Gosh, I can’t tell you how lucky you were not to have been brought up in the Delingpole family. There were nine of us in all — not counting the cats, iguanas, fleas, lice and one-eyed pugs — and the scene every day in the rambling Old Rectory where we lived was like the second half of Lord of the Flies only without the restraint, civility and gentle charm.
It was a dog-eat-dog world where no quarter was given and none expected. It was like Florence in the era of the Medici (only without the culture and art part: unless you count the huge mural of Judge Death my brother Dick did in his bedroom) — an era of constantly shifting alliances, betrayal, backstabbing, torture, humiliation and perpetual war. It made me the hardened street-fighter I am today….
….As I was reminded only last weekend when we held a rare full-family reunion to celebrate my baby brother Charlie’s 30th birthday. Charlie is the genius of the family, a brilliant entrepreneur, whose internet start-up Market Invoice is going to make him one of the richest and most successful players of his generation. I admire him enormously and always take his business and financial advice seriously. But no matter how well he does, not even if he becomes the next Warren Buffett, the dynamic of our relationship will never change: I’ll always expect him to look up to me as the senior child in the pecking order; and in return — even though he already outranks me in wealth, power and height — I’ll always feel protective towards him as my sweet, mewling, puking little bro whose nappies I used to change.
All big families are the same as this, I’m sure. Get them back together and, no matter how much maturity and responsibility they have achieved since their childhood years, they will revert almost instantly to type.
My poor stepsister Marianne, for example. She has done really well for herself: married a delightful, good-natured and well-off husband and now lives in a huge, envy-inducing house with five gorgeous, beautifully brought-up children. But then as soon as Dick and I come along, all those achievements vanish. Once more she is just Marianne, the stepsister we used to call Horse (because she once made the mistake of showing an interest in horses, mainly) and who once told us excitedly that she’d looked up her hair colour on a chart and that it was ‘sunset gold’. ‘No, it’s not,’ we replied. ‘It’s dogshit brown. And Emily’s [that’s Marianne’s sister] is piss yellow.’
Marianne and Emily don’t particularly like being reminded of this. They think, being mothers, successful businesswomen, stalwarts of the local Parish Parochial Council, etc, they’re beyond all that. But they’re not actually, as I strove to remind Marianne within seconds of my arrival.
‘Hello Horse. Great to see you.’
‘Hello, James’ (affectionate but slightly testy).
‘Horse, before we do anything else, will you just do one thing for me?’ I said, holding out my hand, palm upwards. ‘Could you just stick your head over the fence and nibble at this juicy grass I’ve just picked for you?’
‘No James. I won’t.’
Later on, my bossy little sister Mary Rose made the mistake of trying to give me a telling off for calling Marianne a horse when she doesn’t like it. But I blanked her. No, more than that, I treated her to the kind of dismissive expression of unutterable lip-curling contempt you can only give a kid who didn’t even, like, exist till you’d been on the earth for 14 years, for God’s sake, so what right does she have to lecture you about anything?
A similar impulse, I’m sure, affects my attitude to our coalition government. The last time I spoke to the Prime Minister, I believe, was at one of the Spectator summer parties. ‘Dave,’ I said. ‘How come you’ve turned into such a fucking lefty?’ Which, I suppose, coming from just any old hack might be considered a mite impertinent. But when you’ve known a chap since you were 20, when you’ve sat together listening out for the flams on Supertramp’s Crime of The Century and made drunken prats of yourselves at the same cocktail parties, it’s not like you’re suddenly going to go: ‘Wow. He’s Prime Minister. Better start treating him with respect now.’
It’s the same with Nick Boles. And Michael Gove. And Boris, of course. You think: ‘Well the posts they hold can’t be that impressive, can they? Not when they’re my contemporaries and we know half the same people and I’ve seen what vulnerable adolescents they used to be — and still are underneath — before they started pretending to be grown-ups.’
If this is what it’s like now, with me only in my late forties, I can scarcely begin to imagine how sardonically aloof I’ll have grown when I hit my eighties or nineties. Crikey, you must need a good sense of humour or a refined appreciation of the absurd by the time you reach that age. You must look at the world, at the idiots governing you and making the money and making the rules, seeing them make all the mistakes that you’ve already seen being made a thousand times before, and think to yourself: ‘But this is madness. What do they know? They’re all children!’
Then, of course, you die — taking all your accumulated wisdom with you.
He has a vicious sense of humour and a refined sense of cruelty, does God. Bet he’d have got like a house on fire with the Delingpole family at the Old Rectory.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 1 December 2012