Sunday, 13 September 2009

Goodbye Mail On Sunday

Since the age of 17, upon starting university and living away from home for the first time, I've had a routine every Sunday. An unremarklable routine, but a routine nonetheless: I would get up, buy newspapers, and two bars of chocolate (one segmented, one whole), make two cups of coffee, and listen to pleasant, soothing Sunday morning music while devouring all of the above. The routine hasn't been absolutely rigid - if very hungover, I'd replace one cup of coffee with lots of orange juice, and sometimes crisps have replaced the chocolate - and it has been very interrupted during my two years in Korea, my last three years frequently away, and during my Year of the Castle, whereby I'd invariably be too intoxicated to stand by Sunday morning. But overall, for 13 years, Sunday morning would be a gentle time of music, coffee, chocolate and reading.

And the newspapers? The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Express.

The reason for these little-England choices were habit. Growing up, these were the papers my family bought each Sunday, along with the woefully mundane Sunday Post. I've never figured out quite why my parents bought these papers, as my parents were always very friendly and open-minded, but perhaps it too was habit. And so it was a habit that spilled over into my adulthood.

Well, I binned the Sunday Express many, many years ago, as I got fed up hearing yet more tales about dead Diana. Every issue seemed to be another Diana Tribute Special. After Diana died, they seemed to give up on actual news reporting, except for the occasional forced outrage over immigrants (which the Mail did better anyway). I realised that I was reading the same Sunday Express every week, so it was quietly retired in my routine and never replaced.

But the Mail perservered. It may have been rabidly anti-Europe, anti-foreigner, both pro- and anti-Diana, pro-Tory, paranoid about any form of surveillance, obsessed with "Broken Britain", scared of Obama, and pretty much against anything not set in a quaint English village of retirees, but it had the occasional interesting story, a good magazine, a decent review section and once had a double page spread of an owl! Also, I enjoyed appalling my friends, who would buy papers like The Observer, or the Sunday Times, or the Independent on Sunday, or whatever, who would be astonished and horrified that a man such as myself, who walked with the gays, the coloureds and the sick (just like Jesus), could buy a paper holding such right-wing views.

Of course, buying a paper with right-wing views doesn't mean I have to share the views. I'm very capable of reading something and disagreeing with it. It's easy to sit back and read lots of opinions you agree with, it's much more challenging to read and think about a whole bunch of stuff you believe is absolute falsehood, or at least heavily biased. But let's not pretend, that wasn't why I've been reading the Mail on Sunday for the last 13 years. It really, and quite simply, was habit.

And now it's time to break the habit.

You see, the Mail on Sunday, is unutterable garbage. Useless, awful, dull garbage. It's not prime garbage like the Sun or the Star, which still manage to at least be entertaining, have punchy headlines and stories, some quite good sports sections, and very often a half-naked lady; no, the Mail on Sunday is tired and grey and worn-out with outrage. I almost never read any of the stories any more - they are the print equivalent of a fat 50-year old offshore worker ranting about something... I just shut off completely until the noise goes away. The stories don't engage or entertain and they certainly don't inform. I don't take the fat 50-year old tosser out for weekly drinks, so I've begun to wonder why I entertain the Mail on Sunday (only 26 years old, as it happens) in my home each week.

Still, for years I've skimmed the stories, they aren't really the central selling point. What did amuse me more were some of the columnists. Columnists are supposed to be challenging and/or interesting, and for a while they were. But they seem to be on auto-pilot too. Even Peter Hitchens, a man filled with great hate for everything in Britain and especially outside of Britain, although occasionally confused about Muslims as they show religious devoutness, something atheist Britain now lacks - ah, if only he didn't have to live in the same country as them - even he seems to be dashing out his page late on Saturday night from a pre-set list of evils (Britain, Europe, Obama, all politicians, immigrants of course, windfarms, the modern world, lesbians, iPods, cyclists, schools). Though in fairness, he did have a rant about UNESCO and masturbation today. The other columnists have disappeared into a smug world of self-satisfaction that is evidently of great delight to themselves, but not to any readers.

The Sports section is awful. Perhaps in England it's better, but in an attempt to muster a few Scottish readers, they just feature page upon page about Rangers and Celtic. I used to think their reviews were ok, but have realised there's no depth of coverage: the music just seems to be Simply Red, and I don't think I've ever read a book they've reviewed. David Mellor gives every classical music album 5 stars. They have a dire quiz section, including a bafflingly inane chess puzzle which every single week features a single black King and pawn vs about ten white pieces: guys, this is not a puzzle, the game is long over. The letters are all recycled outrage, the only good cartoon (Calvin and Hobbes) they retired over a decade ago, and while I appreciate the gesture of the free CDs, I don't think I'm their target audience (there's been not one piece of German minimal techno yet).

Basically, I buy this paper every week and no longer actually read it.

Therefore, as from next week, the Mail on Sunday is banished from my home, along with its small-minded, paranoid, petty, smug ways.

So, next week, I'm going to enter into a new world and buy a new and different Sunday newspaper. No longer will I have to hang my head in shame when handing over my money. I haven't decided which yet (not the Sunday Express), perhaps I'll give each a trial run, or just rotate the selection, but I am sure that at the very least I'll have some material I can actually read instead of throwing to the ground after fifteen minutes.

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