An Open Letter to @caitlinmoran

Back in the 1990s I hated Caitlin Moran.

To be fair, back in the 1990s I hated pretty much everything. I hated crap TV and I hated Ocean Colour Scene and I hated Volkswagen Beetles and I hated marzipan. I hated everything, because I was in my 20s and when you’re in your 20s you think it’s your job to be nihilistic and dismissive and full of hate for everything.

So, sometime in the early part of the decade, I decided I hated Caitlin Moran.

My dad, if he was reading this rather than watching some World War Two documentary about Panzers on the History Channel, would raise his eyebrows and counsel wisely in his Wigan way: “Ee, lad, hate’s a strong word.”

But in the 90s, everybody hated everything, only not in a proper hate sort of way. Not even, half of the time, in a “I mildly dislike this” sort of way. Most of the time, it was just something to say. To sound interesting.

I first saw Caitlin Moran backstage at the Glastonbury Festival in the early 90s. She was wearing a long, flowing white dress that somehow she’d managed to keep immaculately clean. I was lying on my back in the grass with my friend, pointing at celebrities.

“There’s Miki from Lush,” I said.

“There’s Caitlin Moran,” he said.

I looked up and squinted in the cottony sunshine. I knew who Caitlin Moran was. She was younger than me. She had a column in The Times.

She was hatefully talented. At the time, I was a young journalist on a local newspaper. I considered myself hatefully talented as well. She wrote a column for The Times. I was slogging it out on the regionals. Was Caitlin Moran more talented than me? Was that even possible?

I leaned back in the grass and closed my eyes against the sun. “I hate Caitlin Moran,” I probably said. I can’t quite remember exactly, because it was Glastonbury and things had all gone a bit Pete Tong, as we used to say in the 90s. But I probably said something like that.

I was a journalist and hatefully talented but I came from a working class family with no more than two ha’pennies to rub together at any particular moment. This, I reasoned, was why I didn’t have a column on The Times. I was a complete working class hero back then. I used to walk around with an interesting paperback stuffed into the pocket of my leather coat at all times, and tried to say things sparklingly controversial to anyone who would listen. Caitlin Moran, I imagined, came from a big house in London. She would be very posh – she was called Caitlin, after all. That was a posh name, wasn’t it? Her dad had probably got her the job on The Times. Her dad was probably the editor of The Times! If only I’d had those opportunities!

I was, obviously, a bit of a twat around this time.

Thus, in my head, Caitlin Moran became my bete noir. I’d read that phrase in one of the books I carried around. I had no idea how to pronounce it, so I kept this particular observation in my head. But the idea of Caitlin Moran as my nemesis seeped into the consciousness of my group of friends – most of them journalists – and it became some kind of standing joke. Even to the point that, years later, one of them texted me to tell me that Caitlin Moran had won a clutch of journalism awards, and what did I think about that? Was I going to say something funny? Something hilariously cutting?

I didn’t quite know what to say. I’d quite forgotten that I was supposed to hate Caitlin Moran. I’d even started actually reading her column, and following her on Twitter, and one day mentioned something hilarious she’d tweeted to a friend. He glanced at me and said, “You’ve changed your tune.”

Had I? Oh God. I hadn’t even realised I had a tune, much less one about Caitlin Moran.

Then, last year, I read How To Be A Woman. I stood on a chair and declared I was a feminist. And last week I read How To Build A Girl. And it was utterly, utterly brilliant.

And somewhere in the middle of it all I realised that, no, Caitlin Moran wasn’t actually a toff whose dad had got her a plum job after all. In fact, it was my wife who had encouraged me to read How To Be A Woman because, she said, “Caitlin Moran’s upbringing sounds exactly like yours. You’d get on like a house on fire.”

Except, sometime long ago when I was young and an objectionable twat, I’d decided that I hated her. Now I’m old and a different sort of objectionable twat, I realise just how fankly v. poor this all was. Back in the 90s I had a working class chip (smothered in mushy peas and gravy) on my shoulder that was so heavy I could barely get my copy of Our Lady of the Flowers out of my pocket. I was, in a word, jealous of Caitlin Moran.

I didn’t hate her at all. I didn’t really hate anything in the 90s. Now I hate all sorts of things, but the right things – banks running roughshod over the economy, poverty, idiots who kill school-rooms full of kids, proper toffs in Government who think they know how normal people live, the illnesses that are wracking my dad’s body. These are the things I hate. So I probably owe Caitlin Moran an apology, though she’s been blissfully unaware of all this anyway. I actually think she’s pretty great, and a fantastic journalist, and a wonderful writer. So there. One 90s ghost laid to rest.

I stand by the marzipan, though. And, probably, Ocean Colour Scene. Sorry.


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