Saturday night we ate outside next to the floodlit rock face. Four adult guests came puffing up the path and one child, George, celebrating his 11th birthday. A string of low-wattage colored bulbs hung above our heads. Chicken curry. Dahl. Pink wine. Yellow champagne. Little brass oil lamps on the table. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers — trite lyrics, sublime guitar — for the birthday playlist. A cream-filled birthday cake in the fridge awaited the right moment.
Dominic Cummings was all the rage that day and every one of our adult guests was an ardent Remainer. As passionately tribal in their globalist philosophy as soccer fans, they’d gone into confinement 3-0 down with 10 minutes to go in the semi-final replay, and now, after an astonishing hat trick of own goals by left-back Baldy Pevsner, and roared on by a partisan crowd, they scented a last-minute historic victory. They managed to contain themselves until about the third glass and once the subject was broached there was no stopping them.
I’m probably the only Leaver they know. Outnumbered, I cravenly kept out of the discussion. This was easily done because I was placed at the end of the table from where I could jump up to double as waiter and sommelier. And between me and the vituperative four-cornered demolition of Mr Cummings and the British Prime Minister was the physical barrier of birthday boy George, whom I used as a bulwark and human shield until the subject changed. While they rent Mr Cummings and Boris to little pieces, George and I occupied ourselves by slicing the heads off matches, piling them into a little heap and lighting it with disappointing results. Then we made little animal figures using corks and spent matches.
And while we whittled and improvised, on the far side of George this revivalist church meeting was taking off, where the theology being preached was straight from the Moody and Sankey hymnal and chiefly concerned with the battle between darkness and light, between good and evil, ignorance and wisdom.
Mr Cummings was a malefactor, a villain, a delinquent, a miscreant, a culprit, a felon, a crook, a hypocrite, a ruffian, an outlaw, a pirate, a Vandal, a Hun, a tyrant, a libertine, a wretch, a debauchee, a reprobate, a Nazi and a scamp. But in the demonic pantheon, Mr Cummings was but the familiar-in-chief. The great Beelzebub himself was of course Boris, who, it went without saying, was immoral, bad, vile, foul, criminal, crooked, treacherous, abominable, odious, unspeakable, malevolent, low, mean, corrupt, depraved, disgraceful, despicable, detestable, venal and fat. He was also (perhaps much like the colored bulbs that hung above our heads) low-wattage and essentially frivolous.
I thought they might soon tire of it, but no, the spirit was moving. The evil that had been done by those swine will have, as evil always does, unintended consequences. And foremost among these will be that the British public will see Mr Cummings and Boris for what they are. And what they are of course is nothing. The fat emperor has no clothes. And now that the public can see his nakedness, Boris and his familiar are finished. Our guests predicted that if they were still in power in a month’s time they would be very surprised. And then we can have a proper person like Sir Keir in charge and get on with reversing Brexit.
This was really becoming too much. I signaled to George, who was occupying himself by conducting a scientific experiment to see whether cork was a flammable substance, and led him into the house to help me get the cake out of the fridge, arrange candle holders and candles on it, and set fire to the candles.
Once inside, George showed the charred result of his cork experiment. I took it from him and, looking in a mirror, carefully drew a not unconvincing Hitler mustache on my upper lip. It was a feeble sort of a protest against the reduction of two very human beings to the level of fiends. But I am an inarticulate individual and a drawn-on Hitler mustache would have to do instead of argument. If nothing else, a Leaver with a drawn-on Hitler mustache carrying in a flaming birthday cake while singing ‘Happy birthday to you’ might distract our guests from their fervent Pentecostalist meeting and bring us all back to the present poignant reality of an 11-year-old boy’s birthday party.
My mustache did indeed distract: there was a momentary stunned silence that might have gone either way. But happily the new clericalism has yet to entirely extinguish the British sense of humor and once someone had thrown their hat in the ring with a good-natured laugh — probably at what was assumed to be a self-parody — all was well and the party atmosphere resumed.