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11 October 2016

This summer, I’ve been to Hull and back

Going to Hull twice in three months was a bit of a blessing, as it kept me away from the menace of London.

By Nicholas Lezard

There is an ugly mood out there. A couple of weeks ago, channelling a wild despair about the increasingly slim chance of a Labour government ever being elected again, I made a rash joke in what I thought was a private part of the internet about how the Tories are protecting Jeremy Corbyn from harm. Reader, there are no private parts of the internet, and it was wilfully misrepresented by some shit-stirrers as a threat.“I’d be careful who you threaten in future if I were you, you f***ing lowlife,” said someone on Facebook (the Twitter ones were worse) calling him- or herself Vince, blind to the obvious irony.

I like to think of “Vince” as a young girl, perhaps a Conservative councillor’s daughter, living somewhere in the Home Counties, bored with ponies and chafing at the staid life she has been born into. Well, energy has to be released, does it not? I applaud her. (I also got a few nice and supportive messages, which shows that things aren’t completely awful out there.)

Anyway, I felt like a trip, so it was nice to have the chance to go to Hull again. Yes, again. If, at the beginning of the year, I’d met a fortune-teller who’d said, “You will go to Hull twice within three months,” I’d have assumed I was under some kind of bizarre curse, but, as it turns out, it’s more like a blessing. This time it was to hear Viv Albertine of the Slits speak about her life; and I forgot my worries as I listened to her talk about going down on Johnny Rotten. She did a great impersonation of him: “Viv . . . Viv . . . You’re trying too hard, Viv.”

Yet all good things must come to an end, so it’s back to London, although I am feeling peaky, as being on the receiving end of a Twitter storm takes it out of you. Concentration proves difficult for a couple of days, but as I always tell others when this sort of thing crops up, worse things happen at sea.

By way of distraction, I go to meet our very own Hunter Davies for a long-prearranged lunch. Well, distraction is the plan. I want him to talk about the Beatles, but his conversation over lunch is, for one terrible, 15-minute period, nothing but a series of bloodcurdling anecdotes about various writers – including himself – getting the sack. “But what was Ringo really like?” I want to ask. “We know so much about the others.”

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But otherwise he is affability, and generosity, itself. It’s the northern note again. He lives in a beautiful house by Hampstead Heath, and shows me round. You will be unsurprised to learn that he has an enormous collection of football memorabilia, over which I make appreciative noises, but it doesn’t do as much for me as the collection devoted to the Beatles. After lunch at a local bistro, I say I’ll walk across the Heath and head down to the south-west corner of it, and then get a bus back home. Who knows? I might even bump into Paul McCartney, walking his dog. Well, my friend John once did.

I orientate myself by walking in the direction of the Royal Free Hospital. However, this is a part of the Heath that I don’t know very well, and after a few minutes’ walking, during which I have been brooding on the darkness of the human soul, and deadlines, and mainly looking at the ground so I don’t trip up, I notice I have lost sight of the hospital, which is in itself disconcerting, as it’s not the smallest building in north-west London by a long chalk.

A metaphor about losing one’s way bubbles to mind but I suppress it, just as I suppress any similarities with Dante and his dark wood that occur to me. (I somehow feel that the Commedia would have lost some of its force if it had begun with Dante getting mildly confused on Hampstead Heath after a pleasant lunch.)

In the end I work out where I am: miles from where I want to be, but at least I know how to get home, even if so much for my short cut across the Heath. Back on the pavement, though, the sense of oppression and paranoia returns. I am walking down the splendidly named Roderick Road, and consider its suitability as a pseudonym. If I lived there as well as changed my name to it, letters addressed to me would have to say “Roderick Road” twice, which would be excellent.

The reverie proves unsustainable. I consider the area. It’s about as un-chichi as you can get when you’re near the Heath. I notice a woman walking along the pavement a few yards ahead of me. She turns to look at me and then, not too fast, she starts running on ahead. She is not dressed for running. 

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This article appears in the 05 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's triumph