The death last weekend of A.A. Gill struck me hard. He was a stylish, witty writer with the most scathing bon mots.
One of my favorites is one that just came out this year: “We all know what ‘getting our country back’ means. It’s snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia. The warm, crumbly, honey-coloured, collective ‘yesterday’ with its fond belief that everything was better back then, that Britain (England, really) is a worse place now than it was at some foggy point in the past where we achieved peak Blighty.”
I immediately went back to when I first read A.A. Gill. It was the mid-1990s. I was living in Cape Town. It was a media desert. I didn’t have a television. There was no internet. No social media. No magazines. The daily papers took about five minutes to read, so bereft of real reporting and real depth. The weekly paper, the Mail & Guardian, was irregularly distributed and very hard to find; I went to outlandish and often unsuccessful lengths to locate copies when it came out on Fridays.
My landlord, Paddy, living further up the hill, had a subscription to the Sunday Times. It was airmailed, at great cost, from London and would arrive five or six days after printing. After reading it, he would drop it by my place on his way to his daily constitutional. It was a massive moment when I heard his rich Irish brogue calling from the garden. Finally, something substantive.
Gill, who had just started writing for the Sunday Times, was the best. I gobbled up his columns, his essays, his reviews. I usually ended up reading them aloud to my friends. I had no idea who Gill was and I didn’t agree with him every time, but he was a delicious glass of cold water in that desert.
He never wrote about squash, as far as I can tell, as least the sport. He did come down hard on Wimbledon. In 2014 he wrote about the Wimbledon and Glastonbury: “I don’t remember being so struck by how similar these two festivals are, both moulded in the cosy, chintzy, grotesque vernacular of the Establishment. Just as we once yearned for an Englishman—at a pinch, a Scotsman—to win on Centre Court, so now we wonder whether an English, possibly Irish, band will headline on the big stage again. Glasto and Wimbles are both made by bad weather, silly food, horrible cocktails and ghastly people. They are not so much about being there as who can afford to be there, and which foreign celebrities are papped in the crowd. They have been taken over by corporate hospitality and great gouts of cultural nostalgia.”