AA Gill highlights

AA Gill 026

A.A. Gill and me at a book-signing, Sydney.

This is my fave youtube vid of him chatting about the highs and lows of his career and life.

AA Gill chatting to students

Highlights

13:30: his audience.

14:31: Answer to where’s the best place to get a meal in London?

“What you eat should never be as important as who you’re eating with.”

“Nothing is as good as being a regular customer.”

“Is it the greatest Italian restaurant in the world – well, it is for me.”

18:58: Disney films. Critics. “Somebody had taken an artistic decision that had been made to upset children. Why do you want to make me feel like that?”

22:04 Poppies in moat at Tower of London

22:48 What do you want me to feel and why?

“Why can’t I do dubstep to Beethoven?” Going into a Chinese restaurant and asking for pizza.

24:10 the trade of journalism today.

29:47 fake names for booking re: restaurant reviews.

And how chefs react when they know AA Gill restaurant critic is there.

36:36 Stories he’s glad he was able to write: foreign stories.

39:42 recalls story that makes him cry. “That’s what journalism should be.”

44:35 Importance of editing. “The art of drawing is the art of omission.”

47:45 reads 7 newspapers a day.

48: writing those columns with Jeremy Clarkson. Each wrote their own view of the same event. And a joint visit to a gay nudist beach at Mykonos.

Part of the article announcing his sickness:

Table Talk: AA Gill reviews the Magpie Cafe, Whitby

Food: five out of five stars. Atmosphere: five stars.

 

If there was a good thing to say about cancer, and frankly this is medical bowel-scraping, it’s that it gives permission and excuse to friends to say and do generous things that the onset of gout or herpes might not have elicited. So, just after my diagnosis, I got a call from Jimmy Carr, who said, “Awful news, but I’d like to fulfil a bucket-list wish. I can pretend to be Jimmy Savile for a day. I’ve always wanted to do Jim’ll Fix It.”

“How kind. What were you thinking of?”

“Well,” he said, “I’ve got to go up and do 10 minutes’ filming with Jeremy on his new show, and there’s a spare seat in the whirlybird. We can be back in London for tea. What do you say?”

“Where are we going? Paris, Deauville, Barcelona?”

“Whitby.”

“Now you’re talking.”

If I didn’t have cancer, I would probably have passed on Whitby in October. But the thought that this might be my last chance ever to visit the place again clinched it. Whitby has the best fish and chips in Britain. So, the next morning, I get into the helicopter and there’s a manic Jimmy, gurning, “Now then, now then …” and we take off into the chilly Elstree dawn and chug north.

“So,” he asks, “cancer — what’s the silver lining? There must be an upside.” Well, there is: you can stop worrying about Alzheimer’s, but even that is a bit tarnished because I’m already an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, and getting cancer is like going over to a competing charitable condition. Hey ho.

Whitby appears like a William Blake doodle over the North York Moors. As with most east-facing seaside towns, it both perches and hunches on the grey wet, with its gothic ruin and nudge-nudge naughty postcards.

It’s a place that is both eminently dour and practical and utterly, bonkersly up some seaside spectrum. So, everyone on the street has apparently decided to dress at Millets for under £15 and attach themselves to a terrier. Or they’re dressing up as role-play therapy groups: there are goths, vampires and, today, masses of pensioners in Dad’s Army costume, platoons of spavined Home Guard and women going to collect their rations. It’s a steampunk version of Westworld. There are no tourists or trippers. They are just doing it for their own amusement.

Jimmy and I go in search of the Magpie Café, a fish’n’chip shop I deemed the best in Britain more than a decade ago. It remains completely, perfectly true to its calling. At 11.30, the little restaurant is beginning to fill up with retired couples in cagoules, coming in for an early lunch. But seaside fish and chips isn’t like other meals. We approach it with a proprietary fondness. This is grade 1 listed dinner, cultural heritage, a communion of secular us-ness. No one is eating fish and chips for the first time. Jimmy and I were given the table in the bay window, looking out at the wandering Private Godfreys and Van Helsings.

The fish is generous, fresh off the boat, battered with a loving authority. Beef-dripping twice-fried chips are thick, crunchy and floury. The curry sauce is authentically indigenous, free from any Asian aspiration. Mushy peas are marrow-fat bland sog, not blitzed garden frozen. They dance with a surprising elegance when dabbed with a douse of malt vinegar. There is bread that has been buttered as if there was still rationing and pots of brown, round-vowelled tea, and jam roly-poly that comes with custard and cream.

Jimmy and I are absurdly happy with the whole modest but profound table, each constituent panto part perfectly fitting in with its neighbour with a warming familiarity. We decided to judge, once and for all, the ancient north-south question of haddock or cod. And, as a Scot, I’m happy to say my national preference for haddock won by a slim, opalescent flake.

This is, all things considered, without pretension but with utter self-confidence, still the best fish and chips in the world. Naturally, Clarkson disagrees and has his own Whitby favourite, Mister Chips, which is run by a messianically enthusiastic team. They have a board on which they write the name of the particular trawler your fish was landed from and, out of fairness, we took another complete fish dinner back with us on the helicopter. I have to say it was pretty damn perfect, and no one else in the ether of the world was having superior in-flight catering.

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