Sorry by Giles Coren
Iwould like to say sorry.
To my sister, Victoria, for sticking out my leg when you came running excitedly into the telly room in 1976, when you were four and I was seven, to tell me and Daddy something (I never found out what), so that you tripped and fell and smashed your head on the onyx-topped iron coffee table and cried and cried and cried. I don’t know why I did it. I have never known. That trip could serve as a metaphor for so many of the stupid, mean things I have done in my life without knowing why or even noticing I was doing it. I’m such a twat. I’m sorry, ’Toria. I love you.
To my gerbils, Pixie and Dixie, for not coming to feed you often enough when my mum made you go and live in the garage because you smelled (because I never cleaned your cage), and for not noticing the temperature was dropping as Christmas approached. And for not being there when you died. And never taking you out of your cage and holding you because, frankly, I found gerbils a bit creepy.
To Sidney Snyderman, with your bad legs and your walking frame, for ringing the doorbell and running away almost every day in the late Seventies, on the basis that you were probably a Nazi. I grasp now that you were a rabbi, and cannot have been both.
To our cat, Percy, who used to claw a bit before settling down in my lap when I was watching telly. I hated the clawing, so always pushed you off. Then you died and for the 40 years since I have just wished you could be sitting here on my lap, all warm and purring, with your thick ginger fur and no tail from when you got it snapped off chasing the postman through traffic on his bicycle.
To Polish people, because the Holocaust that happened on your soil wasn’t really entirely your fault like I wrote once that it was. Not entirely.
To my dad, for crying when you bought me
a strawberry Cornetto in Corfu in 1974 instead of a chocolate one with nuts on. That was ungrateful of me and made you sad. I did apologise probably 1,000 times over the next 30 years, but I am still sorry.
To the huge lizard, at least a foot long and a beautiful emerald green, that I saw by the pool on that same holiday, for pointing you out to the gardener, who cut off your head with a spade.
To my nanny, the one with the perm who was with us for maybe six months in the midSeventies, I forget your name, for kicking you in the face and breaking your glasses and making you so angry. But to be fair you were tickling me, and I was only five and wriggling involuntarily. You didn’t have to make quite such a big thing out of it.
To Portuguese people, because I know you think your food is very nice. And who am I to have written that it wasn’t?
To Katerina from Munich, whom I met on the school German exchange when I was 16. You were tall and blonde and beautiful and everyone was in love with you and for some reason I was the English boy you chose. You didn’t know that I was the swotty nerd virgin of the group — that got lost in translation. So then we snogged all night down by the lake and when we parted you said, “Come to my house tomorrow. My mother is out. I show you how much I love you.” But I didn’t go. Because I was scared you’d want to have sex with me. And then for months afterwards you wrote me letters. But I never wrote back because I was scared this might lead eventually to sex. I still have the letters.
To Francine from Megève, for similar reasons. We fell in love when I was 17 and you flew to England to be with me. But I wouldn’t be alone with you in case you wanted to have sex with me. And on the day you left you said, “Next time you come to see me, yes? And then we have sex with us.” And you wrote to me for months, but I never wrote back. In case it led to sex. I still have those letters too.
To Heloise, who slept over at mine, in my bed, after a midnight zombie special at the Hampstead Classic, for telling you, when you asked me to get into bed with you, that I preferred to sleep on the floor as “I don’t do that sort of thing”. And for the rumour that went around (which I didn’t start) that I wouldn’t do it with you because I thought you might have Aids. When it was just that I was scared.
To my old English teacher, whose house I wouldn’t go round to for tea to watch Wimbledon on the telly after school. Yes, you were a paedophile but you probably wouldn’t have done anything that bad. And frankly how much worse would sex with you have been than all the teenage girls I was later too afraid to do it with anyway?
To all fat people. For years I have mocked you, thinking that was the best way to get your attention and change your ways, advocating everything from direct punitive taxation of the obese to rendering them down for candles. I understand now that what I was passing off as satire was just cruelty and came mostly from a place of self-loathing based around my own childhood struggles with self-image. From now on, I am resolved to take a more constructive approach to the obesity crisis, going after the corporations that deliberately perpetuate our fat and sugar addictions. Right after I’ve eaten this box of delicious Krispy Kreme donuts.
To all the angry men in cars I have pursed my lips and blown kisses at after cutting them up in traffic. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I do it.
To Nigella, for whatever I did. Because I have a feeling we’re not speaking anymore. Was it that thing I wrote? It wasn’t meant to be mean. It was meant to be admiring. But we’ve known each other a long time and I shouldn’t have used a story about you as the hook for a stupid opinion piece. I was just strapped for an idea that week. But it was intrusive and inelegant and I’m honestly really, really sorry.
To my dad, for taking you for a Chinese meal when you were in your last illness and ordering all sorts of exotic stuff like tripe and chicken’s feet when all you wanted was chow mein noodles and beef in oyster sauce. I was always on at you to try new things but, really, when you only have a few weeks to live that is probably not the time (which I think you might have pointed out to me).
To my daughter, Kitty, for trying to bathe you in a big, transparent plastic bucket when we first brought you home from hospital. It was what they said to do in all the books. But you
fucking hated it. You screamed and went purple and climbed back up my arm, clawing away with your tiny purple arms — it was like trying to force an octopus down a rabbit hole — until I handed you to your mother and ran out of the bathroom and sat in a corner and cried and cried and cried… which probably freaked you out even more and fucked you up for life. Although maybe not. Because you’re eight now and still think it’s funny and quite often at bath time scream, “No! No! Help! Help!” And when I panic, you smile and go, “Was it like that when you tried to bath me in the bucket, Dad?”
To all the Christmas turkeys I have brined in that bucket over the last eight years. I’m sorry, you probably didn’t like being in there any more than Kitty. But I had to get some use out of it.
To my Ford Fiesta. I bought you in 2002 because a sign over the forecourt said, “Two years’ fully comprehensive insurance with any new car”, and with my driving record at the time that was the only way I could get insured at all. Since then you have been the most faithful servant despite me treating you like absolute shit, bumping you into width restrictions and bollards and other cars pretty much monthly so that every panel is dented and scratched and bent and warped. And there must be a million crisp packets and sweetie wrappers and apple cores in that landfill site of a back seat. And yet on you chug, remorselessly, never breaking down, never giving up. I’m sorry. I love you.
To Hadley Freeman of The Guardian. You put me in the “going up” column of The Guardian Magazine fashion pages in about 2003 and we subsequently went out for lunch at a Sudanese place in Notting Hill that you liked. And then I was mean about it when I reviewed our meal in The Times and wrote a pretty ungracious and stupid article all round. And then you put me in the “going down” column. Quite rightly.
But most of all to my dear friend and neighbour, X. Around 10 years ago, at the dawn of Twitter, I wrote a tweet about the 12-year-old kid next door getting a drum kit and how angry I was and what it made me want to do to him. I thought it was funny. I didn’t think anyone would see it. I didn’t think you would see it. I didn’t understand social media back then. Nobody did (does anybody now?). Well, you did see it. Everyone saw it. And not a day has gone by since that I didn’t give a moment or two to regretting that. We didn’t speak for a long time and now we do again, for which I am incredibly grateful. Now that my kids are six and eight, I see how it must have felt. Your own beloved boy being spoken about like that in a joke on the internet by some mouthy cunt you had to live next door to. If someone wrote that about Sam, I just don’t know what I’d do. I am so, so sorry.
Oh, and to my wife. For being a twat. Literally. That’s what you said. I asked, “Who else do you think I need to say sorry to?” And you said, “Me.” And I said, “Why?” And you said, “For being a twat.” So there you go.