Monday, July 15, 2024
HomeThat Reminds MeThat Reminds Me: Confessions of Mrs Coren, problem drinker

That Reminds Me: Confessions of Mrs Coren, problem drinker


A FEW days ago a front-page puff in the Times yelled: ‘My drinking problem – how I solved it’ accompanied by a picture of a seriously glammed-up Esther Walker, also known as Mrs Giles Coren. The Saturday magazine featured her on the cover looking sultry in red off-the-shoulder party frock. Inside were several similar snaps,  along with one of her in the kitchen alongside a preening Coren plus the headline: ‘Giles can go days without a glass of wine. So why can’t I? Confessions of a midlife drinker.’

Having long nursed an intense dislike of Giles Coren, the reasons for which I will divulge later, I was looking forward to a gruelling account of how he drove the fragrant Esther into the depths of alcoholic despair. Fat chance.

It starts promisingly. ‘I resent how much alcohol is on my mind from about 4.30 onwards. It’s like a mean, very attractive boyfriend and I feel a bit controlled by it.’

She goes on: ‘I am always able to cut down for a bit. But it inevitably creeps back up until I am knocking back four units a night and constantly feeling awful.’

FOUR UNITS????!!!!

Four measly bloody miserable units? The equivalent of a mere one pint of strongish ale or two glasses of wine with 12.5 per cent alcohol? In an entire night? Blimey, I get through four units just deciding what bottle of wine to open first of an evening. I’d feel awful, too, if that was all the booze I got through.

However, no doubt with the fat fee for a Times article plus a nice new dress in mind, Ms Walker goes on at enormous length to describe how she was prescribed a month’s supply of the drug naltrexone, which supposedly curtails enjoyment of alcohol sufficiently for you not to want it again. Surprise, surprise, it works. ‘Naltrexone has been staggeringly effective for me. Within four weeks I regain the functioning relationship with alcohol that I once had.’

Hardly Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, is it? Yet this self-indulgent junk is sadly typical of what passes for journalism in the Times these days – wimmin given a makeover and a fancy gown ‘confessing’ to some minor problem that amounts to sod all.

Which brings me to Giles Coren, who I somehow doubt would have reached his current eminence without having a famous dad. In 2007, I read a Coren review in the Times magazine of the London restaurant Wahaca, of which I was a fan. He burbled on about himself and his chums for the entire column, barely deigning to mention the dishes on offer. I emailed him to ask for ‘more food and less of you’. His reply:

thank you for your fascinating and insightful email, it was a model of
articulacy and restraint and i only wish there were a way we could arrange for
my thousands of readers to read your thoughts each saturday rather than mine.
all the best,

I refrained from pointing out in reply that, unlike Coren with his ‘thousands of readers’, I had a Daily Mail readership of several millions but decided not to sink to his level.

Having shared this correspondence with a colleague, she replied that a friend on the Guardian had passed on this memo sent to Times sub-editors by Coren. Do not read if you are offended by foul language or extreme pretentiousness (Mrs Ashworth has added asterisks over my strenuous objections):

I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben
because I don’t know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i’m assuming
owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it’s only fair), and also to Tony,
who wasn’t here – if he had been I’m guessing it wouldn’t have happened.
I don’t really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of
tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye
for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning
three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how
that wasn’t going to happen anymore, so I’m really hoping it wasn’t you
that f*cked up my review on saturday.
It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A
piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with
him into the weekend.
I wrote: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of
rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to
each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh.”
it appeared as: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a
glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling
gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh.”
There is no length issue. This is someone thinking “I’ll just remove this
indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate c*nt and i know best”.
Well, you f*cking don’t.
This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons.
1) ‘Nosh’, as I’m sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed
from a bastardisation of the German ‘naschen’. It is a verb, and can be
construed into two distinct nouns. One, ‘nosh’, means simply ‘food’. You
have decided that this is what i meant and removed the ‘a’. I am insulted
enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a
better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, ‘nosh’ means “a
session of eating” – in this sense you might think of its dual valency as
being similar to that of ‘scoff’. you can go for a scoff. or you can buy
some scoff. the sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what i meant.
Why would you change a sentnece aso that it meant something i didn’t mean?
I don’t know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And
the way you avoid this kind of f*ck up is by not changing a word of my copy
without asking me, okay? it’s easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.
2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You
see, i was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as
“sexually-charged”. I have described the shenanigans across the road at
G.A.Y.. I have used the word ‘gaily’ as a gentle nudge. And “looking for a
nosh” has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically
gay, for this is soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money
for noshing boys. “looking for nosh” does not have that ambiguity. the joke
is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you’ve
f*cking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a
renaissance fresco and thinking jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering
over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean,
f*cking christ, don’t you read the copy?
3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed
the unstressed ‘a’ so that the stress that should have fallen on “nosh” is
lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you’re winding up a
piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is
wrong? It’s not f*cking rocket science. It’s f*cking pre-GCSE scansion. I
have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on
an unstressed syllable. F*ck. F*ck, f*ck, f*ck.
I am sorry if this looks petty (last time i mailed a Times sub about the
change of a single word i got in all sorts of trouble) but i care deeply
about my work and i hate to have it f*cked up by shit subbing. I have been
away, you’ve been subbing joe and hugo and maybe they just file and fuck
off and think “hey ho, it’s tomorrow’s fish and chips” – well, not me. I
woke up at three in the morning on sunday and f*cking lay there, furious,
for two hours. weird, maybe. but that’s how it is.
It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No
exaggeration. i’ve got a review to write this morning and i really don’t
feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from
the final line, the pay-off, and i’m going to have another weekend ruined
for me.
I’ve been writing for The Times for 15 years and i have never asked this
before – i have never asked it of anyone i have written for – but I must
insist, from now on, that i am sent a proof of every review i do, in pdf
format, so i can check it for f*ck-ups. and i must be sent it in good time
in case changes are needed. It is the only way i can carry on in the job.
And, just out of interest, I’d like whoever made that change to email me
and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that
word from my copy.
Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming f*cking anger can make a man verbose.
All the best

Ah, the Corens. For whom the term ‘up themselves’ might have been written. Sorry, that doesn’t end on a stressed syllable.

(I except from opprobrium Giles’s sister Victoria, ace poker player and presenter of TV’s Only Connect. She is a good egg, particularly when lambasting contestants ignorant of the works of P G Wodehouse.)

Old jokes’ home

Last night I had dinner with my boss and his wife. It was a complete disaster. The wife asked me: ‘How many potatoes would you like?’ and I said: ‘I’ll just have one, thanks’. She said: ‘It’s all right, you don’t have to be polite,’ and I said: ‘OK then, I’ll just have one, you stupid cow’.

A PS from PG

Observing what it was that Bingo was carrying, Oofy backed hastily. ‘Hey!’ he exclaimed. ‘Don’t point that thing at me!’

‘It’s only my baby.’

‘I dare say. But point it the other way.’

 PG Wodehouse: A Few Quick Ones

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to

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