Who would have thought it? By day, mild-mannered newspaper editor; by lunch, evil Machiavellian moustache-twirler extraordinaire.
Who else could we be talking about but Phil Johnson, editor of The Berwick Advertiser? Let us tell you, cherished reader, NOTBAd is seeing him in a whole new light – a light all coloured in red and casting around him an infernal glow. Because don’t tell us he didn’t know. Don’t tell us he floundered in ignorance about the role of lists and their place in the fuss and bother of the fin-de-l’année.
When Phil Johnson handed Simon Duke (arts and entertainment reporter and newest object of NOTBAd’s affection) the brief to provide copy on the top ten shows Duke had seen in 2011, he was laying a trap as cunning as any traffic warden hiding outside Berwick Parish Church on Sunday morning.
For it’s that time again; the fag-end of the festive season that everyone is impatient to grind out under the heel of brighter prospects to come. Everyone is knackered – from parent to child, from shop worker to postman, from publican to the person in charge of the stomach-pumping machine at Berwick Infirmary. We’re so tired that we can barely speak; we’re all talked out, having exhausted our 2011 word quota on making small talk with close relatives to whom we had to be introduced over Iceland mini mince pies and Lidl’s Not-Baileys.
Television programmers and newspaper editors rummaging drunkenly through their word cabinets suddenly realise all the good stuff has gone – they pissed it up the wall of Downton Abbey and the Leveson Press Enquiry. They blear at the gaping wound in original programming, look askance at the full thickness tear in informative news coverage.
And shrug. Stick a list on it, the lazy bastards agree, that should keep 2011 alive until 2012 starts its shift. And sure enough, the lists bustle in, all crisp and efficient brevity, and take charge of a Christmas-wide word shortage like some bullet-pointed Mots Sans Frontières.
‘The Toys That Made Christmas’, ‘TVs 50 Greatest Magic Tricks’, ‘The Nation’s Favourite Bee Gees Song’, or (really?) ‘The Greatest Ever Carry On Films’.
Lazy, lazy, lazy. A jumble of can’t-be-arsedness put in order of preference by some wonk you would never once agree with in a million years even if you needed them for a new kidney.
Of course there are those out there, inveterate list-makers, who would argue in favour of bringing chaos to heel with a brisk tug on an Oxford comma, claiming that these scribbled notes help our notoriously unreliable pre-frontal lobes to remember stuff. And, to a point, we would agree. One point. Maybe two at a push, three tops. Because if there are more than three items to a list, the human eye can’t be bothered to read it properly and we end up forgetting things we wrote down so that we wouldn’t forget.
This is the thing, see? Lists only work if you’re a list person. If you’re the type to rush off to the shops leaving your list behind in the fruit bowl, or if the passenger foot well of your car resembles a mass grave for an unreported memoranda genocide, then, my friends, the list is not for you.
Because list people are already organised. They know where to find a pen and paper for a start. They don’t need a list for its basic purpose – as an external hard drive to a flaky memory. No, list people get off from The Ticking. Some sort of biofeedback reward kicks in whenever they press careful nib to feint rule once a task is completed. If you take a pencil rubbing of the page overleaf, a ghostly impression of a tick floats into view, saluting victory in all its Churchillian “Shit, yeah!” glory. This is the drug of choice list people rub on their gums.
Now, NOTBAd can’t see why Phil Johnson would need a list to remind him which shows Simon has seen during 2011, not unless Tweeddale Press have come over all time and motion, questioning the number of times Simon has taken interviewees to dine out at Gregg’s. And as an editor, PJ is wise in the ways of his profession and its seasonal relationship with lists. He undoubtedly knows that they are nothing more than space-fillers of meaningless subjectivity, empty of everything but the author’s personal predilections…
But wait. Could it be that? Threatened as Simon’s star continues its ascendancy, could PJ be seeking sabotage? The more NOTBAd thinks about this, the more it seems to be the only credible conclusion. Poor Simon. No matter how he cut it, he was never going to be able to produce a sensible list. He was nobbled! He needed not one list but two – one for professional productions, one for amateur – but that dastardly PJ wouldn’t give him page space! And Simon, being sensible to local feeling, had no choice but to exalt our community’s efforts over those of London Classic Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the astounding Filter Theatre.
Rock and a hard place if ever there was.
Well, catch the bouquet, Mr Duke. To place an amateur production of ‘Fawlty Towers’ featuring a Basil with no moustache as second in your top ten without even placing the RSC’s Hamlet, well, that takes colossal and shiny balls of steel. You have risen even further in our estimation.
And as for you, PJ. We’re watching you.
Happy New Year.