One of the hazards of writing a column about the press is that sooner or later you are bound to be cornered by an editor or journalist whom you have teased. I shall never forget the time I was harangued in the street by the charming wife of my old friend Peter Stothard. Sometimes one is cut in the lavatories of clubs by people whom one has quite forgotten having written about. A worse experience is waking up to find that an editor whom you have ragged has been appointed to the editorship of the paper for which you write.
Such was my fate when Sir Max Hastings was made editor of the London Evening Standard, for which I then worked. Max was not inclined to take a humorous view of the things I had written about him. He sacked me, and my friend Frank Johnson, editor of The Spectator, asked me to write this column. That was nearly nine years ago.
History sometimes repeats itself. I awoke on Tuesday morning to hear on the radio that Andrew Neil had been appointed chief executive of The Spectator. One or two readers may be aware that over the years I have lobbed the occasional rotten cabbage in the direction of Mr Neil, and he has lobbed them back. I recall that earlier this year we had a particularly intense exchange of missiles. Quite how, or why, it all began I can no longer remember, but one episode in our intermittent hostilities does stick in my mind.
It was a drowsy summer’s evening three or four years ago when the bees were buzzing and the butterflies dancing in the fading light. I may have had a glass of wine in my hand.