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21 June 2016

As storm clouds gather over the Hovel and Europe, I ask myself: what would Dirk Bogarde do?

Lord, has the political sky been foul lately.

By Nicholas Lezard

I write with my shirt undone, sweltering, half cut after luncheon, in damp and wrinkled linen, while outside the thunder rumbles and the raindrops, as large as pigeon eggs (or so I suspect, never having seen a pigeon egg), splat away on the street two floors below me. I was taken to a very old restaurant on one of my many lunch-scrounging exercises and, what with one thing and another (the various things I’ve been reading lately, the things I’ve been getting up to), I have difficulty remembering which century I am living in.

Only the keyboard that I’m writing on gives me a clue and even that is ambiguous, as it is a Lenovo (or IBM, as I prefer to think of it) ThinkPad, whose basic design goes back to 1990. Otherwise, for all practical purposes, I may as well be living in the 1930s. I have mislaid my phone and that is fine by me.

The weather is appropriate for the times. It’s monsoon weather – stifling and very wet at the same time – and the risk of being hit by lightning adds to the fun.

I sometimes wonder whether I would have been sent to the colonies, in an earlier age, in some kind of disgrace, rather in the way my great-uncle Lizzie was, after one too many misadventures with the roulette wheel and the Already Married Woman (“When they walk in the room, you mentally undress them right down to their chequebook,” he was once told). He found himself bumping along a devastated road in a rudimentary Land Rover after being kicked out by his wife and wailing, “I’d rather be a shit in London than a pioneer in Kenya.” He managed to gamble away all of the Lezard family fortune and I don’t begrudge him a penny, because it has kept me honest. Sort of.

But, for whatever reason, I like this weather: all I need, I feel, is a ceiling fan, a pink gin by my side and a touch of malaria. I remember seeing a couple of Dirk Bogarde films set in the desert or Crete during the Second World War and I have taken my summer fashion cues from him ever since: an unshaven Desert Rat with the vestiges of smartness and authority, up against extraordinary odds but able to inspire or be inspired after a brew and a smoke.

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But it’s the thunder that gets me. It’s a little early. By the time this piece comes out online, we will be in the week of the referendum and if you thought Down and Out was a politics-free zone, then you are out of luck. And what the weather has to do with the referendum is this, my favourite Shakespeare quotation: “So foul a sky clears not without a storm.”

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And Lord, has the political sky been foul lately. As these are the fun pages of the magazine, no serious analysis is expected, apart from the wisdom of fully lived experience – so with that in mind, all I need to say is that the figureheads who wish for our country to leave Europe, whose views have been gaining traction lately, are the most despicable, venal and in some cases actually insane people you could possibly imagine.

Had you asked anyone of any decency, long before this nonsense came up, to write a list of the top dozen twerps, wackos, C-words and general blots on the public weal, and made it clear that this was not a list tied to any political agenda or proposition, you would have come up exactly with the Brexit lot – and also with Richard Branson, who mysteriously and possibly by mistake seems to have got mixed up with the Remain crowd. But we don’t talk about that.

The standard of debate among their hangers-on, who include friends of mine, is risible. One is a lawyer; he apparently specialises in keeping people out of prison, so I thought I’d keep him sweet, but after listening to his evasions and pathetic deceits, I have reconsidered and now not only do I never want him to represent me, I want him to represent whoever it is I’m up against, so piss-poor is his advocacy. R—’s Brexity is forgivable, because he is a member of the armed forces and can fly, or at least navigate, a plane; and I would be a bit spooked if Bel Mooney, who is lovely, was not a Brexiteer; but on the whole it seems to me that they don’t even pretend to be interested in hearing opposing arguments.

It reminds me of the time when I pointed out, to a young Conservative who was frothing at the mouth about the death penalty, that statistics showed that the murder rates in US states that had reintroduced it had increased. His response? “I don’t care.” At least he was honest.

This article appears in the 14 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Britain on the brink