Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Going on the Turn

Danny Baker Going on the Turn (2017)
Back when I began the journey described here - if you'll forgive my trotting out such a wanky analogy as journey a second time - I did so informed by certain unspoken criteria for what I would review, and what I would not review. I began with my focus set upon science-fiction, a focus which has expanded over the years to incorporate other expressions of fiction and even non-fiction, at least where I felt I had something worth saying about whatever it was I'd just read. Here and there would be the occasional book which I'd enjoyed, but which didn't inspire thoughts much beyond that I'd enjoyed it, in which case I wouldn't bother writing, simply because I had nothing useful to add.

I don't tend to read much in the way of celebrity autobiographies, and in any case they are mostly pitched some distance beyond the sort of thing I would usually write about; but I have to make an exception for Danny Baker. I found myself reading the first two volumes of his memoirs as light relief whilst bored shitless by two of Dostoyevsky's more popular insomnia remedies. This time it's Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur which has driven me to seek comfort in something immeasurably more stupid. Where previously I snuck reviews of Baker's books into those of the Dostoyevsky titles which had provided their parentheses, this time - fuck it - Going on the Turn deserves its own spot.

One aspect I've found mildly off-putting about Danny Baker's memoirs is the occasional sentence reminding me of a footballer's autobiography, although I suppose that's inevitable given all the famous people he's knocked around with; but on the other hand, his writing, unnecessarily baroque though it often is, is intensely readable and enormously entertaining, and I'm beginning to wonder if the dissonance is something to do with how accustomed I've been to hearing sentences of similar construction coming out of a speaker, because it's nearly impossible to read his writing without hearing it read aloud by one's own inner Danny Baker. So in other words, this objection, vague though it is, may in fact be bollocks.

On a series of more positive notes, Baker has led a fascinating life and relates it in as much detail as you could ever require whilst eschewing cliché and only ever digging you in the ribs if it's warranted; although admittedly it's warranted quite a bit. This one for example reduced me to tears:

This doesn't spring from some bullish empiricism or the desperate desire to show that I am a no-nonsense sort of chap. Indeed, may the record show I am, if anything, an all-nonsense sort of chap. That this book begins with me behind locked toilet doors seeking to commune with other dimensions should indicate what a restless mind I have when dealing with the unknown. Consider also, that when I first arrived on television I was asked by a popular magazine to be the subject of one of those all about me Q&A features, and under the enquiry, what is your preferred choice of hat? I replied, a puffed-up turban with a large question mark on it. There, if that doesn't identify me as an eternal seeker of truth then I don't know what does.

As with the persona projected through his radio shows, Baker comes across as someone you root for, someone you'd like to hang out with. He hams it up to a preposterous degree and yet never loses the common touch, which is fairly extraordinary when you think about it.

This is possibly his best yet, and perhaps the funniest despite being the one which deals with both cancer and the death of his father in appalling detail. More importantly - providing we're agreed that once the chuckles have subsided, some things are important - like its predecessors, Going on the Turn records the last of a once thriving working class London. I didn't grow up in London, but I lived there long enough to feel part of it. I know most of the places Baker talks about, and I recognise a fair few of the characters. In some sense it makes for upsetting reading, this being a record of something which is fading, and which will soon be mostly just branches of Starbucks filled with braying pricks, but then I suppose nothing lasts forever.

For something which invokes Laurel & Hardy, Vivian Stanshall, and the general spirit of Bugs Bunny to the extent which this book does, Going on the Turn is rich, satisfying, and surprisingly profound. Given the opportunity, Sir Thomas Malory could have learned a lot from this; and I'm absolutely serious when I say that in some respects, a book such as this may one day be at least as important as Pepys' diaries.

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