A week ago I plucked my eight-year-old grandson Oscar from the bosom of his rumbustious young family and took him on an orange aeroplane to Nice, and from there up into the hills of the upper Var to spend 11 days in our breeze-block shack. His second visit. On his first, last August, the temperature hit 45 degrees Celsius and we were roasted alive. This one, though, was relentlessly cold and wet and the mop and bucket were in constant use in the living room. Confined to barracks, we played Dobble, a card game akin to snap, but more complicated and requiring sharper wits. Several games of Dobble revealed beyond all argument that grandad’s dementia was much more advanced than had previously been thought.
The rain and grandad’s dementia did not, however, prevent us from going out to dinner one evening. Boring for an eight-year-old, potentially, I thought, but perhaps a useful introduction to the social classes existing an ear-poppingly four or five levels above his own. Over drinks and nibbles the hostess privately asked me to guess where her political sympathies lay. I guessed that they could be summarised as Corbyn God, Trump Satan. Wrong. She was not only a Brexiteer but also a fan of President Trump. On hearing this, I nearly fell over. She was the first middle-class or above person I have ever met to frankly admit it. I felt like a tattered and exhausted Mungo Park coming across a lonely gallows on the Upper Niger and shouting for joy because it meant he had reached civilisation at last.
We trooped into the dining room and sat down to eat. These days what normally happens at dinner parties where people haven’t met before is that some nitwit will check via a throwaway but calculated comment that we are all going to heaven and Lord Adonis is of the company. It’s the unfathomable reckless stupidity, the reassured nitwit might go on, of those who voted to leave that he or she can’t understand, and everyone nods sadly. Past experience has taught me to keep my head down at this point and keep chewing. Not only because I am indeed unfathomably stupid, not to mention inarticulate, but also because I can quite see his point, which is that allowing your slaves to vote is simply asking for trouble. What on earth was Mr Cameron thinking about?
But on this occasion, as I’ve mentioned, we weren’t all singing from the same song sheet. Instead of moving on, after the inevitable derogatory asides or jokes about Brexit and Mr Trump, to the exciting subject of the exchange rate or boxed sets, the early light-hearted exchanges quickly descended into contumely and argument. Our Brexiteer hostess bravely credited Mr Trump with wisdom, especially with regard to his foreign policy. And one of her guests wasn’t having that, not for a second, diagnosing instead an extreme case of cretinism — though without feeling in the least bit sorry for him. In fact, the assertion that President Trump could be anything other than a cretin beyond reach inflamed her to raving apoplexy in a fraction of a second.
Our hostess, incidentally, was a mesmerising beauty. She was Nature bragging. I, too, think Mr Trump is a fantastic president. But even if I had been undecided, her beauty alone would have convinced me of the rightness of her opinions, irrespective of the cogency, reasonableness or even truth of all counter arguments.
The debate about Mr Trump’s IQ had reached such a pitch of surliness and acrimony that I was asked for my opinion; presumably in the hope that a piece of arrant poppycock might lighten the tone. The argument at that point had strayed to the character of Hillary Clinton.
‘The Clintons are a crime family, aren’t they?’ I said. The anti-Donald faction was outraged. And what evidence had I for this? I had none whatever, I said. It was something I’d read somewhere, and the juxtaposition of the words ‘Clinton’ and ‘crime family’ had greatly appealed. But hadn’t Saint Christopher Hitchens written an entire book on the subject? I added. Well, yes, OK. But had I read it? No. Sorry. I hadn’t. I’d only heard of it. Well, why bring it up, then? Really. How does an unfounded accusation like that contribute to an intelligent discussion?
I hung my head and apologised. Then I turned to Oscar, who was seated beside me, uncertainly wielding the poshest knife and fork he had ever seen in his life over the bloody flesh of a lamb, and I put my arms around him and gave him a loving kiss and a prolonged cuddle for putting up so patiently and for so long with this impassioned yet uninteresting argument. ‘Rock on, Tommy, you little liar,’ he said. (We’ve been enjoying the northern comics Cannon and Ball on YouTube lately.) ‘Pick up the piggin’ phone, Tommy,’ I said.