Boswell's Life of Boris Johnson (cont.)

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The Independent Online

Another extract today from that great ongoing work, "Boswell's Life of Boris Johnson".

Another extract today from that great ongoing work, "Boswell's Life of Boris Johnson".

Earlier this week, I did attend upon my old friend Boris Johnson at The Spectator offices in Doughty Street, hard by Lincoln's Inn, and found him in exceeding good heart.

"It is good to see you so merry," I said. "Not many men can boast of being cheerful at work."

"What you say is true," he said, "and on most days you would find me low in heart and sombre in mood, for running a magazine at a loss is perpetual hard labour. But today, I have written a piece which I fancy will cause a stir. I have contrived to tweak the tail of the British lion!"

"In what wise?"

"Why, I have taken issue with the false and foolish flood of tears with which our countrymen greet every unexpected death of a popular person. You recall the manner in which we met the death of the late Princess Diana?"

I said that the sight of rotting flowers in plastic bags would stay with me to the end of my days, or until I lost my memory, which was much more likely.

"Well, sir, there has been equally mawkish a reaction to the fate of this poor man Bigley, in his native city of Liverpool. A week ago, nobody in Liverpool had heard of him. Today, they are having flags at half mast and national days of mourning, and heaven knows what. They are a paltry lot in Liverpool, perpetually in a self-pitying half-drunken maudlin state, and I shall tell them so."

This surprised me, as I was not aware Johnson had ever set foot in Liverpool, but I supposed he knew what he was about. I supposed wrong. When the article appeared, it was greeted with outrage from Liverpudlians. When I next met with the great man, he seemed not a whit abashed.

"Pah!" he said, when I asked him if he were not fearful of the consequences. "It is merely their shock at being told the truth. The people of Liverpool are very good at belittling the Welsh and the Irish, but they have no skill in taking mockery against themselves. If I am surprised by anything, it is by finding that so many Liverpudlians could read what I had written. They call Liverpool a city of culture! The truth is that when a Liverpudlian reaches a cultured state, he leaves and does not return. Did any of the Beatles stay in his home town? Does Mr Roger McGough reside by the Mersey? I think not."

But at the very moment when he was so speaking, his telephone rang, and when he answered it, his mood changed considerably.

"Mr Howard?" he said. "This is a pleasure. How can I help you ...?"

The way he could help his party leader, it seemed, was to travel to Liverpool and apologise to its folk for his disobliging remarks.

"They are a hard lot in Liverpool," I said, "and may well demand that you go in the stocks to give them the occasion to hurl eggs and tomatoes at you."

"Which they will have probably shoplifted for the purpose," said Johnson.

"You do not speak remorsefully," I said.

"Remorseful? I? Why, sir, I do not change my opinions merely because the rabble of some northern town are baying for my blood. I may go to Liverpool, I may speak to them in honeyed tones, and take their reproaches with unaccustomed mildness, yet all know it is done only so I may retain my post within the Tory party. It is universally acknowledged that I spoke the truth about the people of Liverpool, and if I later withdraw my words, this does not maketh 'em any the less true."

I asked if this was another example of what men call political correctness.

"It may well be. Political correctness is the demand that we should treat every disadvantage as if it conferred dignity upon the sufferer. It is part of our constant retreat from the truth about the world. Now, where is my bicycle?"

And so saying, he set forth on the first stage of his journey to Liverpool, from which I pray he will return safely.

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