I switch personalities at Spectator parties, depending on who the guests are: For our readers’ tea party, I am a warm and gracious semi-host, swigging scotch but graciously answering questions about my drinking, love life, and writing habits. For our summer Speccie spree, I turn into a tight-lipped, street-smart tough guy, conscious of my brave obscurity but determined not to give in to the Rachel Johnson syndrome of self-advertisement. (Whew, that wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.)
The tea party for our readers is always a polite affair. After all, the ham better be nice to the knife, or else. I particularly liked meeting the father and son from Mexico, both loyal readers, Louis the father coming all the way over to meet the son, who is studying up in Manchester. I don’t think any publication can match the gentleness and savoir faire of our readers, and I even managed to persuade some of them to skip the tea and try the scotch. (But I missed the lady who began subscribing the year I was born, 1936. Perhaps it was too hot for her to drive to London.)
The summer shindig one week later is an altogether different occasion. It is a rowdy, sweaty affair, with people pushing and shoving and some even trying to brush up close to BBC sexpots like Emily Maitlis and Laura Kuenssberg. They should be ashamed of themselves. This year we had the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the Minister for Brexit all attending. Personally, I was happy to stand and drink G&Ts all afternoon in the company of Lord Lamont and my buddy Simon Reader. (More about that later.)
While discussing sex with Rowan Pelling and Lord Worcester, the sainted editor drifted over and told me to go and greet a past editor, now Foreign Secretary, Boris himself. Cyprus and the impasse with the occupying Turks came up. I cannot use the language I’d like to concerning Erdogan and the ruling Turkish gang, but the Greek Foreign Minister, the hard, old core communist Kotzias, is no better; in fact, he’s worse. But commies have always known how to negotiate hard, hence the collapse of the talks. Boris, who as editor once saved my job, also asked me about my love life. Now, I know that the world is full of wretchedly poor people for whom my love life represents, above all, the possibility of escape, however fleeting, from the grimness and despair of their own lives, and that is the sole reason the Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson asked me. So I demurred, despite the fact that it made me feel self-absorbed and uncaring for the poor and wretched of this world. (Whew, that was a bit harder.)
In Radetzky March, Joseph Roth’s 1932 novel, the author kills off its most admirable character in a scene of comedy as well as tears. Demant kills the swinish Tattenbach in a duel he did not initiate, and is killed in return as Tattenbach drops dead. One kills a scoundrel and he kills you back. Life might be sweet, but you can’t have it. I thought of Roth and his novel while speaking with Norman Lamont about Iran and the American-Zionist campaign to discredit the Shiite republic that has been going on full steam since the fall of the Shah in 1979.