A FEW weeks ago I wrote a column about Brexit, as I occasionally do. Partly it is because it is a massive issue which none of us can dodge, and partly it is because I have to write these columns in advance and there is no way that the situation is unexpectedly going to come good between my writing it and its appearance in your newspaper.
What usually happens when I write a column about Brexit is I get a number of emails and letters from Brexiters who lambast me for my lack of belief, or my naivety. I always reply and ask them how they think it will work, and they always reply with something amounting to “It just will.”
Occasionally they will invoke World War II. “We got through a war and won it,” they say. “So we’ll get through Brexit.” And that much is true. We definitely did win the war, and all on our own, without the help of an empire that spanned a third of the globe, the countries of which were obliged to sacrifice themselves for us, and without an alliance with the Americans and the Russians.
If the lesson you take from World War II is that we are stronger when we are not taking a leading role in an alliance of nations, then I am not sure what I can say to you.
However, that did not happen on this occasion. I received no letters from Brexiters – presumably because I had them bang to rights. No, something much worse happened…
After they appear in print, I post these columns on the internet. I don’t think it’s fair that people who can’t afford the few silver pennies that it costs to buy a brilliantly written and designed newspaper should miss out on riveting stories like that time I was in Tesco or the front-door doughnut incident.
The Brexit column included a long section in which I imagined a Leaver and a Remainer talking about cake, and somebody copied that section and posted it on a quite popular website. And then somebody copied that into an email and sent it to a friend. And the friend copied that and put it on Facebook, the popular website on which you find out which of your school friends have become racist and which ones can’t spell.
And, to cut a long story short enough that you won’t go away, what happened next is that a small skit I wrote for you, my loyal and long-suffering readers, went viral.
Nine years I’ve been writing this weekly column, my friends! Nine long years I have ploughed a lonely and unloved furrow of stories about disappointing soup or my inability to give directions to lost tourists without getting so tied up in their lives that I still get Christmas cards from them.
And the first time one of my columns went viral and lauded by the masses, my name wasn’t even on it. And, even worse, the name of the woman who copied and pasted the column on to Facebook WAS.
People were saying how clever and funny she was, and I was yelling “NO! I AM THE CLEVER AND FUNNY ONE!” like a Saturday morning stage-school student who has missed out on the lead role in their production of High School Musical.
And then people were copying her post, and apologising to HER for stealing her content. I was furious.
Friends were kind enough to say I should be flattered that people were pinching my Brexit skit. I gave them short shrift. “Oh, yes,” I said. “I bet if somebody burgled your house you’d love it if I fetched up and said you should take it as a compliment for having such a nice telly.” It’s a wonder I have any friends, quite frankly.
Still it came, serving me right, shared by friends, and showing up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds again and again, always with somebody else’s name on it. A Twitter friend, who hadn’t read my column, referred to it, in a conversation with me, as “that sodding meme”.
The final insult was when a stranger messaged me on Facebook and accused me of stealing the sketch from the internet and putting it into my column, and still didn’t believe that it was mine, even after I showed him incontrovertible evidence, including date-stamping of my column. “That proves nothing. You could have added that in later,” he said.
This is why we have Brexit.