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11 January 2023

I can’t stop politicians invading my dreams, but I can control who plagues me on Twitter

It’s bad enough that people I haven’t voted for come to power; do they have to barge their way into my subconscious too?

By Nicholas Lezard

I awake from a deeply disturbing dream about Rishi Sunak. Over the years I have come to expect, but not welcome, nocturnal appearances from world leaders in the brain’s night-time movie theatre. I have chatted with Bill Clinton at a barbecue at my parents’ house; gazed with puppyish devotion into Barack Obama’s eyes; looked away in disgust and embarrassment as Donald Trump, his face a mask of snot and tears, wailed for forgiveness for his innumerable failings as a human being. Worst of all was a sex dream involving Carrie Johnson, which became even worse when her husband showed up.

He is the only PM to have invaded my subconscious in this way until Sunak took centre stage last night. In it he was a spiteful, creepy and deeply annoying individual, the kind of aggravating little tick you get at certain schools; he was even dressed in a school uniform and, of course, “tick” is just the kind of word they’d have used at his old school, Winchester College. That I don’t even have to look that up makes me feel grubby and ashamed. Even more than my fooling around with Princess Nut Nut; that, at least, was involuntary.

[See also: At Christmas I meet a kindred spirit – we both have more to look back on than forward to]

Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May never took a foothold in my sleeping mind because she had no character to speak of. Nor, post-Johnson, did Liz Truss, because she was only in the job for ten minutes. But Sunak has now been around long enough to have gained some purchase. (Oddly, unlike most of the population, I have never dreamed about the Queen. I have also never dreamed about Princess Diana – my reveries about her were confined to waking life.)

It is all incredibly tiresome. As if it is not bad enough having these people, unelected by you or me, coming to actual power, they enter and mess around inside your skull without so much as a by-your-leave. Trump was the worst. He simply foghorned his way into the scene, much as I imagine those that live under bombardment must dream of the same thing. There was no escape. Sunak, I suppose, I had thought was too innocuous to do that; but there he is, my latest gadfly.

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I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, but this year – before New Year, as it happened, and it wasn’t even consciously a resolution – I have resolved to purge my Twitter feed of all the toxic bores who, without my asking, kept popping up on my screen whenever I logged in. Some algorithm – whose sole purpose, it seemed, was to aggravate me – kept showing the daily thoughts of specimens such as John Redwood, Nigel Farage and an undernourished-looking character called Darren Grimes from Durham – who now seems to be moving from the Tories into the bosom of Farage. All these are now blocked.

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At least one can eliminate this kind of person from the experience of social media. They thrive on exposure; every drop in the wattage of malign light they beam out is a help. One cannot wholly stop many of them from infesting the body politic but for Redwood, Farage and Grimes, my hope is that Twitter is the nearest they’ll get to it.

My other resolution – again, not really a resolution, and adopted immediately upon its suggestion – is to abide by my eldest child’s wish that they be referred to by the third person plural, should the need arise. I have no problem with this, not only because it’s a really cheap and easy way to make them happy ­– and the happiness of my children is one of the things that makes me happiest of all – but because it’s just the kind of thing that drives the Farages etc of this unfortunate world crazy.

The eldest’s birthday falls in the first week of January, and because of train strikes I wasn’t going to be able to see them on their birthday, so I brought a present earlier from Brighton: a Queer Tarot, designed to counteract the traditional heteronormative slant of the traditional Tarot. This is probably the most Brighton thing I could have bought.

You may wonder what a rationalist like myself is doing foisting Tarot decks on the young and encouraging their use (the eldest was delighted, by the way), but in my youth I learned that it was not so much about cartomancy but a dialogue between the reader and the subject. And, as my subconscious has demonstrated to me, there is a certain power in the oneiric.

[See also: The manager of my former favourite pub calls and the years slip away]

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This article appears in the 11 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Burning down the House of Windsor