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A Life Less Ordinary – Giles Coren

“My wife married me when she could have done much, much better”

Giles Coren is restaurant critic and a columnist for The Times, editor-at-large of Esquire and a presenter of TV shows, mainly about food, mainly for the BBC.

Where do you go to think, and why?
Hampstead Heath. Thinking while stationary leads me to complicated and dark places, whereas running, after the first twenty minutes or so, puts me into a sort of trance where everything in my mind just sort of resolves itself on its own. It’s by looking away from my problems, rather than at them, that I usually come to something useful.

What are the everyday pleasures that you can’t live without?
The cuddles and kisses of my children. I’d say of my wife, too, but they are much, much harder to get, so I have to accept going without sometimes.

To whom do you look for advice most often, and why?
Everyone and no one. I ask everybody but then ignore them. With work I used to always ask my dad. But he died. The thing about parents, assuming they are good parents, is that when you ask their advice they then talk to you about you, rather than about themselves, which is what most people do.

What’s the best thing you’ve done for someone else, and why?
I’ve sent my daughter to a co-educational ‘progressive’ school with no uniforms, no homework till 11 and no exams till 16 because I had all that highly pressured prep school, public school, Oxbridge stuff and it’s bollocks and kills the mind.

What’s the best thing anyone’s done for you, and why?
My wife married me when I was a drunk angry bastard of 40 who looked liked he would never be happy when she could have done much, much better. Totally selfless behaviour, which paid off when I miraculously became nicer (though not younger).

Thinking of Mike Atherton opening the batting for England makes me weep

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been, and why was it so good?
Cariaccou, an island off Grenada. There’s a B&B there with five rooms run by a Swedish couple who do Nordic stuff to the fish of the Caribbean so it’s all smoked lobster and gravad barracuda. And there aren’t really any people.

What’s the best thing you can cook, and why is it so good?
Baked potato put in the oven at full heat and left until it goes hard and almost black, then smashed and dressed with its own weight of butter and lots of salt and pepper. Tastes as much like a childhood bonfire night as possible and it is something no restaurant is able to do. (although I had a ‘baked potato consomme’ at El Bulli in 2004 that came close).

How do you make yourself happy?
By going home. And then going to sleep.

Name the art and/or culture that most inspires you or enriches your leisure time.
The novel. I have no interest in poetry anymore and I have never much cared for music or painting or dance or theatre or any of that shit you have to do with a load of other people pretending to enjoy themselves. The novel is all I need. I have probably read all the great ones of the past so I am generally rereading one of those, while at the same time going through a stack of novels by new young writers which are mostly rubbish but then when you come on a great one are very exciting because the author is not dead and may thus write more.

Can you name something you’ve bought that you would never give away, and why you wouldn’t?
I have never bought anything I wouldn’t give away because I am not much into stuff. I’ve got a couple of houses which I guess it would be stupid to just hand over in the street to a stranger who asked nicely, but really everything else – the cars, clothes, books, furniture, pots and pans, toothbrushes – I suppose you can have if you really want them.

When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised, and how?
When my two-year-old son – who is just a fat happy kid who loves trucks and is in no way precocious – recognised the number ‘14’ on a front door on our way to the park. It was a fluke, but it was briefly like hearing a fish talk.

When was the last time you made or created something, and what was it?
I write 1500 words every day. A lot of it is shit bashed off in an hour but people seem to like it so I consider it ‘creative writing’.

What do you consider your greatest achievement, and why?
Really, truly? The fact that I am basically rich and successful despite the fact that I have never had any ambition and work only in the mornings, never in the evening or at weekends or in August. And never will. For me, my family and my sleep come first and if I’ve got those then I’d be happy living on benefits. So the fact that I am considered quite a major columnist, and win prizes sometimes and get to present television shows and do lucrative corporate gigs is an unceasing miracle to me.

What do you consider humankind’s greatest achievement, and why?
The fact that it hasn’t wiped itself out yet, for all its trying.

Who best demonstrates, or has demonstrated, the courage of their convictions, and why?
Mike Atherton. I don’t know why but just thinking of him opening the batting for England makes me weep. For a man so educated and imaginative and clever (as he has now proved himself to be in his writing, which is the best there has been on cricket in this country for many years) to have applied himself so doggedly to survival at the crease in the face of the most hostile bowling in the world, in a sport for the most part played by jolly simpletons, is the best kind of bloody-mindedness I can imagine.

What song could you sing most completely right now?
‘The dogs they had a meeting’ [an Australian folk song]. My dad used to sing it to me, and I sing it to my kids. I have probably sung it 10,000 times over the last 40 years and I still laugh when I try to sing, “So each dog grabbed a bottom from off the nearest hook”.

What’s the best journey you’ve ever been on, and why?
BA first class return to Mumbai with my wife as a sort of pre-honeymoon. It would have been our honeymoon but I couldn’t get an air miles flight in May so we went before. India itself I didn’t much like, so the journey there and back in those lovely walnut veneered pods with great food and wine (I recall a bottle of Chateau Gloria 2000) and loads of movies was very much the highlight.

If you could do one thing to change the status quo, what would it be, and why?
I’d make everyone love each other, man.

You have one trip in a time machine: where and when would you go, and why?
Southern England in the late Victorian Golden Age of cricket. I think I’d be just good enough by the standards of those times to play for a county. I would want to come back pretty sharpish though in about 1909. I wouldn’t want to have to live through the horrors that followed over the next 40 years.

If money were no object, what would you buy and why?
Money is not an object, it’s a figment of the imagination. There is nothing in the world I want, that I have not got, that money could buy.