The Reading Room

Lines in the Sand

New collection of essays by A.A. Gill….

Following the death of A.A. Gill in December 2016 Wiedenfeld and Nicolson have published Lines in the Sand: Collected Journalism in memory of the man who wrote for The Sunday Times, GQ, Australian Gourmet Traveller and Esquire as well as a number of his own books. Gill was perhaps best known for his rapier wit which sliced apart restaurants and chefs with carefree abandon in his weekly column as restaurant critic for The Sunday Times, he provoked celebrity chefs with over zealous descriptions of their dishes, dining out at the best London had to offer with his partner Nicola ‘The Blonde’ Formby and a few double-barrelled named friends designed to keep the rest of us firmly in our middle class suburban place.

Whilst I never always agreed with Gill’s approach to his role as restaurant critic, particularly when he cremated those outside of the London and Home Counties area who were cooking for a more moderate clientele and lacked the funds to match the Ramsay’s of the culinary world, I did admire his more serious journalism. Whether he visited Syria, the Congo or, as in this collection, Grimsby, he reported on the facts as they stood, he took a more considered approach and offered a thought-provoking opinion which seldom matched the common narrative.

Gill always cut a fashionable dash, he looked richer than he was, he socialised in circles way beyond his own personal means yet never tried to distance himself from his past as an alcoholic, a gardener, and a man whose 20’s were spent mostly on the dole scratching around to buy his next drink. He could be excruciatingly, brutally insulting about people and places, few, including the Welsh, the Isle of Man and the lesbian TV presenter Clare Balding escaped Gill’s venom, much of it cruel and unjust but a lot of it quietly true and agreeable.

This collection of his writing covers a broad range of subjects from PG Wodehouse to the plight of the Rohingyas, a tribute to Sir Don McCullin, Kipling, his infamous review of the singer Morrissey’s autobiography and travels to New York, Scotland, Mexico, Hong Kong, Botswana, The Lebanon as well as the aforementioned Humberside. In the latter he is given an evening tour of the nightspots of Grimsby and Cleethorpes with the local police commissioner who took exception to Gill’s account and particularly his suggestion that the ‘slut-shaming commissioner’ whom Gill describes as ‘serviced and paid for’ by the inebriated local youth should look in the mirror before criticising his own public. Gill saw behind the attempts by the local dignitaries to portray the area as something it isn’t and realised that the town had long been propped up by the local beer drinker and the notion of a coffee culture society espoused by the commissioner and his cronies was knowingly wrong, misleading and unobtainable. I speak from experience.

As a fan of the art of essay writing, Gill’s posthumous collection is a worthwhile read, a considerable achievement given his chronic dyslexia and late introduction to writing and journalism. It prompted me to reassess my opinion of the man and what he wrote. When he was angry, be it on Europe, Syria, the refugee crisis or poverty, he made a compelling case and his words deserve republishing and rereading even if, occasionally, the truth hurts.

A.A. Gill Lines in the Sand; Collected Journalism is published by Wiedenfeld and Nicolson 2017

ISBN: HB 978 1 4760515 1

 

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