Questionable Time #73


questionable-time-73-david-dimbleby-pop-poster

Good morning Lemmings and remember the rash claim I made last time about QT entering some sort of Golden Age? Yeah well I was wrong. Really wrong. Instead it seems that we’re now back to an Off-Beige Age of QT – an extended exercise in mediocrity not dissimilar in both colour and consistency to that of an undercooked Greggs sausage roll and definitely a million miles away from the soaring heights of the past two weeks. Still, you’re here and I’m here so let’s try to make a go of this. To ambivalence and beyond…

Hands up who didn’t do their homework last night?

For those of you who aren’t in my living room right now I am now holding my hand up while for those of you who are in my living room, please leave. Anyway, I had a bad case of partial information last night that led to a certain confounding of expectations. Basically, I’ve been aware of the Afriyie story, seen his picture in the paper but somehow never heard him speak. Essentially, my mental arithmetic on him looked like this:

Stridently Anti-EU Tory Backbencher

+

MP for one of the most Tory of Tory seats

+

Looks ever so slightly fey in

a sort of Tim Nice But Dim sort

of way.

+

Involvement in madcap parliamentary longshot

=

A fresh butterfly to be broken on the QT wheel

Well, it turns out that I was off the mark because far from being the wet-behind-the-ears Mogglian Shire puppet I was expecting he actually proved to be the real deal: A genuine up-by-the-bootstraps success story who really isn’t that bad at Question Timing. Sure, some of the ‘Who me?’-ing over his leadership ambitions were a little lame and many of the details were a bit slippery but his overall performance was pretty solid. Beware No. 10, the ‘Afriyie’s mental’ narrative will only hold for so long.

What’s the big hurry?

They were a jostley bunch last night, a bunch that like to jostle and if there’s one thing in life that I can do without its jostlers. Take the crowd for example: They all had the look of school children so desperate to be picked by teacher that they support their raised hands with their remaining arm and contort their faces into a painful looking ‘Pleeeeeeeeeease Sir!’. I dread to think what the queue for the studio was like but I imagine it would have been rich in sharp elbows and poor in mellow vibes. However, it tends to be the panel that the audience take their cues off and within that we find two prime contenders for the title of Biggest Jostler Of Them All: Jo Swinson and Sarah Churchwell.

Of the two, Swinson has the more complex Jostle and is what I would describe as a Vexed Jostler in that she knows the Jostle resides within her, has profited from it in the past (I suspect that her rise involved a great deal of Jostling) but is also aware that the Jostle can become overpowering and eventually hinder your ends. As a result she tends to go into questions with a certain level of restraint: The Jostle’s there but she’s keeping it in check by using pre-cooked openers and a very linear, point-by-point approach. When this works it’s pretty potent – you know, the sort of thing that makes you think ‘this person means business’ – but there’s always a danger of the subject becoming intoxicated by the Jostle. Swinson’s particular vulnerability to over-Jostling comes when she’s challenged and this is where we see all that prior restraint go out of the window. Suddenly everything’s going at a million miles an hour, the linear approach has been ditched in favour of the scattergun and her face does that thing (see. Fig .1).

Jo Swinson .gif

Fig. 1

By contrast, Churchwell is what I would call an Innate Jostler and appears to be much more at ease with her Inner Jostle (a cultural element may be at play here as Americans seem to respect – nay, worship – the Jostle while to be British is to be slightly ashamed of the Jostle that resides within us all). In practice this means that she spends a lot of time delivering ambiguities in the tone of certainties, like in the first question about the price freeze. Now, if you had just come into the room midway through that piece you’d think ‘Bloody hell, that Sarah Churchwell sounds like she knows what she’s on about’ because it was an emphatic delivery aided by unrestrained Jostle. However, if you actually listened to the words you’d find that it was a very long ‘no but maybe but probably but maybe’ – yet it sounded good and that’s because she embraced her Inner Jostle.

So what do you get when you put two Jostlers in the room at the same time? You get words. Loads of bloody words. Some of the words were good – like Churwell’s bit on the education system – but most of them were just random placeholders blurted out at a terrifying rate as the combined volume of Jostle led to a runaway chain reaction. In fact, if you missed last night’s episode then just stare at the above .gif for an hour or so because you’ll end up with the same sensation: Motion sickness and the urgent need to be in a less Jostly environment.

Welcome back to nowhere!

There was a rather touching scene early in the show where Dimbers joshed Dianne Abbott for getting fired but sort of welcomed her back to the wilderness with more than a dash of affection. It was nice. Dianne looked rather touched, Dimbers smiled, the crowd awwed and I felt all warm inside. Later on Dimbers reminded everyone that Abbott sent her kids to private school and did so with more than a dab of glee. It was nice. Dianne looked grumpy, Dimbers crowed, the crowd applauded and I felt my heart returning to its cold and deadened state. Welcome back Dianne!

Matthew Parris was just calling it in last night…

To be fair there wasn’t a great deal for him to get his teeth into but I really was quite overawed by just how blasé he was last night. Schools? What’s the point, I can’t read. Price freezes? Yeah, whatever. Are you in the QT studio or at a cocktail party? The what-now? When’s the food coming? Oh look, olives!

Tl:dr

Swinson: 5/10

(Was doing everything on the) Quick

Afriyie: 6/10

(Isn’t half as) Thick (as I thought he would be)

Abbott: 5/10

(Looked ready to throw a) Brick (at Dimbers)

Churchwell: 5/10

(Would be my) Pick (for fastesttalkingpersoninthewholeworld)

Parris: 5/10

(Could have called in) Sick (but didn’t)

The Crowd: 5/10

(Can’t wait to beat Michael) Crick (about the head with a UKIP brochure)?

Actually, while we’re talking about the crowd there were two audience members of note. The first was the civil servant in the fetching red suit/black shirt/red tie combo who made a very good point that was completely lost on me because I was trying to imagine what it would be like working in the Ministry of Wedding DJ’s. The second was the Adrian Mole-esque youngster who insinuated that his teacher’s were only in it for money. I like to picture him playing it out in his head before the show: The applause, the rapture, Dimbers carrying him aloft on his shoulders as the world rejoices at the birth of a star. Unfortunately, these imagined events did not come to pass and he’ll just have to make do with an uncomfortable silence punctuated by some sarky sounding ‘ooh’s for now. Tough break kid. Welcome to QT.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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