I had this week’s column nailed by Tuesday teatime, 36 hours ahead of the deadline. Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Haircut Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event Wall-Spaffer Fuck-Business Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Johnson was the gift that kept on giving. Piccaninny’s fans had complained that as the neighbours who called the police to his screams-and-swearing-filled flat last Thursday self-identified as Remainers (as do 56% of the population now), their complaint was invalid.
“As anyone who lives in London knows,” the Tuesday version of me wrote, in misguided haste, “the fearful cries of women are so commonplace that one soon learns to ignore them, and I myself am haunted nightly by the bloody and judgmental apparitions of all those I could have rescued. But there’s no time to dwell on that now. What’s done is done.” You get the drift.
Sources sympathetic to Watermelon responded to the police visit on Monday by leaking to friendly news sluices an out-of-date paparazzi-style photo of the happy couple canoodling in what looked like a deserted pub garden. The other drinkers have departed and the landlord wants to lock up, but the young woman listens patiently as the older man explains how he makes model buses out of wine crates.
Except that... Letterbox’s hair was massively longer than it had been the day before, so even if the photo’s provenance was genuine, it proved only that two people who subsequently had an argument had been on friendly terms in a deserted pub garden at some point some weeks, months, or even years, earlier.
I have a photo of myself standing near the late Lewis Collins at the Birmingham motor show in 1978. But I am not there now. I am here, writing this. And Lewis Collins is dead. Time, as we experience it, is linear. And there is nothing even Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Haircut Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event Wall-Spaffer Fuck-Business Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Johnson can do about that.
On Tuesday morning on LBC, Nick Ferrari, an ageing collie who shepherds his listeners’ prejudices into a crowded pen and beats them with a stick, allowed his journalistic instincts to triumph over his usual right-leaning bias. The dogged shock jock pressed Bumboys on hair-gate 27 separate times. But Cake avoided the question, 27 separate times, and said the situation was “beyond satire”. But it wasn’t. And my column was crapped out in record time, so I went out on Tuesday night to see the 81-year-old avant-jazz innovator Archie Shepp blow his horn at Ronnie Scott’s, like the liberal elitist I am.
I encountered an old trade union activist friend in the queue, and even had a glass of champagne while I pondered Shepp’s place in the 60s revolution. I was literally a champagne socialist. And it felt good.
At one point the veteran jazzman declaimed civil rights-era poetry over his top-of-the-range trio, spiced with the sort of solos Philip Larkin disparaged, 43 years ago, as “death-to-all-white-men-wails”. Surely the struggle is over now? Shut up, grandad! And play Misty for me! But tonight Shepp was performing in a country whose incoming prime minister writes of “piccaninnies”, and “watermelon smiles”, and consorts with the same white nationalist Svengali that installed Trump in the White House. Battles presumed won are being lost. If Adolf Hitler flew in today they’d send a Boris Bike anyway.
A friendly American tourist next to me laughed, with a degree of schadenfreude, as he told us Fuck-Business’s forthcoming victory meant Britain, too, would now be regarded worldwide as a land of idiots. But my day’s work was done, and in Archie’s orbit nothing could bring me down.
Back home long after midnight, all jazzed up, I turned on the news and realised Piccaninny’s people, with their long-haired-lover photo, had pulled it off. News of Watermelon’s hair had receded into the distance, and with it the relevance of my prematurely completed column. But if jazz teaches me anything, it’s that what’s happening is the show.
The week’s talking point, I had to accept, might now be an image of what appeared to be Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Haircut Bullshit Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event Wall-Spaffer Fuck-Business Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Johnson, somewhere in the Surrey Hills, French-kissing a dog. Lynton Crosby had already reduced the idea of dog-whistle politics to its logical endpoint, where actual dogs are now kissing his client, with or without being whistled at.
But Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event will have to go further than simply tonguing a terrier if he wants to beat his old rival David Cameron in the sexual-contact-with-animals stakes. And Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop’s human-canine erotic encounter has served its purpose in moving the story on. Typically, sloppy journalists hadn’t done any research into the dog, which was the property of Watermelon supporters, who had presumably been training it to kiss their candidate, perhaps by rewarding it whenever it licked a Tory.
Let’s be clear. There is no suggestion that Wall-Spaffer’s highly sexualised intimacy with the dog was anything but mutually consensual. And yet, can a dog really understand the idea of consent? And even if it consented to kiss Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event, did it also consent to thereby assisting in the imposition of his fraudulent prime ministership?
Meanwhile, imagine this photo. Steve Bannon spreads out before Watermelon a copy of his bible, Jean Raspail’s racist 1973 French science-fiction novel, The Camp of the Saints. “The end of the white world is near, Boris,” Bannon warns Beyond-Satire Johnson.
If a non-Conservative politician, with an indeterminate number of children from a variety of marriages and clandestine affairs, with both humans and dogs, had the police called to his flat the same weekend as an extremist boasted of their close relationship, do you imagine for a moment they would still be standing? The press broke Ed Miliband, remember, on the wheel of an inexpertly eaten bacon sandwich.
Stewart Lee’s new standup show, Snowflake/Tornado, is at the Leicester Square theatre, London, from 29 October to 25 January 2020, with national dates to follow