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High life

Forked tongues

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

19 April 2003

12:00 AM

19 April 2003

12:00 AM

New York

Just as well I never made it down south. For the last three weeks I’ve been feeling kinda funny, finding blood on my pillow in the morning and having headaches, things I attributed to my Karamazovian hangovers. While waiting to fly to Iran, I decided to go to see a doctor. He took one look inside my head (via an MRI) and told me I had to have an operation right away. The mother of my children flew over, held my hand, the doctor cut out a tumour of sorts, and I’m now home recuperating and happy as a lark. I shall know next week whether this was a bad or good tumour, but – before some Murdoch and Guardian hacks break open the champagne – the doc says it’s a good one.

This is the good news. The bad is that, because of my illness, I’ve now become a real hack, able to lie without thinking and with a very straight face. Let me explain. Like most people outside the journalistic or criminal professions, I try not to lie or mislead. But when the telephone rang one day after my operation and a woman on the other end announced she was ringing from the Daily Mail to enquire whether I was dying or not, I never missed a beat. ‘Never felt better in my life,’ I said, or words to that effect. ‘Where do they come up with such stuff?’ and so on. She was immediately convinced. I will not mention the woman’s name. It’s a well-known one, and she should be ashamed of herself. How does someone ring a person they’ve never met and ask such intimate questions? At the end, the female hack did not get her story – who the hell among Daily Mail readers gives a damn, anyway? – and I found out I could speak with a forked tongue with the best of them. (Perhaps I should join a Murdoch tabloid.) But talk about being insensitive and intrusive. Hacks, I was once told by Charles Moore, were considered just above thieves in the hierarchy of professions. I wonder if they still hold such an exalted position.


But enough of such a depressing subject. The British tabloids, starting with Murdoch and his minions, have brutalised society with their sensationalism and outright fabrications. The media presents itself as a tribune of the people, but it’s nothing of the sort. It is the celebration of crass ignorance, of the puerile and the scatological.

And speaking of crass ignorance, I read in the Telegraph that UEFA, the governing body of European football, is trying to kick racism out of football by charging the FA over the English fans who chanted, ‘I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk’, during the match against Turkey. Well, I’m not so sure. It depends what kind of Turk. When Byron visited Ali Pasha, the magnificent blond Albanian ruler of Greece, in 1824, Ali offered him access to his harem. Ali had 150 young girls, and 150 young boys. ‘Go on, take some of the boys,’ he told the poet. ‘Why do you assume I like boys?’ asked Byron. ‘Ah, all you Old Etonians like that,’ said Ali, getting it right except for the fact that Byron went to Harrow.

Turn me into a Turk like Ali Pasha with 150 young girls (you can give the boys to Peter Mandelson) and I’d much rather be a Turk than a Paki. But put me in bed with Jemima Khan, and I’d much rather be a Paki than a Turk. I would have loved to have been a German officer in Paris at the start of the war, and an American officer in Berlin at the end of it. Think of all the pussy. What I would not have liked is to have been an Italian officer in Greece during the war – we had humiliated them – or an English officer in Singapore. It’s all relative.

Rumsfeld and the sofa samurais are gloating over their easy victory against one of history’s greatest war machines. In the meantime, looters have sacked Baghdad’s antiquities museum, plundering treasures dating from the dawn of civilisation in Mesopotamia. But why should Rummie worry? His idea of culture is the proverbial piano-shaped swimming-pool, so who gives a damn about Meso…what’sacallit? As if the poor Arabs don’t have enough problems. Just think of it. No Arab government has ever accepted public responsibility for its own shortcomings. No Arab state genuinely respects human rights. No Arab state is a true democracy. Now we’ve managed to ensure that they’ve even lost their past, although Rummie told a press conference that he thinks some of the objects might be returned. With a haircut like Rumsfeld’s, what do you expect?

Happy Easter to all of you.


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