Good Guys 3
What a relief, when we are surrounded by such loathsome specimens of manhood as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Rod Liddle and Donald Trump, to come across men who are genuine, rounded adults displaying a spirit of generosity and good will.
No less than three of them have crossed my radar in recent weeks.* I had known about them before, of course, but spending longer in their company over the airwaves has given me the opportunity to learn more about their remarkable qualities.
David Mitchell is the man I knew most about already. I’ve read nearly all his books, and they’ve all been entrancing in very different ways. Cloud Atlas was a dazzling kaleidoscope of different voices and styles, with two of the narrators being women; some pages have you laughing at exuberant escapades, others welling up because you’ve just been hijacked by an unexpectedly poignant moment. By contrast Slade House scared the living daylights out of me.
I was familiar with his backstory: his time in Japan, his autistic child, but it was his thoughtful conversation with conceptual artist Katie Patterson on Only Artists that gave a clue as to why his words, the raw material of his craft, are so compelling. His early experience as a stammerer drove him to find as many synonyms as he could for the words that habitually tripped him up – and this alternative vocabulary had to include words that would not get a teenage boy beaten up in the playground for being a pretentious prat. His subtle understanding of autism, and his championing of Naoki Higashida, the autistic Japanese teenager whose devastating autobiographical book Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida translated into English are practical demonstrations of the insight he brings to all his fiction.
My addiction to Countdown means I have to sit through (in fact, I justify watching it by ironing through it) a succession of celeb guests, some of whom earn their keep more than others. A couple of weeks ago Levi Roots was on. All I knew about him was his Reggae, Reggae Sauce, but he made a brilliant guest, getting stuck into finding words and radiating an infectious enthusiasm. Yet what I really loved was his generous tribute to the drama teacher at the prison he found himself in, whom he credited with turning his life around. She gave him endless advice about how to live, and inspired in him a love of Shakespeare, impressing upon him the truth of Brutus’s words from Julius Caesar: ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries’, which he says he now lives by, and quoted it in its entirety with immense gravity.
Finally to Russell T. Davies, writer of Dr Who, Queer as Folk, and A Very British Scandal, among other things, who made me cry on his appearance on Desert Island Discs last week. Well, he had me at his first choice of record: ‘Sugar Mountain’ from Rock Follies (a subsequent choice was ‘One Wheel on My Wagon’ – this man is a god!). His conversation with Lauren Laverne was a delight from start to finish, moving from laugh-out-loud funny to the devastating account he gave of caring for his partner as he was dying of cancer. It had meant a loss of freedom for eight years, but ‘I would chuck that freedom away in an instant just to have five more minutes of sitting watching television with him.’ He praised his partner for his niceness, and single-handedly reclaimed that reviled word ’nice’ through his simple conviction: ‘The world actually turns under the march of the feet of all those nice people – most people are nice – and it is a fine quality to have.’ (I can vouch for Russell T. Davies’s own niceness: I once saw him on a train to Cardiff, agreeing so kindly to sign autographs for smitten fans – of whom I am now undoubtedly one!)
*I know there are millions more out there I haven’t met.