'I feel like a squeezed lemon,' says Boris, after his day in Liverpool

Click to follow
Indy Politics

With local breakfast radio examining the merits of fines, rotten tomatoes and the city's 18th-century stocks as forms of punishment, Boris Johnson knew that things looked bad for him in Liverpool yesterday. But nothing could have prepared him for the bewildering sight of his first "real" Liverpudlian.

With local breakfast radio examining the merits of fines, rotten tomatoes and the city's 18th-century stocks as forms of punishment, Boris Johnson knew that things looked bad for him in Liverpool yesterday. But nothing could have prepared him for the bewildering sight of his first "real" Liverpudlian.

The jogger abandoned his path across a park when he spotted Mr Johnson across the road and ran up to greet him with the words: "Never mind the bollocks."

It quickly became clear to Mr Johnson that the words were friendly, but efforts to evade such unscripted episodes had already placed the visit firmly in the realms of farce.

The Tory MP for Henley was in town to apologise for comments about the beheading of Ken Bigley and the Hillsborough tragedy made in The Spectator, which he edits.

Mr Johnson might possess the most distinctive mop-head in Britain, but he had been checked in to a small hotel in Liverpool's Sefton Park district under the name of Mr Birkenshaw on Tuesday, to avoid attracting attention.

And then came Conservative Central Office's hush-hush mission, involving the car park of a Toxteth pub and a 12-seat taxi-bus, designed to convey selected television crews to his first engagement without betraying its location. Even the taxi-bus driver did not know where he was going when the press secretary to Michael Howard's Shadow Cabinet education team invited the TV crews aboard at the Inglenook pub, precipitating a four-mile chase across the city by the uninvited.

The venue was Sir Paul McCartney's Institute for Performing Arts where Mr Johnson arrived with collar askew. He had spent the morning writing this week's leading article in The Spectator, which tries to reverse the damage caused last week.

But his tone was trenchant: "I would be mad to say I had undergone a pre-frontal lobotomy and everything I said last week is no longer operative," he said.

Then he was whisked back into the parallel universe which his trip seemed to occupy: a dance studio where 15 girls in leotards gyrated to the music from Reservoir Dogs while he stood with hands on hips.

By midday, Mr Johnson's only conversations had been with the media, the jogger and two students, from Grimsby and Newport, South Wales. But his next engagement, the Roger Phillips Radio Merseyside phone-in, put him right in the line of fire. There was initial self-confidence. "Michael Howard was completely wrong, by the way, about saying the comment was wrong from start to end. I don't think he can have read it properly. It makes a lot of good points." But a bombshell was dropped by Ken Bigley's brother, Paul, who phoned in with comments that were almost unbearable to listen to.

"You are a self-centred, pompous twit," said Mr Bigley. Even your body language is pathetic. Get out of public life. Go and do something in the private sector." To which Mr Johnson replied: "I don't think I can offer anything to you, Paul, that will alter your opinion of me..."

"You are waffling," added Mr Bigley. "Just get out of public life and leave us alone."

And then there was Joan: "Hello Boris. Go back to London and stay and try to be a decent person. You are just making a fool of yourself."

A 10-question quiz on Liverpool had him on the ropes: "I'm very worried about quizzes," he protested.

The radio host spared Mr Johnson the worst by supplying the answer to a question about Mersey Sound poets that had him spluttering cluelessly. Final score: six and a half out of 10.

As he staggered out of the BBC studios, Mr Johnson said: "I feel like a squeezed lemon." Last night, he was compere at an awards night for the Fairbridge charity for disadvantaged young people, the theme being "How to put right the mistakes in your life."

SO, WHAT DO YOU REALLY KNOW ABOUT LIVERPOOL?

In which year will Liverpool be European Capital of Culture?

Boris: 2008 *

Which former Henley MP championed Liverpool's cause?

Boris: Michael Heseltine *

Name three 'Mersey Sound' poets?

Boris: Roger McGough and what's he called? Adrian? * (Adrian Henri and Brian Patten, which he didn't get)

Which Liverpool club hosted The Beatles?

Boris: The Cavern *

Name the 18th-century Liverpool artist who depicted horses.

Boris: Stubbs *

Which Liverpool playwright is known for 'Boys From The Black Stuff'?

Boris: Alan Bleasdale *

Name Dame Judi Dench's late Liverpool husband?

Boris: Timothy West * (Michael Williams)

Who is E. Chambre Hardman? Boris: no answer * (a photographer)

Which Liverpool author wrote The Cruel Sea?

Boris: Nicholas Monsarrat *

Which philosopher linked Liverpool to the 'Pool of Life'?

Boris: R D Laing * (Jung)

Comments