I almost got killed this week. I went for a very early morning walk in a New Hampshire forest, in the icy rain. Black coat, black hood, black trousers. And so the hunter saw this hunched, awkward, shambling black beast, stumbling over sodden logs, and immediately raised his rifle to his eye and cocked the trigger. One thing, and one thing only, saved me. The armed cracker, looking through his telescopic lens, thought to himself: ‘Hey, it’s a bear — but it’s… smoking a cigarette?’ And so, at the last second, refrained from pulling the trigger.
I had this brush with death related to me, with great glee, by the people who ran the bed and breakfast where I was staying. I’d been quite oblivious. Word had got round the village quite quickly about this deranged Englishman wandering through the birch and maple in the teeming rain at ten to seven in the morning, apparently pulling off a remarkably accurate bear impersonation right in the middle of the state’s official bear season. My hosts were outraged less on my behalf than because of the fact that the bloodthirsty hick with his rifle didn’t have a licence to shoot bears. That could get him into big trouble, I was told, by means of consolation. Thank Christ I smoke, then.
And praise the Lord too that my choice of cigarettes is Superkings, which are very long and thus more clearly visible. They were the reason I was taking a walk in the woods, in fact. You can’t smoke in New England within about a mile of anywhere people might be, and so I took to the forest for my first gasper of the day, thinking this would be about the only place I could do so without offending their recently acquired sensitivities. I was wrong about that, too, though. I had been walking on Audubon land, an area managed by conservationists, and smoking is prohibited there too, presumably in case the sight or smell of a cigarette upsets the woodchucks or chickadees and they take out a class action suit.
The day before all this happened my wife was buying a drink for our daughter and made the terrible mistake of requesting a straw. You’d have thought she’d demanded the stringing up of all black folk from the filthy look on the little SJW barmaid’s face. ‘We are in the process of banning straws from this state for the environmental damage they cause,’ she instructed, with all the refulgent sanctimony and humourlessness of a holy imbecile. I think New Hampshire — which is indeed lovely — should perhaps change its motto from ‘Live Free Or Die’ to ‘Don’t Do Anything At All, You Fascist’. But it was in the end cheering to have one’s life saved by a cigarette.
The Budget was one of the many annoyances and impositions I absented myself from by turning my phone off for the entirety of my holiday. The genuinely mental Jenny Tonge was another. For whom the bell Tonges, etc. The Liberal Democrat baroness is perhaps the most fervid of our new breed of affluent middle-class leftie Jew-haters. When the Israeli Defence Force launched a major relief effort to aid the victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Jen accused them of ‘harvesting’ their organs, thus invoking the old Jewish blood libel business. And now, with the murder of 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, she wasted no time in blaming the Israeli state for having provoked the outrage. She is a foul and contemptible woman and quite possibly unhinged — but in a sense she was doing only what so many do whenever some horrible event occurs: appropriating it for her own political agenda.
Our readiness to grab hold of anything to support our own point of view, no matter how absurd the connection, has been made more evident by social media, but was not caused by it. It was always there, one supposes. And it happens, even-handedly, on the left and the right: everything that happens is grist to our own little idiotic mill.
I mentioned this polarisation, this reluctance to engage with objective or even contingent truth, a few weeks back, when discussing the case of the US Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his alleged involvement in the sexual assault of a woman — and the response to the article online was fairly hostile for the simple reason that I did not say Kavanaugh is innocent and his accusers are politically motivated scumbags.
I get the same response on the rare occasions I defend current Labour policies: not a disagreement about the points made, but the insistence that, as a consequence, I am useless at my job and not worth reading (usually by people who the previous week were cheering from the rafters). A similar point was raised by my colleague Matthew Parris recently. He is often asked why he continues to work for a magazine which publishes stuff by horrible people like James Delingpole and me. The notion being, again, that only one point of view is acceptable and one shouldn’t associate with people who see the world differently.
It is a bizarre and numbing conceit and yet very prevalent. I am delighted Matthew writes for The Spectator, because he uses language beautifully and I value the fact that he has a different opinion to my own. Because he may be right. I may indeed be a nincompoop. And so might he. That is what we both share, I hope — a Burkean sense of doubt and uncertainty. We might not be right.
As soon as I got off my plane back from the States, I made for Gatwick’s tiny smoking area. I got into conversation with an elderly chap who told me proudly, as he lit his fag, that he had been smoking since he was 13. ‘Good for you!’ I cheered. ‘And all well now?’ His face fell a little. ‘Well, I have lung cancer and emphysema. But there we are.’
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