of Thrones – apart from the pornographic value of some of the youtube clips, I can’t take more than 2 minutes of what feels like Tolkien on LSD.

    Facebook – this was my GD years ago and I hoped by now it would not need explaining what with other more modern pretenders but I am amazed at how many people still say to me “What? You’re not on facebook?! How do you get by?” Rather well, as it happens but then FOMO (which is probably another GD come to think about it) isn’t for me the concern that it appears to be for some of my acquaintances.

    • oldoddjobs

      Tolkien on LSD? But GoT has less magical stuff than LoTR surely

  • John McNab

    I enjoyed this article. He’s dead right about champagne. I don’t dislike it, but the bollox that people talk about it along with the ‘pit oan’ reverence and over pricing makes it something I can body swerve.

  • PetaJ

    Great article. I don’t like strawberries or Richie Benaud either. Twitter – the ultimate in banality. Only the very clever or the very funny can say anything remotely meaningful in 140 characters. The vast majority are neither clever nor funny. Pubs – hate them, always have.

    • Ingmar Blessing

      Oh yeah, the “Social Media”. What a waste of imaginative (and real) energy.

  • D Thomas

    To paraphrase Tim Minchin, this shows an incredibly low threshold for both displeasure and guilt. My actual guilty displeasure: Humanity.

  • chrysostomos

    I don’t like diversity, I think white countries are diverse enough; in France and the U.K., for example, you can drive 100 miles in any direction and hear a different accent and different regional dishes. In Nigeria everyone eats green beans, fufu and chicken all usually drenched in tomato… How quotidian!

    And of course they all look the same whereas Caucasians come in many different hues with a huge combination of eye and hair colours. Blacks are just black black black.

    I’m not against blacks and other minorities visiting western countries but I genuinely believe that if they want to settle or claim welfare they should be sterilised until they decide to leave.

    • anonuk

      “Blacks are just black black black.”
      This is what happens when the Duke of Edinburgh gets his own internet accounts and wifi so the Queen and the palace staff don’t know what he’s doing online.

    • oldoddjobs

      “Africa contains the most human genetic diversity anywhere on Earth, and
      the genetic structure of Africans traces to 14 ancestral population
      clusters that correlate with ethnicity and culture or language.”

      Ah, but you were just trolling. But trolling who? We may never know.

      P.S Can you temporarily sterilise people?

      • chrysostomos

        I was not referring to their genetic diversity which you can’t see, I was referring to their physical appearance which isn’t very diverse compared to whites. I suspect you knew this but thought that perhaps you could out-troll me.

        We now know, through genetic study, that whites, Asians and sub-Saharan Africans should be classed as different races (whites and Asians are somewhat hybridised Hömö sapiens whereas blacks are 100% Hömö sapiens) so I think there’s a case to be made for being realistic about race and acknowledging that different races have different abilities that they excel at.

        Yes, you can temporarily sterilise people, the israelis temporarily sterilised Ethiopian Jews who sought aliyah but I think they ceased after an international outcry. I’m not sure about the exact mechanism but it was briefly available to under aged girls on the NHS as birth control.

        • oldoddjobs

          Nah, I wasn’t trolling. I thought you meant genetic diversity, that’s all. Compulsory sterilization is illiberal but more importantly, unnecessary. Old-fashioned immigration control works just fine, we just don’t have enough clout yet to bring it about.

  • MikePage

    Football. But it hated me first so fair’s fair.

    • William Matthews


  • Hicken Voyner

    The Beatles,Rufus Wainwright,Eddie Izzard,the ‘late great’ Bll Hicks.

    • oldoddjobs

      Bill Hicks suffers from too much adulation. That’s what he gets for dying early, I suppose. Mind you, the only time he ever really made me laugh was when he kicked that woman out of his show for heckling him with “you suck”.

  • Marcus

    British expats in the US. I’m one, but it’s a source of continual disappointment how shallow and uneducated most of them are. They don’t embrace the great and good of US life, nor can they critique it effectively. They just come and flit between the beach, the Red Lion pub, and wherever sells marmite. They also refuse to admit that life here is, in many practical ways, so much better than the sniveling hole they left behind, instead becoming more the upper working class little englanders than ever they were at home, doing things like framing british money and hanging on the hallway wall. The worst of all though are their families, who when visiting from the old country put on world class poker faces in refusal to show that a four bedroom house with a pool in a much warmer climate is, in fact better than the far more expensive tiny terraced house they live in in the Home Counties; which, by the way, would have been out of their reach were they young today. Oh, but of course we don’t have castles, so it’s all a mute point.

    • Hertslass

      Think lots of expats of differing backgrounds do that. Nobody croons about Ireland like the Irish who are outside Ireland, to name just one example, No doubt the Poles and other assorted continentals are the same – I just can’t understand the lingo!

  • Steve Mc

    Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children in Need – they’ve been keeping untalented artistes in virtue-signaling employ for decades now.

  • stickytape

    Bbc, the eu, celery, lettuce, cabbage, Marvin Gaye, the stones, sky news, channel 4 news, itv news, cleo lane, jazz, Scotland, Wales, the scottish, the welsh, the french, refugees, Africa, labour, tories, libdems, snp, plaid cymru, david bowie, prince, womens tennis, actually womens sport in general except gymnastics where they’re actually better than men, scotch broth, james joyce, real ale, ronnie corbett (there I’ve said it), lenny henry, the office, soaps, ‘talent’ shows,’reality’ shows, bran flakes, skimmed milk, semi-skimmed milk, bottled water, grated carrot and lots of other things that I can’t be 4r5ed with at present, because I have to go out.

    • stickytape

      How on earth did I forget broccolli.

      • Father Todd Unctious

        Courgetti, jus ,food served on a slate, Spelt bread, Richard Hammond, fox hunting.
        Dogs, dog owners. The Swiss, Sebastian Vettel, cats, Claudia Winkelman, Jay Rayner, Minis, fortnightly bin collections, that advert with the Shetland pony, Bear Grylls, J P Devlin and people who repeatedly say “like”.

    • oldoddjobs

      Disappointed that you included Bran Flakes. I’ve always found them satisfyingly dull.

    • ‘Jazz’ is a very big category. Some jazz — the jazz Philip Larkin liked, for example — is not of any interest to me. But much of it is, especially when it’s melodic. Like this:

    • Some people think women do tennis better than men. I’m one of them. Also, bellydance :^0

      Bottled water? Only if it’s reclaimed from your run-off. I get natural spring water from my wonderful state in the USA, delivered to my door, sparkling and fresh, and I bung it in the fridge so that when I want it, it’s cold as well. Tap water may be cool but by comparison it’s… euchhhh.

  • Uncle Brian

    Shakespeare’s sonnets. Almost everything by Milton, because all too often I can’t unravel his syntax. I can’t pick out the subject, verb and object.

    John Coltrane. Miles Davis.

    Mark Rothko’s paintings. I can’t find anything to look at.

    By the way, Mark Mason, do you really believe the expression “guilty pleasure” is no older than the nineteen nineties? Have a word with your Spectator colleague Dot Wordsworth. She’ll put you right.

  • Ade

    The Rolling Stones. You get The Riff, then The Same Riff, followed by That Riff Again. It was great, in Brown Sugar, for a while, 45 years ago. Now, they really need to think up another one, and not just play the same one, backwards.

  • Margot5000

    Morcambe and Wise – total mystery.

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Lenny Henry anyone?

      • Margot5000

        I like him – and I guess a lot of others do – but I guess that’s the point of guilty displeasures – they’re against the mass love-ins.

  • William Matthews

    Jazz. I even went to a Jazz bar to try and cure myself. Nope.
    Adele. Just drones on me. Just the sight of her.
    Foie Gras. I’ve had it four times. Twice in Paris, twice in Tokyo. Each time I thought “Disgusting. Wish I had a Big Mac instead.”

    • William Matthews

      Coffee and real ale lovers. Not the drinks, but the people. And Princess Diana. Peoples Princess?. I want to vomit. And Apple Computers. I hated them before it was cool.

      • Father Todd Unctious

        I am very with you on coffee…..and jazz. Jazz is just appalling. Like any music that you can’t dance to. My father in law insisted on some bunch of beardies called the something Syncopaters tooting out their dirges at my wedding. Dreadful.

        • What do you know about jazz, you numpty? Bryan Ferry made his hit songs into jazz instrumentals. It’s the best thing he’s done yet:

          • Father Todd Unctious

            Well I know I don’t like it. Know it is a cacophany of noise with no decent dance beat. So to me it is worthless beardy wierdy musak.

          • But that’s precisely where you’re wrong, as the Bryan Ferry proves. The whole point of foo-tapping jazz is that it SWINGS!

          • Hertslass

            Well. we can agree to differ, thank goodness everyone is not the same. I have to admit I have not listened to the CD you refer to but I didn’t like Bryan Ferry in the first place!

          • No, I don’t like most of his music myself. If you don’t like jazz, you don’t like jazz. I think his particular album is brilliant — and sometimes very touching, as well.

          • Hertslass

            Maybe I’ll give it a listen. But I have to admit the kind of jazz I liked is trad. jazz. Anyway, something to try just to see…

          • Depending on what you mean by that, you may be pleasantly surprised.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            I am happy to leave the swinging to bull’s testicles.

          • A charming image.

          • Hertslass

            Can’t stand Bryan Ferry. cocktail-style muzak

          • The jazz album is anything but muzak. It’s a revelation: the best thing he’s done.

      • I love Macs. Diana, not so much.

        • Father Todd Unctious

          Gaberdene Angus at the magazine rack . Gaberdene Angus in his horrid old Mac. Lovely image.

          • I was actually thinking of computers, but my avatar makes things more ambiguous :^)

  • If you don’t like Champagne (capital C, please: it’s a region), I can only surmise that a) you’re a cheap drunk (which I doubt) or b) you have it too old and cobwebby in the junk British tradition. Perhaps you’d prefer Cava. It’s Spanish, it’s fresh, it’s delicious. Try it. If you dare.

    Beaches. I live near beaches: the sand is like sugar, everything from white to slightly golden, depending which one you choose. We also, depending again on the precise location, have great shells and fossilized sharks’ teeth. Not to mention some of the world’s best birdlife. A loll in the waves is lovely; a stamp through them as far as the eye can see is tonic for the soul.

    Abba. Oh come on. You REALLY hate ‘Dancing Queen’? You TRULY despise ‘Thank you for the music?’ You actually revile ‘SOS’? You don’t secretly sympathize with ‘Money, Money, Money’? I bet you hate the Bee Gees, too. Gosh, those are my innocent pleasures — my recollections of a gentler, more civilized era. When I was a child (mostly).

    As for s=x: yeah: don’t want it. Don’t miss it. Hasta la vista, baby.

  • Bert

    Televised football.

  • NickG

    . But what about the opposite phenomenon, the supposedly cool things that we don’t like?

    Remain on the Brexit issue – those advocating leave being obviously such raaycist …little Englanders. Being fearful of the idea of a Trump presidency and status whoring over same and perhaps more obscurely…Caudia Schiffer not sitting on my face.

    I’d settle for 2 out of 3.

  • Rambam

    Richie Benaud was the master of subtle humour at his own expense. The ostentatiously glib ease with which he pronounced the unpronouncable and wildly polysyllabic names of Sri Lankan cricketers was a form of self parody. Obviously, this was lost on some people.