This is the moment I dread every week. This one. This precise, fleeting instant that will be gone by the time the unswerving laws of grammar compel my reluctant fingers to reach the next full stop. Because, you see, these are the five seconds I have in which to hook you into reading this article, and that sort of pressure always gets to me. All I can do at this stage is hope that you’ve reached this far already and, if you are still out there, I need to start making your reading time worthwhile. And fast.
The problem is that the pressure always arrives so suddenly. Here I am, taking a quiet break in an unobtrusive part of the newspaper when your gaze suddenly casts a brilliant spotlight over the page. The beam rushes madly from side to side before coming across the massive T typed above, singling me out to stand alone and quivering in the glare of your critical searchlight. ‘Dance for me, clown. Make me laugh’. The pressure is stultifying. How would you like it if I only gave you 163 words in which to prove your worth?
Drat. I’ve put my foot in it. Damn, damn, damn. Already. I knew I should have taken more time over this.
The fact is that I was trying to break something to you gently. Because – well, there is no easy way of saying this. You see, this week – and for this week only – I’m leading a double life. I’m cheating on you behind your back. Well, in front of your front, to be honest, because I’m being unfaithful right now; by attempting the impossible task of pleasing two readers at once. I don’t actually mean that there are currently only two people casting their eyes over this page. No, that would be absurd. My readership is vast. Colossal. In fact, if all my readers were laid horizontally and placed head to toe, then the resulting chain would…er…well…um…look faintly ridiculous. But seriously, what I mean to say is that there are two distinct personae casting their eyes over this page. Two archetypes, if you will allow me to do to Jung what Oedipus did to his mother for a moment. And being the lovely physicist that I am I will, in my lovely physicist way, refer to you two as Alice and Bob.
Now you, Alice, are a fresh-faced, rosy-limbed young fresher. Twinkly of eye, bushy of tail, supple of limb and smooth of skin, you are as attractive a corner of the readership market as one could hope to be writing for.
Bob, on the other hand, is entering yet another year at Imperial. The experiences of university life have irrevocably changed him into a sadder, yet wiser man. He’s been around the block a few times, and the view has been so mind-numbingly depressing that he insists on returning here. Bob has heard it all before and, quite frankly, he’s sick of hearing it again. With the majestic changing of the seasons, he has seen past issues of felix dissolve into compost, words that took weeks to put together ripped apart in seconds by the unforgiving elements and the most witty, engaging and challenging of columnists slowly fade away to be replaced by people like me. With the maturity and cynicism born of years spent in this place, Bob has little patience for the frilly idealism and whimsical humour that might send Alice into giddy fits of exhilaration. Bob, in other words, has no Barack Obama sticker on his (clearly) Microsoft laptop.
And this, dearest Alice and Bob, is where the horns of the dilemma on which I am sitting start causing irreparable damage to my fleshy parts. How do I keep Alice entertained without causing Bob to foam at the mouth at my naive and optimistic pandering? And, no less importantly, how do I keep Alice from closing the paper in tears at the sight of the naked, unadulterated cynicism coursing through my veins?
Well, darling Alice and Bob, me ol’ sweetheart, it looks like I won’t have to answer that particular question today. The coward’s way out, certainly, but ‘he who writes and runs away should never ever end a comment piece on a pun that abysmally bad.’