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12 September 2018

Dilemma: do I go down to London to be pounded into jelly by Rod Liddle?

Gentle reader, forgive me for going on about this man again. But it helps me to feel part of a vibrant journalistic scene.

By Nicholas Lezard

And it begins again.

The partner of a friend alerts me to a post that Roderick Liddle, the newspaper and magazine columnist, the one who ran off with another woman on his honeymoon, has placed upon a social medium. In it, he describes being accosted, while carrying some shopping, by a man with “a fine ginger beard” who says “Nicholas Lezard is a stupid…” Well, I blush to repeat the word that this man closes his sentence with, for it has no place in this column.

Mr Liddle then says that he replied, “a very stupid…”, and then the unrepeatable word again. He then says, and I paraphrase, that the encounter cheered him up no end for the rest of the day.

At least it gave me an excuse to get back to him. He’d sent me a message a week or so beforehand, which I hadn’t had the energy to reply to, but which contained some interesting claims that I probably shouldn’t air here, just in case the New Statesman’s lawyers operate on a metered basis. But I thought it best to let the whole matter drop, because I have better things to do with my time.

As it turns out, I couldn’t let it drop, because this is too much fun. I do have several better things to do with my time, such as get on with some work, put on some laundry, buy some more milk, and practise my burping, but I am an expert at procrastination if I am an expert at anything.

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So I replied to his previous, unacknowledged private message with an assertion that would certainly have this magazine’s lawyers running around, flapping their hands in panic were I to mention it here, and he replied “you heard wrong”. He then suggested I had raped an owl (?), but I don’t think I’ll be taking him to court about that, as I don’t think he really meant it, and also, it is considered, or used to be considered, very bad form for journalists to sue each other for libel. 

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However, the issue has gone live because the day before yesterday I received an invitation to the Spectator’s writers’ party. I have to be in London next week; should I go early and so go to the party, and have a showdown? I could at least get a column out of it. A couple of friends are going too, one of them a good one, and it would be nice to see them again. They could also form a bodyguard, lest Roderick, whose youthful membership of the Socialist Workers Party may have taught him some street smarts, decide that this is an argument best solved with his fists.

However, I am keen to maximise my time with the Welsh Enchantress, if she will have me, by going to stay with her in Salisbury. The problem is that another, but platonic, friend is coming from Los Angeles to stay up in Scotland and I’ll already be missing three days of her visit as it is.

So now I have a major organisational dilemma. Do I go down to London in order to be pounded into a jelly by a columnist whose position on immigration is, to say the least, problematic, and then to be tended by a lovely woman, and disappoint someone who has flown five thousand miles to be here? Or what? Then there is the matter of seeing my children. I would have to see them before Mr Liddle rearranged my features, because no one likes seeing their father hurt, and the timing would be tricky. It seems I cannot fix matters without disappointing somebody.

This is the odd thing about modern life. It gives one the illusion of connectivity; I can have an amusing feud with a fellow hack whose immediacy of exchange makes it feel almost as if he’s next to me; and yet there is no getting around the fact that if he wants to jump up and down on me in hobnailed boots I’m going to have to be there in person so he can get on with it. I know I mentioned this last week, but the sheer distance is inescapable, which places a strain on one’s conception of Britain as a relatively small island. Well, it isn’t. There’s loads of it. (In fact, there’s so much of it, especially round here, that there are people who claim, pace certain columnists, that we need more immigrants in it, rather than fewer.)

Gentle reader, forgive me for going on about this man again. But it helps me to feel part of a vibrant journalistic scene.

The surprising thing is how news of our spat has reached the streets of Blairgowrie, where I do my big shops. In fact, only the other day, while I was crossing the car park at Tesco, a man with a fine purple beard, an armadillo on a leash and a splendid pair of antlers growing out of his temples, came up to me and said “Rod Liddle is a…”

Oh no, wait. I have a feeling I might have dreamed that. One must, above all, have a solid respect for the truth. 

This article appears in the 12 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The return of fascism