Matthew Norman: Unlike Jan Moir, I'm nearly lost for words

Diary: Even by Mail standards, Jan's censoriousness is astonishing, and the instant response has been spectacular

Sunday 23 October 2011 04:39

It is with the most grievously aching of hearts that I must, today, pass on an announcement from Friday's ... But no, it's much too soon. Allow me some private time with the Courvoisier and a couple of Xanax, and perhaps we will locate the strength to touch on it below.

Down on the farm

To the Elysian fields of rural Somerset for news of the Mail's Liz Jones, the poster girl for metrocentric snark whose efforts to blend in with her new Exmoor neighbours have met such curious resistance. The locals have been so struck by Liz's accounts of their shortcomings, you may recall, that the postbox of her farmhouse was peppered, so she claims, with shotgun pellets. Whatever the truth of that, vengeance has undeniably now been taken.

The Somerset County Gazette reveals that, at the Dulverton Carnival, Bern How and Terry Littlefair – the former in Rapunzel wig and dramatic make-up by way of homage, the latter styled after "a toothless farmer" in reference to her obsession with local orthodontic failings – named their float Liz's Coffee Morning.

Lloyd Vaughan reports that the cute touches included the feeding of organic chickens to rats (Liz having confided that she treats her barn rats to organic muesli); cut-price dentures; a tin of Illy coffee and, of course, a damaged letterbox.

Nascent hopes that this drollery might lead to a rapprochement have been drowned at birth, alas, an egg attack against the roof of her car proving the final straw. "I had thought that if I... spent £350 on a cashmere blanket in a Dulverton gift shop... people would like me and accept me, " Liz writes. Chin up, girl, and ignore these gummy ingrates. A calf fattened on organic muesli and Illy lattes awaits you here in town.

Storm clouds gather

Meanwhile, another Mail columnist invites a reaction unlikely to be sated by a satirical carnival float. In a piece cunningly pitched to make Robert Mugabe sound like Peter Tatchell, Jan Moir darkly suggests that a sybaritic gay lifestyle, rather than an undiagnosed heart condition, caused Stephen Gately's death. This seemed a brave line to take with the body still unburied, and no firmer evidence than a little cannabis in the bloodstream and a visit to his Spanish flat by a Bulgarian.

Even by Mail standards, Jan's censoriousness is astonishing, and the instant response (nothing from Mr Fry on Twitter yet, but very early days) has been spectacular. Within hours of the article appearing on Friday, a Facebook campaign had been launched, with 250 members joining within the first hour, aimed at forcing the Mail to retract these "unfounded and sickening allegations"; or failing that to pressure Procter & Gamble, BT Broadband and National Express to pull advertising. Given the challenge of imagining a swift surrender from the paper's mannerly editor, Paul Dacre, I suspect we may be obliged to return to the matter next week.

Hold the front page

Stop Press: Stephen Fry has duly tweeted as follows. "I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathsome and inhumane." A little harsh, perhaps, but trenchant and to the point.

Farewell, my old friend

Finally, to the media news that put Carter-Ruck's elegant injunction and all other media stories this week into proper perspective. Bereft of the words, I will leave them to the titan of opinion formation known here today for the last time as my favourite columnist. "I'm going to be devoting my time to our pioneering SunTalk radio show," wrote Jon Gaunt in Friday's Currant Bun, "so this will be my last column." You read them, you read them again, and yea even thrice do you read them, and still they make not one iota of sense. It is not for me to ape Ms Moir by speculating maniacally about the cause of death while the corpse is still warm, although if anyone was hovering outside cerebral new editor Dominic Mohan's office when Gaunty was informed, please feel free to share an account of what may have been a lively tête-à-tête.

Work on a retrospective celebration of his work begins without delay, as does a top-level external inquiry into how this could possibly have come to pass. For now, Gaunty, farewell and thanks for everything. It's been a blast.

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