Magazine article The Spectator

Happiness Is

Magazine article The Spectator

Happiness Is

Article excerpt

People keep asking me about my pain. A very nice woman from the Observer, Nicci Gerrard, came to interview me about a book I have written, Father, Dear Father, which is a comic memoir of my childhood. (Out now, published by Hutchinson, in case you hadn't noticed.)

She asked me why I had written it. Well basically, as Dr Johnson famously said, for the dosh. But one didn't want to sound grasping. So I replied - with truth because I hoped it would make people laugh. She was taken aback, as though this was a strange thing to want to do. But what about the pain, she asked?

That question and my answer have been repeated on various programmes I have been on in the past week. There is certainly no gain without pain. My response always engenders a reaction somewhere between incredulity and a creeping resentment. No one wants to believe that anyone could write a book for such a bizarre reason as a desire to entertain the reader.

You wanted to make people laugh? Surely not? What about the tears behind it all, like that old Edwardian poem `From sport to sport they hurry me/to stifle my regret/and when they win a smile from me/they think that I forget'.

They tell me my childhood must have been quite terrible, otherwise I wouldn't have gone into print about it. They keep insisting I am undergoing an emotional catharsis, an expurgation of shame and sin; one writer went as far as to suggest that I was potentially suicidal. Well, I might be; but not for the reason they think.

If anything, I am suicidal from exasperation. It would seem that to be accepted into society these days one has to be unhappy. It is the reverse of `Jennifer's Diary' syndrome. The happy, well-balanced person is now a closet emotional disaster.

Listen. I did not write about life with my extraordinarily eccentric father Woodrow because I am a soul in torment. I wrote about it because I had very much enjoyed, years ago, a book by Clarence Day called Life with Father. …

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