It seems the world’s going to hell in a hand cart, with high-profile figures, who see themselves as heroes, leading the way. Many of us view the world’s Johnsons and Trumps as villains. But are they? Or are they lightweights (albeit lightweights with power and influence) painfully reminiscent of characters in the comic-books I read as a child?
I was reminded of those comics by a recent newspaper report. An army captain was drinking with his soldiers (which I don’t think an officer is supposed to do) at an Essex barracks, when things got out of hand. When he fell asleep, his subordinates stripped him and locked him in a lavatory cubicle.
When he woke up he was furious: so angry, indeed, that when they refused to release him he smashed his way out through the plasterboard wall.
This called to mind a comic-book hero from my youth. When I was little, we spent our time recreating WW2, constantly fighting Germans (Jerries), hurling improvised hand-grenades and shooting down imaginary planes with cricket bats standing in for machine-guns. Our limited imaginations were stimulated by cartoon war-stories. My comic of choice was Valiant, and my favourite character Captain Hurricane.
This overlarge warrior was minded by his batman, Maggot Malone. They would get into a fearful scrape from which no escape appeared possible, at which Maggot would exclaim: “Fan me with a wet codfish! The Cap’n’s getting into one of his Ragin’ Furies!”
The eponymous captain would grow red and enormous, saving the day by tearing buildings and even tanks apart with his bare hands, with a running commentary of “Cop that, Fritz!” or “Share that among you, squareheads!”
The longer Boris carries on, larger-than-life and round, the more he reminds me of Billy Bunter, the immortal creation of author Frank Richards. In his cheery tales of Greyfriars School, Bunter was merely a clown and, being fat and greedy, the butt of cruel jest.
By contrast, Boris likes to play the clown but is far from a genuine buffoon. Public school banter, the effortless alliteration and a talent for creating soundbites conceal (unless you think they reveal) a steely purpose, his naked ambition to lead his party – and the country.
He’s currently refusing to apologise for his comments likening women wearing burkas or niqabs to letter-boxes or bank-robbers. His defenders claim his right to free speech, to raise difficult topics that require debate.
He wasn’t stimulating any such debate. As Kester Brewin wrote in an excellent piece for Tes online today, people in lofty positions such as his have no moral right to mock or denigrate those beneath: indeed, those people should be able to depend on his support, not suffer his scorn. And he should set a better example.
This was no light-hearted joke: nor an innocent blunder. He’s playing to a nasty side of his own party, not to mention UKIPpers, all ready to rally to his cause when he makes his bid for leadership. In the meantime, such wilful utterances from the former Foreign Secretary will be taken by the intolerant, the vicious and the racist as a license for their own excesses.
No jolly comic-book outcome there, then. Bunter’s not fun anymore.
On a lighter note, my last piece for Voice of the North criticised the way catering staff sometimes torture language. Last week we broke a journey in a Yorkshire hotel. The charming young waitress in the restaurant nearly committed the same sin when she asked, “Are we ready to order?” But she redeemed herself when she turned to my wife and asked, disingenuously, “Have you decided, dear?” Patronising? No, it was genuinely caring, and thus charming.
Later we overhead a conversation between her and a young couple at another table about the latest movie spin-off from Marvel Comics. I think it was called Ant-Man versus Wasp: nowadays it seems they choose any two or more superhero names, paste together a tenuous plot, bung in a vast budget and, hey presto! There’s a new movie!
As we paid the bill, I couldn’t resist commenting that I remember reading those Marvel Comics the first time round. “Oh my goodness!“ she exclaimed. “Those are so old now: collectors’ items!” Good job I’m not sensitive.
I felt like summoning another childhood hero – the Eagle’s Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future – and plead, “Beam me up, Scotty!”
Hang on: I think I just got confused. Must be my age.