Miles Kington: Ironic dreams of a white Christmas

'Perhaps the days of irony are over. Perhaps we are all going to turn American in that department as well'
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The Independent Online

"Think it will be a white Christmas this year?" said the resident Welshman.

He picked up his pint and settled on the stool at the bar which was always tacitly reserved for him, except when ignorant tourists came in and sat on it, in which case he stood breathing down their necks until they went away.

"All deep and crisp and even, as it were?"

"I shouldn't think so," said the lady with the blue hairdo. "It never is."

"I am surprised we are even allowed to use the phrase any more," said the man with the dog.

"What - 'deep and crisp and even'?" said the Welshman. "Seems fairly inoffensive to me. Good King Wenceslas used it. Half a dozen pizza commercials have used it ..."

"No," said the man with the dog. "'White Christmas'. It sounds rather ... well, supremacist to me. Colonial overtones."

"Dear lord and father of mankind," said the Welshman, in disgust. "How politically correct can you get? You make Darcus Howe sound reasonable. No, perhaps that's going a bit too far."

"I was trying to be ironic," said the dog-owner. "Perhaps the days of irony are over. Perhaps we are all going to turn American in that department as well."

"Permit me to get my legs astride a little hobby horse of mine," said the Welshman, "but this old canard about the Americans having no irony ... it makes it sound as if we British have all the irony in the world, the greatest global deposits of irony ore. I don't think we have. I think what we have is sarcasm. And that's what the Americans don't have plenty of. And good luck to them."

"My father used to have a rhyme about irony," said the lady with blue hair. "How did it go?"

It is part of pub etiquette that when someone has something on the tip of their tongue, there is a 10 second silence for them to recover it. If they haven't recovered it by then, too bad. The blue hairdo? Well, she likes to match the colour of her hair to her current tipple, and as she has recently moved over to ginger wine, she wanted to have a green tinge, but the hairdresser had a mix-up of hair dyes and turned her blue by mistake. So now she is unwillingly drinking blue Curacao as it's the only blue drink she can think of. The landlord says he will try to devise a concoction involving blueberry juice before Christmas, but she says she has another hair appointment before then, so not to bother ...

"Ah, I remember !" she said. "It went like this ...

She cleared her throat.

"When something is ironic.
It's full of irony,
So if someone is Byronic,
Why no Byrony?"

"Clever chap, your father," said the Welshman. "What did he mean by it?"

"Well," she said, "just that if there is a noun from 'ironic', i.e. 'irony', why was there no noun from 'Byronic'?"

There was a silence.

"Funny name, Darcus," said the man with the dog. "Especially for ... especially for ..."

"A dark person?" said the Welshman helpfully.


"I don't see why. I mean, we don't think that White is a strange name for a white person. Or Black or White or Green. We don't think that Gordon Brown is a strange name. Strange person, maybe ..."

"I wonder why you don't get anyone called Blue?" said the lady, fingering her blue-tinted hair.

"Oh, but you do," said the man with the dog. "Rabbi Lionel Blue."

"I wonder why off-colour jokes are called blue?" said the Welshman.

"Because they get blue-pencilled," said the man with the dog."

"I wonder why they use a blue pencil ..."

"Oh, for heaven's sake," said the man with the dog, "there are hundreds of books coming out for Christmas called 'Why Do We Say That?' or 'The Real McCoy' or 'Don't Touch Me With That Bargepole', and they all explain where every phrase in the world comes from, so just get one for Christmas and look it up and tell us when Christmas is over!"

"Think we'll have a white Christmas?" said the Welshman.

One of the unspoken rules of pub conversations is to quit when the tape loop comes round again, so I did.