Gardening: Who is Richard North?

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The Independent Online
IT HAS taken all my fortitude to bear the fact that someone shares my name, bits of my profession, some of my interests, and even a few of my views. Worse, he's been making rather a good fist of these impersonations.

This other chap is an environmental health officer, or was one. He became something of a pundit at the time of the Currie salmonella-in-eggs gaffe. I can only think the whole thing went to his head because he now sounds off on a wide range of issues.

If we were Americans, none of this would have arisen. Since my middle name is David, I would already be Richard D North. Even now, my doppelganger could do the honourable thing and offer to use his middle initial. Alternatively, he can be Richard North Minor if he wants. He may say he is older than me, but I was writing in the papers long before he was, so I claim seniority.

I have faced a version of this problem before. There was another other Richard North who wrote reviews for New Musical Express at about the time I was writing about rock and reggae. Thank God he appears to be off the scene now.

It is bad enough having someone using one's name: the appalling thing about Richard North is that he has been writing on abattoirs, salmonella in eggs, mad cow disease, pesticides, environmental and safety regulation, and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. I have done hard labour in all areas of this improbable potpourri.

It is as though this man were turning into me, or I into him, in rather the way that the Irish policeman found he was merging with his bike, in a molecule-swap, in Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. We seem to be subject to osmotic interchange. Perhaps we are doomed to prove that nuclear energy has a future by a process in which our personalities suddenly undergo fusion with a stupendous release of clean energy.

But Richard North and I may be bent not so much on fusion as fission. I am getting just a mite hacked off with him. I do not so much mind (though I mind it sufficiently) that there is another Richard North, but that he should hog acres of space in the Telegraph and Times in my name is very galling. The retired RAF pilot, up in his lovely rambling farm on the edge of the village, cut out a Times piece by Richard North. The Wing-Co thought the impostor was me, and expressed delight that I was giving credence to some farmer who believes that organophosphate pesticides are giving cows BSE.

Another man told Mrs North (my wife, not the other fellow's) how pleased he was that I was sounding off in his tabloid on six-year-old beef, on which my views are actually so slight that they would not use up many even sawn- off sentences.

Richard North is now bringing extra glamour to our name, rot his socks. A schoolfriend of my wife's came to stay the other day and thrilled to the expectation of watching me on television in my house. I had no idea that I was going to be on television - a thing I love to be - and had even less idea that Richard North was going to be on. I don't like the way he is getting all this exposure: every dash of dazzle that is added to him must somehow be taken from me.

I am like the Muslim who dislikes being photographed in case a bit of his soul is rubbed away, except that in my case I dislike seeing Richard North photographed for the same reason. It is as though there may be only so much 'Richard North' in the universe and the more of it he grabs, the greater the risk that I may be diminished and, finally, vanish.

In November, Richard North will be using our name on a book he has written with Christopher Booker. I would not especially want to write a book with another man, but if I did, I might well have chosen old Booker, who has been, after all, one of the heavier polemical guns. This new book, which they call The Mad Officials, is going to rail on against the little Hitlers who, they suppose, run Britain. I am lukewarm about their thesis, though God knows all good men look askance at pettifoggidom. I hope they dwell heavily on Euro-absurdities.

When you have a double, it becomes of considerable interest whether one prefers him to agree, or disagree, with one's views. I am undecided.

Perhaps we should debate the issues. Richard North and I are, after all, probably the only two people in the entire world who share in-depth knowledge across the range of territory we both take an interest in. A dreadfully odd situation, I call it.

There is one small advantage to this, however, which I have so far forborne to press home. The BBC have sent me a contract for an appearance thinking they were in touch with him. I have only to sign it to be pounds 34 richer.

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