Monday, 10 April 2017

PRETENDING TO BE THICK: A SPAT WITH PETER HITCHENS

London's most responsible cyclist



A few years ago I was walking through a beautiful early spring morning alongside London’s Hyde Park. I was working for an employment agency as a building manager, and was due to look after a fashionable, expensive property for one week while the resident manager decorated his apartment. It could scarcely be described as a job. I had to look presentable and sit behind a reception desk. The apartments were each worth many millions of pounds, but no one lived in them. They were just sleepover joints for when some Russian oligarch or Arab princeling happened to be in town. My working week was similar to the famous comment made concerning Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; “Nobody came. Nobody went.” The manager asked me if I was a big reader and advised me to bring a book. For me, this was very heaven. During that week, I read the abridged 1,000-page edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

On this particular morning, before the build-up of vehicular traffic which blights London, I saw a cyclist doing something very out of character for those who bicycle in that city. He had stopped at a red traffic light. There were no cars or other cyclists, or even pedestrians, to be seen. The bicycle was beautiful and, unless he had stolen it, its owner was Peter Hitchens.

I have long been a fan of Hitchens. I didn’t discover his brother’s work until he had passed away, but Peter is the more measured writer, less hot-headed if concomitantly less compelling. I wish I still had my rat-eared copy of The Abolition of Britain but, alas, it was one of hundreds of books I was forced to abandon in the UK. Its opening evocation of time-travelling between the funerals of Winston Churchill and Lady Diana Spencer is possibly the most poignant elegy for England I have read.

I approached Hitchens and politely enquired as to whether he was who he appeared to be. Why do we do that? Did I think I was approaching Hitchens’s stunt double? But I digress. I informed him that I was a great admirer of his work, although I didn’t embarrass him by proffering my hand for him to shake. I don’t know why people do that. I think Mr. Hitchens would have shaken my hand, but he would have done it from sheer politeness rather than genuine volition.

As well as being a well-read defender of culture and critic of government, Hitchens is also tireless in his criticism of the pro-drug lobby, ceaselessly pointing out the role that both licenced pharmaceuticals and illegal recreational drugs play in terrorist atrocities, and the mental health problems undeniably connected with marijuana use.

Often referring to himself as ‘the hated Peter Hitchens’, the man is an uncomplicated, religious conservative, which leads to hatred and ridicule from the dominant cultural and media Left. Hitchens is quite open about his own Leftist past, which of course makes him an apostate in the eyes of the media courtiers against whom he is often pitted. I have watched many clips of Hitchens on the television responding with grace and dignity to bumptious attacks by ideological opponents, almost always women.

He writes for The Mail on Sunday, an otherwise odious newspaper whose sister publication is edited by a man who regularly calls his staff ‘cunts’. Unfortunately, because newspaper editors believe that we are now too stupid to read an entire essay, Hitchens’s column is cut into snack-sized chunks, but he always has a clear point to make in the main piece.

I was rather surprised to see Hitchens’s Twitter response to a comment of mine. Now, I have described Twitter as an ‘idiot’s agora’ and winning a Twitter argument as being the equivalent of winning a game of rock-paper-scissors in a psychiatric hospital, but Hitchens – unlike most journalists, bar the easily triggered David Aaronovitch – takes the time to engage in debate.

Someone had asked Hitchens if he would be supporting Marine Le Pen in the forthcoming French presidential elections. Hitchens blustered that he was surprised anyone could ask such an insulting question. Why would anyone think he could support ‘such a person’. He even wrote ‘obviously’ in brackets. I asked Hitchens why the question was an ‘insult’. A statement could be insulting, surely, but a political question to a political journalist? Hitchens replied;

‘Are you pretending to be thick? Or is this the real thing?’

Has Peter Hitchens started virtue-signalling? Or is he returning to his Leftist roots like a dog returning to its own vomit. I think we should be told. I asked him whether he supported Hungary’s premier, Viktor Orban. Answer came there none. He again alluded to the question of whether or not I was ‘thick’. I suppose I ought to have been insulted, but I have been insulted by experts. I may be thick, but I am also thick-skinned. You need that on Twitter, which can be a rough ride through shark-infested waters.

As for Le Pen, who has had to erase the shadow cast by her questionable father, she is an old-fashioned conservative who is trying to restore, or conserve – the clue is in the name – the country she loves. Hitchens often laments the passing of a certain type of Britain. I should have thought he would be broadly in favour of her election, an event for which we must pray.

As for whether I am genuinely thick or just faking it – the simulacrum is everywhere in these treacherous times – I cannot say. Certainly, my girlfriend often berates me, saying that having a Ph.D. in philosophy is all very well, but not much use if you can’t hang up a towel.

My opinion of Peter Hitchens remains unchanged. He is possibly the only genuinely conservative journalist in the mainstream media, now that Oborne has gone doolally and was last spotted praising David Cameron, a man there is absolutely no excuse for. But being insulted by a perfectly plain question? That seems a little precious, to say the least.

Perhaps Mr. Hitchens was simply hungover.

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