His essays, especially those Punch ones, would start off with some little observation about an oddity. And then launch out into fabulous fantasies of why, why the oddity?
Driving across Europe over the weekend, as I did, I noted that today is the Swiss National Holiday. As a result of which, the border crossings (or at least one of them) are closed. Signs near Mulhouse stating that the crossing to Basel will be closed (think that’s the two places).
OK, but why?
Sure, the simple answer is that the border guards get the day off. That would not have done for Coren.
Instead we would have had the tale of the grizzled veteran of the guards talking to the new recruit the night before. Why do we get tomorrow off boss? The explanation being that the Swiss Day is of course the day when we both celebrate and explain being Swiss, teach it to the new generation. And we don’t want the foreigners to see that, do we? Not the celebration, that’s fine, but the explanation. Who wants foreigners to know how to use a cuckoo clock to charm the Swatch down off the alpine pastures as they hatch from their crysalis (crysalises?) so they can be captured? Think of the horror of some German learning how to use the alpentuba to set Toblerone! William Tell as a fertility dance.
What bugs is that he could do this without apparent effort (so I was told by someone who worked with him for years). It’s trivially easy to note the oddity, not very much more difficult to sketch out odd explanations for the oddity. But to turn that into 1200 words of whimsical logic is near impossible without that special something. The rules are very like farce – or even tragedy. It’s the one point, the mistake, right at the beginning that determines everything else. All must flow logically from that first point. But if you can just tweak that first point 5 degrees off reality then you can have the most wondrous fun.
The problem is that it’s fucking difficult to do. And Coren could do it.
He’s one of those (few) writers who turn me absolutely green with envy. I can recognise the genius and also know that I simply cannot do it myself. Bugger.
Wish he’d stuck around rather longer so there was more of it that I could read….
BTW, if you’ve not read him the very best piece for me is in the Alan Coren Omnibus, a collection of the Punch pieces. The one about Moses and Aaron having to write the book…..starts with a clipping from the Mail ( I think) saying scientists now have orthographical proof that the first five books of the Bible were written by one person……ends with a very fine joke indeed.