Magazine article The Spectator

Transatlantic Relations

Magazine article The Spectator

Transatlantic Relations

Article excerpt

When I spotted that the conservative American writer and wit P.J. O'Rourke was giving two 20-minute talks on Radio Four, the first on Easter Sunday, I rubbed my eyes thinking there must have been some mistake. Or maybe a printing error. How did he get past the Guardianistas at the BBC? Did he slip in the back way disguised as a delivery man? He even gained access to a microphone and spoke into it. Twice! Well, I suppose as listeners we can be tossed the odd crumb or two now and again to keep us quiet. Whether Islingtonian listeners can tolerate it we'll have to wait to hear in the next Feedback season.

O'Rourke was on fine form, too, as he reassessed transatlantic relations. When younger and living in a basement flat in Maida Vale, he admired Britain. 'We were young, energetic, noisy, rude and vulgar. You were wise, calm, philosophic, cultivated. A little past it but all the more estimable for being so.' Over the years, he observed, something has changed: 'Britain no longer seems like the grown-up table.' Britain now seems childish. This first occurred to him during the Greenham Common protests in the 1980s. 'Women thinking they could stop nuclear war by chaining themselves to an air-base fence. I'm sure it was a relief to their husbands, getting them out of the house an' all, but I doubt it much impeded the military-industrial establishment.'

Perhaps, he wondered, it was down to 'your naughty socialism, stubbornly persisting through governments, Labour and Conservative. The socialist impulse to levelling unfairness is so pervasive that you no longer notice. You call Tony Blair a capitalist pig for not being Ken Livingstone.' Taking from others was like 'bed before dinner'. 'Endless sets of free false teeth and nothing to bite, as one Tory put it when the National Health Service was introduced.' And as for Blair's London, 'Right in the middle of what was once the most serious and important city on earth there is a great big Ferris wheel.' On our animal sentimentality and the fox-hunting ban: 'It's so cute when children ooh and ah over the doings of little animals . . . Never mind the fox is a rat in a designer ballgown, vermin with a makeover. . .'

Satirical, funny, sardonic and yet refreshingly full of some uncomfortable insights into the adolescent silliness of much of modern Britain compared with the United States. …

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