Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pratt à Manger by David Nobbs (2006)

Not so long ago, I was reading Coupland: there's not a million miles between him and Nobbs, as his Reginald Perrin was equally caught up in the dreariness of being a worker bee and subjected to inane management. His other great achievement was to create Henry Pratt. I know I read of his life as a junior report in Pratt of the Argus but have no recollection of his life as a civil servant in the Cucumber Marketing Board.

Life has now moved on for our Henry - he is now 60, in his third marriage (albeit to his first wife) and is running a caf
é in Soho. His various friends are still around him, life is good. It is a fairly amiable sort of book, more inclined to gentle humour than to riotous laughter, which is fitting because now that he's finally grown up, Henry is a fairly amiable sort of chap. Well, he's almost grown up - the book opens with him being just a little tongue tied when an attractive young woman comes into his cafe, and he still tends to dwell on possibilities with other women despite a very good marriage.

Like Reggie, events get away on Henry more than a little. The attractive stranger wants him to be on a TV quiz show: he's going to be a bit of rough in amongst the chefs from swanky restaurants. He's a surprising success, and gets invited onto several other shows before being the star of his own - this is a show which actually sounds kind of nice. It is shot in his own cafe, he cooks and has various guests, mainly his old mates, in for a chat. It is a huge success, and so naturally there are Henry Pratt tablewear options available in kitchen equipment shops, Henry Pratt food lines in supermarkets, a couple of books and so on (at least these items sound rather more useful than the typical product lines in Grot). Initially reluctant and professing not to care about it, Henry starts to enjoy his minor celebrity status as 'the People's Chef' and, as a fairly heavy bit of foreshadowing tells the reader, this is his undoing.

All is not sweet in Pratt land: he has an enemy. He is convinced it is a fellow guest on the quiz show, Bradley Tompkins, who has had it in for Pratt every since their first show together. In fact, Pratt has two enemies, but never pays enough attention to the other, which is the main reason for the enmity. Someone is slashing his tyres, organising for large loads of horse manure to be deposited on his front lawn and the like. Henry had a nice humility about him, his motto is "never forget where you come from" (having the ghost of dead Aunt Hilda with her oh so eloquent sniffs helps keep him on track) but the fame goes to his head - even his wife starts to think she'd better not venture any criticism against him.

It is when Pratt starts using his celebrity status and grand-standing (about families having a moral duty to eat together, or for people to cook properly, or to use chickens that had not been farmed in a factory) that his enemy goes for the coup de grace. He gets set up beautifully: made to think he is advertising a free range chicken growing place, it is actually one of the battery hen places he had been lambasting. Now the press and public are all agin him. Poor fellow - he thought he might have finally stopped being "funny little Henry Pratt". Luckily his wife gives good counsel: he'll always be that fellow, and so long as he remembers it, that will be his salvation.



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