Twenty Firsts Meme

November 24, 2016 22:51

I've been tagged by Daniel Finkelstein to answer this Q&A, so here we go:

First Job: I worked in Mecca bookmakers, Long Lane, Hillingdon. My main memory is of my first day there when, trying to be helpful, I stepped up to serve a customer who had walked in. After I'd put his bet on, I got the most terrible, angry stares from the rest of the staff. I assumed I'd made some awful mistake, and asked what I'd done wrong. ‘Never, ever do that again,' the manager told me. ‘Do what?', I asked. ‘Serve him'.

I had, you see, crashed in on the highlight of their day. The man I had served was - cue drum roll... - Russell Grant's father. (If you don't know who Russell Grant is: trust me, you're missing nothing.) And serving him was the biggest event of the day.

First Real Job: Horse racing commentator for a premium rate telephone company. I wasn't supposed to be a commentator; I was supposed to speak so compellingly that the customers would stay on the line between races. But the technology was so awful that 9 times out of 10 it would break down and I'd have to do the commentary.
Oh, and we also had an astrology line, and I helped write them. Is there anyone who actually thinks they are anything other than the product of someone's imagination?

First Role in Politics: I leafleted in the 1979 election in Ealing North. For the Conservatives. I also helped out in the by-election that year for Richard Page, but mainly because I'd been to his adoption meeting, at which Sir Keith Joseph had spoken, and I was in awe of him.

First Car: A second hand Fiat 127. I crashed it within an hour of passing my test, when I slid on an oil patch driving down Ducks' Hill Road, Northwood.

First Record: A bright red 45, with Kenneth McKellar singing nursery rhymes. First record I bought myself was a collection of Maria Callas singing opera arias.

First Football Match: Shockingly, Arsenal v Leeds.

First Concert: One of the Ernest Read Concerts for Children at the Festival Hall. My parents used to take me and my sister.

First Country Visited: Spain. We hardly ever went abroad for holidays - Devon and Cornwall were our staples - so it was hugely exciting. I must have been about 5.

First TV Appearance: I took part in a sports commentators' competition on an awful ITV Saturday children's programme called ‘Our Show'. Somehow I made it to the final, which was judged by the legendary Dicky Davies. I finished third of three, and I remember that even at the age of 11 I was livid that I had been beaten by someone who had said in his commentary, ‘he's tooken the ball'. (Can you see how it still rankles?)

Two of the studio guests were Henry Winkler - the Fonze - and Dave Prowse - who was then famous (in a very limited sense) as the Green Cross Code Man, but who went on to be Darth Varder.

First Political Speech: I'm not sure. Must have been at college. The first that had any real meaning was when the Oxford Union invited Gerry Adams to debate.

I helped lead a motion to have him disinvited. We caused a big fuss and, as often happens with such things at Oxford, the national media got involved. It was everywhere, and I was interviewed on the Today programme. We forced an emergency vote in the union and lost overwhelmingly.

I will always remember what a class act the then president, Simon Stevens, was. (He went on to be Tony Blair's healthcare adviser.) I'd just suffered a humiliating defeat opposing him. Most student politicians would have rubbed my nose in it. He responded by inviting me to debate against Adams, which I did. That's another story...

First Girlfriend/Boyfriend: You must be joking.

First Encounter with a Famous Person: I was taken to see Ron Moody's one man show at the Watford Palace. As I collected autographs, I insisted we go backstage for his, and he was utterly charming. I told him I would set up a fan club for him. Like many things I promised to do when I was 7, it remains undone.

First Brush With Death: I fell off my tricycle when I was 4, over a brick wall, and landed on my skull. Rushed to hospital etc. I still have the scar on my forehead.

First House/Flat Owned: A studio flat in Bayswater. I bought it for £62,000 and sold it for £126,000 a few years later. It set me up on the property ladder.

First Film Seen at a Cinema: No idea. I do remember dragging my dad to see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and then after half an hour demanding we leave because I was bored. I remember because not a year passes when he doesn't remind me.

First Time on the Radio: I hosted a phone-in on LBC called - preposterously - Youth Line Positive. One of the station's presenters, Richard Robbins, asked children who were interested in current affairs to apply and, astonishingly, I was selected. Truly bizarrely, one of the studio guests was Nancy Friday, who had just published My Mother, My Self. I had to interview her about it. I was 13. Heaven only knows what she made of the experience.

First Politician I Met: Michael Shersby, the Conservative MP, who spoke at my school.

First Book I Remember Reading: Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner was the first book that made a lasting impression on me.

First Visit to the London Palladium: I dragged my family to see Bruce Forsyth. They have never forgiven me.

First Election: I remember both 1974 elections vividly, and Patrick Jenkin imploring men to shave in the dark, during the preceding three day week.

UPDATE: Oh, the humiliation. Oliver Kamm has emailed to point out that Jenkin was talking about brushing teeth, not shaving. Of course; how could I have written shaving?


November 24, 2016 22:51

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