I knew of Jeffrey Bernard in his lifetime but never read him. Too put off by the myth of him as a drunken bore put about by his enemies, I suppose.
It was only later, because of constant good references to him by contemporaries I admire, that I took a chance and bought a collection of his columns. I was immediately hooked, and equally dismayed that it had taken me so long.
Here was someone whose early life, passions and attitudes to the world uncannily resembled mine. Granted, I’ve never smoked, and I married the woman, not the drink. Certainly, unlike Bernard, I gritted my teeth in order to keep that woman and somehow survive the transition from urban bohemian village to the suburbs, a mortgage and a day job. While I detest what I go through in order to keep my loved ones fed, clothed and sheltered at least as much as Jeff Bernard detested what he once dismissed as the pebble-dashed brains of ‘respectable’ society, unlike him I somehow cope. I have to, because at the heart of what I do is an unfashionable notion that it is my duty to provide.
The oddest thing is that here in a run down seaside town, on an island seemingly now divvied up between economic refugees from emergent, multi-racial democracies (including fundamentalists from societies where religious apartheid is now almost forgotten) and locals who’d kiss any rich bigoted arse for enough cash, I read his old columns and find that while the villains are different the will to resist has the same root – a desire to celebrate the human and stay true to those who share it.
So…what would Jeff have made of the Isle of Man?
Which of our shallow, over-privileged elite, or our comfortable but empty-headed ‘professional class’ would have disgusted him? Which little struggle to survive against the odds pleased him? How would he have coped with it all?
Time to try and find out, and in doing so cook up a few strategies for getting by myself.