Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Michael Holden - 'All Ears' (Alma/Guardian books 2009)

It is a testament to this book's brilliant compilation of a truly indispensable column, a weekend staple of hilarity and insight that I managed to finish it in a day, and wish I hadn't squandered the pages. All Ears is the Guardian Guide's brilliant found and overheard conversations section, one that consistently makes you think... no... he's making it up. In the introduction, Holden says that real-life conversation is more entertaining than the movies and he is constantly asked if he embellishes; he doesn't for the most part. This is a quick easy and fun read, bristling with humour and snapshots of the versatile British public. What's most creepy is that this unknown unseen journalist could be listening in on everything I say? He could be anywhere, the location notes at the end put him in some of my known hang-outs. I'd better be careful. Usual culprits on display here are people overheard on their phones; late-night drunken revellers; and yoots at the back of the bus. Each takes their turn to indulge some of the most ridiculous thoughtless stupid and charming conversations known to man. One of my favourites involves a guy so traumatised by a non-descript childhood experience with celery, the thought of it makes him nauseous. A yoot at the back of the bus tries to act as a human GPS to two friends meeting up. Obnoxious businessmen are pitted in close proximity with members of the public and subject them to phone conversations and revelations of startling nature. A mercenary discussed job percs and drawbacks with his drinking buddies. A kebab shop owner is harangued for a phone charger. And, my favourite, a man tries to return a soft drink he bought a month ago. What's the problem? He still has his receipt. Each of these bitesize anecdotes reveals a hidden truth about Britain and its hidden fringes. Britain becomes a mess of drunken banter, inane stupidity and oodles of self-delusion. Yet, each anecdote is so truthful and achingly funny it's hard to realise that these people walk among us, they're not sitcom inventions. I gave my fiance one of my favourite columns to read and she said it wasn't funny; she could imagine it happening, and that's the beautiful truth about 'All Ears'; we're all guilty of these beguiling conversations, we'll probably have one later on tonight, and they're so close to the bone that the old adage that humour is often found in our surroundings rings so true. You couldn't make it up.

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