Things aren't going to be very festive at the Young household this Christmas. My wife's pregnant again--thank you, Santa--and, as a result, we need more space. We can't afford to move, so we've decided to get the loft extended instead. The upshot is that I'm woken up every morning at the crack of dawn by masonry falling on my head. I'm not exaggerating. Our bedroom is directly beneath the attic and every time a nail is banged into a wall or a piece of chipboard is sawn in half a little piece of the ceiling lands on my face. Caroline has suggested we move in with her parents for the duration, but, strangely enough, I've decided to tough it out for the time being.
The only thing I'm looking forward to over Christmas is the chance to see Not Only But Always again on Channel 4. This is Terry Johnson's masterful biopic of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Johnson is primarily a playwright, having adapted The Graduate for the stage, but he's also an extremely gifted director, as this one-off television drama reveals.
To begin with, the cast is superb. Rhys Ifans and Aidan McArdle are excellent as Pete and Dud, respectively, and, in lesser roles, Jonathan Aris and Alan Cox give note perfect impressions of Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett.
Then there's Johnson's fabulously witty script. Some of the dialogue is taken directly from Pete and Dud's infamous routines, but the lion's share is all Johnson's own work and, frankly, he's a lot funnier than either of his two subjects. One of the reasons I liked Not Only But Always so much is that I've never been a huge fan of Peter Cook's, and, judging from the film, Johnson isn't either.
The one-time owner of Private Eye is portrayed as a cruel, unfeeling man for whom everything in life came far too easily. Johnson is scrupulous about giving credit where credit's due, acknowledging Cook's genius for extemporized comic monologues, but he's equally unstinting in documenting Cook's shortcomings, particularly his infidelity, his alcoholism and his lack of self-discipline. Cook emerges as an excellent drinking companion, but not someone you'd ever want to be professionally or personally involved with.
The film gets much of its dramatic punch from charting the shifting balance of power between the two protagonists. At the beginning of their relationship, Cook had the upper hand, treating Moore as a talentless comic foil. But Moore's ambition and hard graft eventually paid dividends. The diminutive Welshman abandoned the double act and set off to make his fortune in Hollywood, becoming, for a brief time, one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Cook, meanwhile, was eaten up by jealousy and descended into sloth and alcoholism.
In the end, Not Only But Always emerges as a kind of morality tale. Cook's slow, ignominious decline is the perfect illustration of the fact that all great achievements are 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. He didn't lack for inspiration, but the only time he perspired was when he'd had too much to drink. Dudley Moore, by contrast, had only a fraction of Cook's talent, but by combining it with the Protestant work ethic he parlayed it into a much bigger career. As so often in life, the hare may have been a more brilliant, compelling figure, but the tortoise won the race.
AN APPLE A DAY
If you're thinking of asking Santa for an iPod this Christmas, think again. It pains me to say this, since I've been a lifelong Mac loyalist, but I've reached the end of my tether with this company.
Take my experience with the iBook, one of Apple Macintosh's better-selling products. I bought my first one in 2000. The keyboard eventually gave way--the letter "s" stopped working--so I upgraded to an iBook G3 in 2002. That, too, broke--the logic board went--so I upgraded to an iBook G4 last June.
At this stage, I wasn't too disillusioned. After all, two years is about the life expectancy of a computer these days. However, last week my six-month-old iBook G4 went kaput, eliminating the entire contents of my hard drive. Reluctantly, I bought another one, and, since the old one was still under warranty, sent it off for repair.
"I feel sorry for you," said the UPS man who came to collect it on behalf of Apple Mac.
"Because you're the owner of a Macintosh product."
I gave him a blank look.
"You wouldn't believe it, mate," he continued. "In this area alone, I pick up about twenty iPods a week. We've never got less than a hundred of the things sitting around in the warehouse at any one time."
Incidentally, I'm the proud owner of an iPod, too. That stopped working less than a week after I bought it. I haven't even bothered to get that piece of junk repaired.
It's official. I'm married to the Grinch.
Last week my wife came back from her annual Christmas lunch with her four brothers and sisters in a state of some excitement.
"I've got some great news," she said. "We've agreed not to buy each other any gifts this year. At a stroke, I've cut my Christmas shopping in half."
I'm not one to get over-sentimental during the festive season, but even for an old cynic like me this seemed a bit mean-spirited. I pointed out that if everyone adopted this policy Christmas would cease to exist.
I know that buying presents for members of your family is a pain. They often don't like them, and, even if you receive something in return, they nearly always end up in the re-gift pile on Boxing Day. But it's still a ritual worth preserving.
Apart from anything else, my job on Christmas Day, which I always spend with my in-laws, is to collect up all the discarded wrapping paper and put it in the bin, a role that Caroline sweetly refers to as "paper elf". What on earth am I going to do now? I've bought a little green hat and everything.
Congratulations to the Government for passing a law making light pollution a statutory offence. Can we please begin by prosecuting whoever's responsible for the Oxford Street Christmas lights? Who on earth came up with the idea of erecting those movie-premier-style klieg lights at either end of the street? For those of you who haven't seen them, these lights sweep the sky as if searching for German bombers and are visible from anywhere within a ten-mile radius. Talk about light pollution! I think it's time to start making inquiries, officer.
Not Only But Always is on Channel 4 at 9pm on December 30.