Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Grumpy Turns Gummy; the Year of the Jouncer

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Grumpy Turns Gummy; the Year of the Jouncer

Article excerpt

Byline: CATHERINE SHOARD

By Simon Gray (Granta, [pounds sterling]14.99) TWO years ago, in The Smoking Diaries, Simon Gray surveyed himself with horror.

"Belching, farting, wheezing, dribbling," was the verdict. Whingeing, too - his last "pre-nasty" moment, he reckoned, was aged eight, since when he's just got incrementally crabbier (he's now 68). If only he could find a way to staunch the bile, to brim with kindness instead. Somehow, he's succeeded.

The grumpy old man has gone gummy. Complaints have been replaced by compliments, malice with mildness. Why?

Well, these are a happier 365 days than Gray is used to. None of his close friends die - quite a problem in previous instalments.

He doesn't fall appallingly ill. He has a hit play (The Old Masters), a bestselling book (The Smoking Diaries), even a letter wondering whether he'd like a CBE.

He spends his time eating cheesecake in Barbados or being filmed for TV in his local cafe - though there's a nasty moment when the waiter, thrown by the cameras, brings him a cappuccino rather than his regular espresso: "Instead of sipping my usual sophisticated coffee in my usual relaxed and sophisticated manner, I sat stirring what looked like a child's pudding while gazing in an appalled way at what would be for, the audience, nothing in particular."

That's about as gruelling as it gets. By and large, Gray simply gurgles - at his dogs, his wife, his chocolate, at Harold Pinter, Simon Callow, Felicity Kendal. He makes an almost total return to those prenasty days - as is suggested by the title, taken from his mother's word for her baby son's incessant bouncing, so energetic that if you left his pram unattended for a moment it would pitch all over the park. It was a pain at bedtime, too, when "the jouncing and above all the weird canine keening could be heard all over the house, and all through the night". …

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