Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Just accept it Giles, your new baby has made you go all soft

I don't usually feel sorry for a man who calls a woman a 'barren old hag', but I do have some sympathy for the notoriously potty-mouthed restaurant critic Giles Coren after his outburst on Twitter.

Coren's angry nugget-sized rants - which began, in classic Coren style, with a hearty 'f*** off!' - were a response to Huffington Post journalist Alice Vincent tweeting that his latest column, which focused on his new daughter, was a 'yawn', and 'one step up from a mumsnet blogpost'.

Coren struck out violently, then followed his attack on Vincent with a series of sweary lashes directed at other opponents, both imaginary and real (those who took offence at his language included a 'shrill demented piglet').

Coren was soon the target of a number of media attacks, mainly for what was perceived to be the misogynist tone of his original tweet. And it's true, some of his earlier comments were needlessly aggressive, though he calmed down quickly and re-focused on being funny and irreverent, rather than borderline insane.

Reading his missives in sequence the next day, he reminded me of a schoolboy with a hot temper whose Achilles heel had been discovered and publicly mocked in the showers after gym.

It's the nature of that heel which most interested me. Because it struck me that 23-year-old Alice Vincent's sneer for a onetime provocateur-turned-doting-dad was exactly the kind of throwaway taunt Coren himself might have tossed out in his bachelor boy days.

Having long enjoyed his infamy as an iconoclastic taboo-buster who revelled in flicking the V at every form of social etiquette, Coren has found his rock'n'roll status in serious peril now that he's a dad. He's discovered the terrible truth that babies have magical forces which not only mellow their parents, but increase their empathy for other people.

(Coincidentally, US brain-training experts Lumosity highlighted breakthrough scientific research showing such alterations in new parent's brains just last week.)

This isn't a problem for most people. But when you've prided yourself for years on your rock'n'roll take no prisoners attitude, finding yourself welling up at the sight of a toddler shakily taking its first step can scare you.

You are losing your edge. I reckon this is the fear Alice Vincent tapped into when she implied that Coren had become the Hallmark cliche of a proud daddy.

Ironically the once equally incendiary TV presenter Charlie Brooker waded in to support Coren, the same week Brooker wrote a feature about how his first child had affected his stock in trade ability to be engaged and enraged by mainstream pop culture.

Unfortunately there's nothing the Corens and Brookers of the world can do. Coren's kneejerk panic-induced response - to prove his old credentials by firing off some inflammatory Malcolm Tucker-style insults - won't reverse the real changes in his instincts.

I know this myself, having gone through my twenties joyfully kicking out at every establishment figure, value and product in my path as a matter of principle.

I haven't become Carol Smillie yet, but the brio of hatred which once gave me my coveted cutting edge has been blunted. These days I cry when Nick Knowles builds a sunhouse for a kid with a skin complaint on DIY SOS.

This is your soft-focus future, Giles Coren, you can't escape it. At least you have a new daughter to make up for your loss.

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