Magazine article The Spectator

In Coventry, in Verona

Magazine article The Spectator

In Coventry, in Verona

Article excerpt

Low life In Coventry, in Verona

Before going to Venice, we spent two days in Verona. It was my first time in Italy and I got a crick in the neck from looking up at so many amazingly old, beautiful buildings. 'If you think this is beautiful, wait till you see Venice,' they said.

Our host was David Petrie, a Scottish lecturer of English at the university. David is currently suing the Italian state for discriminating against foreign lecturers, and naturally this course of action hasn't endeared him to his hosts. He's been sent to Coventry. He's been given a smaller office, then given no office at all. He's been sacked. He's been reinstated by an order of the court. He's received death threats via the telephone. He's been offered bribes. (The government official's exact words, translated into English, were: 'All right then, how much do you want?')

Far from taking all this lying down, Mr Petrie, a patriotic Scot, is battling his opponents all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. Hilariously contemptuous of a state university system openly based on patronage, and of the consequently abysmal academic standard of its professors, Mr Petrie has taken to writing comic book reviews of his university colleagues' published academic work.

On our first night in Verona he took us round the corner to his local pub, called Dead Meat, which also happens to be the local young communists' bar. We hadn't been in there more than five minutes when Mr Petrie got into an argument with a female young communist, who was wearing communist glasses, about Tony Blair. Because I was smoking a cigarette when I walked in, the communist management made me finish it beside a small, partially opened window on the other side of the room, so my limited understanding of the specifics was limited even further. But the gist of the argument, apparently, was this. The communist woman had stated that every Western democracy was rotten, and that every Western political leader was corrupt. And Mr Petrie, for his part, wasn't having any of it.

Mr Petrie's father was a communist shop steward for a Clyde shipbuilder's yard. And as a lecturer at Tripoli University in the Seventies he'd partied with top IRA and Loyalist brass, who by the way, he says, were quite civil to each other when they were on the dance floor together. So I guess it was natural that a bourgeois political platitude like that, especially coming from a young so-called communist, would upset him enough to speak out. …

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