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Hampstead Twats – by Nick Bryans of Shouting At Cows

June 28, 2012

I am always pleased when I find I am not completely alone in my critical Graun-watching. Shouting At Cows is a media and popular culture blog, and it has some very funny, very sharp commentary on the Guardian. I’ve picked this piece from 2011 to quote from here, because it is an irreverent article about Laurie Penny, which has to be a good thing. Below the extract there are some links to more Shouting At Cows blogposts. I’m sure I’ll feature them again!

‘This story is tantamount to their problems, and – quite possibly – the worst thing I have ever read in the Grauniad.

‘He was in his underpants eating a radish and an oyster at the same time’

Nick Lezard is 48, enjoys a drink and keeps magazines in the bidet. Laurie Penny is 24, virtually teetotal and never empties the bin. Unlikely flatmates? You’d be surprised …


Just….*sigh*. Our problems with Laurie Penny go back a while to this article we wrote on her a number of months back, which invoked much debate (and her to insult my spelling. But that’s another story). Anyway, in this piece we have these two as some sort of odd couple. She has pink hair. He eats radishes. They literally couldn’t be more different.

See, you’d think that two London writers with similar views on society that have both worked for the Guardian would have nothing in common. But, as the title says, you’d be surprised!

The piece reads almost like a Viz-Parody comic entitled ‘Hampstead Twats’, about two new-age people living in that-there-London who just think they’re the quirkiest, most hippest duo since Milli-Vanilli. Imagine Real Ale Twats meets Leon. The turns of phrase are honestly vomit-inducing. Laurie’s take on event concerns how her friends couldn’t believe she was lodging in a flat with, get this, someone a bit older. Talk about a shock to the system! He’s like 48! He’s practically dead!

When I told my friends that I was leaving inner-city proto-bohemia and moving in with a man I’d met at work who was old enough to have worn Joy Division T-shirts before they were retro, a few eyebrows were raised.

Probably because you use phrases like ‘proto-bohemia’.

I needed a place in a hurry, and I fell in love with the house – a rickety flatshare in Marylebone with wonky wooden floors and review copies of every book published in Britain in the past four years stacked on every surface. The books thud through the front door at the rate of four or five a day. 

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Marylebone is not cheap. It’s far from cheap. As far I can tell from her pithy summary, this guy is a consumerist scumbag who snacks on Oysters in his million-odd pound, Victorian style, central London pad (let’s not forget, the man has a shitting bidet!). Surely this would be the FUCKING WORST IMAGINABLE HOUSEMATE for the unofficial voice of the left to bunk with?

Of course, they’ve not seen him standing in his pants and vest in the kitchen at four in the morning, eating a raw radish and an oyster at the same time and opining about the state of radical politics while some of us with deadlines are trying to get to the kettle. If living with Nick has taught me anything, it’s that there’s really no such thing as a grown-up, just people trying to muddle through their responsibilities as best they can while jamming in as much fun as possible.

I would honestly rather go bowling with Rose and Fred West than have morning coffee with these two. Can you imagine the house ‘banter’?

Lezard enters wearing a ‘Stop nuclear war’ T-Shirt, smoking a hamlet and drinking stale Rioja.

Lezard: ‘You know who hate? Thatcher. When’s she gonna give me my bloody milk back?!

Penny: Oh Nick, when will you learn! I’m trying to make a cup of tea here!

Laurie then decides to pen the most Twee paragraph in the history of journalism.

If the amount of time Nick and I spend smoking rollies, complaining about our respective love lives and cackling at videos of cats doing amusing things on YouTube is anything to go by, being in one’s early 20s can be a state of mind. If the time we spent drinking tea and arguing over the best Bob Dylan album is anything to go by, so is being in one’s late 40s. Fundamentally, we’re both writers, and we’re both hopeless romantics, and that means we share a language.


Nick and I have our differences. He believes that tea should always be made in a pot; I believe that Green Day are a good band. He believes that the bins should be taken out more than once a week; I believe that a rotting hole with a broken sink, a bare broken lightbulb, a seatless lavatory and an ancient bidet stacked full of copies of the London Review of Books does not qualify as a “bathroom”. 

This is the ‘where is the tower, where is the gun’ moment for me.

The problem with this is that it has the horrible, teenage, fake-desolate tone that is the dream of every sycophantic English student up and down the country, who thinks that the ideal life is to live as a couple ‘Withnail and I’ rip-offs in central London. You know, central London. Possibly the most expensive area of real estate in the world. But it’s alright, we can get a 3 story Victorian town house on just hopes and dreams. We’re writers, remember? We leave books in the lavvy, smoke roll-ups and argue about the philosophical merit of bins. Richard E. Grant did it, why can’t we?

What I hate, is this idea of ‘poverty-chic’ that leftist writers try and imprint on themselves in order to give their writing some sort of legitimacy. It doesn’t. It just makes you look out of touch with the demographic you profess to represent. Nick Lezard is a successful author. Laurie Penny can include on her CV gigs with Channel 4, BBC, New Statesman, The Guardian and The Independent. These two are a million miles from this image of ‘down and out in London’ that they are trying to pass off as their ‘gimmick’. If these two are as broke as they keep trying to convince the reader that they are, I’ll eat my hat. No, in fact, I’ll eat every hat I own. Actually sod it, I’ll march down to Debenhams with a napkin and a knife and fork, go straight to the headwear department and ask to see the menu. The reality is that these two encapsulate the ‘bougiouse left’, and probably don’t quite have as much in common with Orwell as they seem to think.’


Nick Bryans has some more sharp digs at the Graun on Shouting At Cows. Do check them out!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    June 28, 2012 10:52 pm

    Actually wondering if you’re correct on your original suggestion that Ms Penny is actually satire. From what I recall of my ill fated sojourn in London 10 years ago, the rent in central London for a bedsit 1/5 of the size of my current flat consumed 2/3 of my entire after tax pay. Needless to say I didn’t stay long. I don’t think journalists earn that much. Very odd.

  2. redpesto permalink
    June 29, 2012 12:57 pm

    Yes, I remember that Penny piece: the level of ‘look at meeeee’ could only have been topped by Julie Bindel revealing she’d shacked up with Roman Polanski.

    To be honest, I thought Shouting at Cows ‘8 types of Guardian reader’ was a bit disappointing (though ‘The Downtrodden Partner’ rings bells for me). I quite like this one from BenSix (the comments are good to, though I would say that as some are from me). Plus, he came up with this gem about the commissioning process at Comment is Free, after which you’ll completely understand why there are so many bad comment-baiting articles on that site.

    • June 29, 2012 1:23 pm

      Thanks redpesto i will read those pieces by BenSix and feature one of them here. I don’t know much about the commissioning process at cif as they have never replied to my emails, even before Graunwatch!

      comment is free block me on twitter which I find funny.

  3. July 1, 2012 10:49 am

    Thanks for linking to this Elly. It’s great writing – I’m jealous! The piece on 8 types of Guardian reader is pure gold 🙂

    When critiquing the Guardian here and on other blogs (like David Thompson) we repeatedly find ourselves trying to understand the mindset of these people – so desperate to convince themselves of this evil capitalist conspiracy, and of claims like “we are the 99%”.

    A strange religion: people looking for a cause, making a virtue out of envy, setting up victim groups and hate figures with no self-consciousness at all.

    …which leads us once again to what we should call the “Joy of Laurie Penny”. Recently she had a cringingly hilarious and undignified public spat with David Starkey – who jabbed a finger at her, saying “I came from the bottom” which makes the mind boggle, and also “I will not be lectured to by a spoilt public-schoolgirl like you!”.

    Penny was flustered and said she didn’t appreciate being attcked in public – having dissed just about everyone around her as racists and tax-avoiders for the last half hour.

    The whole thing is on YT. Sheer delight.

  4. John permalink
    July 1, 2012 5:30 pm

    They truly are the 1%.

    The other 99% of us didn’t do to Oxford, work for the Guardian, New Statesmen, Indy and BBC, live in central London and loaf about.

    The other 99% of us work for a Fecking living.

  5. elflojo84 permalink
    July 1, 2012 9:30 pm

    Hey Elly, long time no see.

    I saw this and thought of you:

    Enjoy! It takes something special to come across as the villain in a panel featuring David Starkey…

    As for the housemates thing, I remember reading it when it first came out, and yes it’s pretty unpleasant and smug and out of touch and everything the article says, but at least it’s basically harmless. It represents one of the great hypocrisies of the Graun, true, but in itself it’s just a bit “meh” isn’t it? I’d rather Laurie Penny was kept safely out of harms way writing fluff than this crap:

    It keeps her off the streets, you know

    • redpesto permalink
      July 2, 2012 9:59 am

      I really don’t know if I can brave myself to watch it.

      • elflojo84 permalink
        July 2, 2012 7:14 pm

        It’s pretty excruciating …

  6. okjoe58 permalink
    July 2, 2012 6:37 pm

    yes, great fun, thanks

  7. July 3, 2012 8:37 am

    thanks all for your comments. Nice to see you elflojo ! I will post some more stuff from Shouting At Cows – I like their style!

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