Postcard From Peter Hitchens

I, or rather the staff of Question Time Review Headquarters, owe Mr Peter Hitchens an apology or at the least, an explanation. The problem is my letter box. A fiddly affair, it’s not on the front door but on a side door, low down and difficult to open.

The passage of least resistance is for Postie, or an Albanian architect giving out leaflets for tuppence a time while casing the joint, to open the door and throw the post/takeaway menu into the covered alleyway between Chez Worth-Saying’s garage, kitchen and home office.

All well and good. Works a treat and saves a lot of answering the front door. But the system came to an A4-sized cropper when a white envelope landed at the perpendicular and leaned against a whitewashed wall. As ever, it’s all my fault but in my defence, alongside the standing plea of insanity, how was I supposed to spot it?

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
How am I supposed to see that?
© Always Worth Saying 2024, Going Postal

Despite being back and forward through the alleyway, not only collecting post but bouncing the lawn mower through (yes, it’s that time of the year again already), setting mouse traps and dragging goodness knows how many different types of recycling to the kerbside, I never spotted it. Judging by the postmark, it laughed at me fighting with the Christmas shopping too.

It did catch my attention while I bent down for the weekly flyer from my MP. This announces all kinds of things I’m supposed to be pleased about but, on the downside, also announces without saying so that a general election approaches.

While we’re on the topic, I have an opportunity to settle an argument. Regarding an exciting town centre development nobody wants, my member of parliament, as I would, refers to the ‘railway station’, not the train station. The matter is settled. I must mention it to the girls at work.

Last week, we had the railway station/train station yelling match in the retail shed, beside the car park, next to the motorway junction, in which we stack the shelves. I’ll stop you there, girls. It always has a railway in it but doesn’t always have a train in it.

Rather than concede to their elder and better the young ladies retaliated with salvo after salvo of pertinent observation. It always has a Costas in it but it’s not called a Costa station. That’s not the point. It always has pigeons but it’s not called a pigeon station. Nobody asked your opinion. It always has a toilet but it’s not called a toilet station. Shut up or I’ll hit you. Youth of today. What do they teach them at school?

All of this is happening in front of the bargain hunters (who are queuing before us to ask of firelighters and toilet rolls) and therefore attracts the attention of our supervisor. When asked to adjudicate, he concludes they’re called railway stations ‘but only in the olden days.’ Thanks a lot.

I digress. Back to a portrait way round document yellowing at the edges. I feared the worst. Was it something legal? My name and address was uppy-downy not acrossy, as if dispatched by one’s solicitor. My solicitor still being in jail, it must be from someone else’s. Oh, the postmark. Not only had I been summonsed to somewhere for something but I’d missed the hearing and a warrant is out for my arrest. Or so I feared.

Opening the letter revealed a fancy masthead and a London address in Derry Street. Although unfamiliar with the locale, it did sound half-familiar. Perhaps during a notorious court case involving a humble scribe being sued? I assumed it close to the Old Bailey.

Nobody reads the articles except the libel lawyers – eeek. My professional life passed before me. The Question Time guest who resembled Les Dawson in a blue wig. Thanghum Debonnaire’s Only Fans account. Nick Ferrari’s awful toupee, ‘real hair but not his’. Boris Johnson as a Turkish waiter.

Which elderly lady member of the great and the good did I have arriving at the studio in a taxi from the cemetery? And which of them (all of them?) might be both litigious and have deeper pockets than I?

I haven’t finished with the railway station/train station thing. Google called. I gathered the young ladies the next day. I had typed ‘railway station’ into my internet search engine and there they were. Every single one of them. From Atocha to Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor. An objection from the floor. The shop girl community were of the opinion I would find the same if I typed in ‘train station’.

Wrong. I wouldn’t do such a thing, but if I had, Google would have returned rows of blank boxes topped by a little line of text asking, ‘Did you mean railway station?’ That told them.

Where is this Derry Steet? Next to the Inns of Chamber? I’m sure I’d heard of it before. Perhaps during a notorious case involving a humble scribe being picked up by his ankles and having every penny shaken out of his pockets after being cheeky about George the Poet? Elsewhere on Google, the maps beckoned. All was revealed.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Mr Hitchens, via Post Office Horizon CCTV, posting at Derry Street PO.
Peter Hitchens at debate on Eastern Europe,
Nigel Luckhurst
Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Myself and other lesser mortals will have thought Fleet Street was once home to all of the national press. Not quite. Home to, among others, the bold Art Deco facade of The Daily Express and, somehow, to the Dundee Courier at number 186, next to St Dunstan’s Church and the corner of Fetter Lane.

But the Daily Mail’s Castle Greyskull sat elsewhere. Bolshy unions and the new technology of the 1980s means none of this survives. However, an outpost of Fleet Street is still in place, as if a quaint village in New Zealand more English than Slough, or two or three streets in Singapore, home to ex-pat Scots, more Scottish than enriched Pollockshields.

I am speaking of Northcliffe House. To my relief, nowhere near the Central Criminal Courts, but tucked between Derry Street and Young Street on Kensington High Street – on the other side of Town to the capital’s legal and media streets of shame.

Although the Mail had a presence on Fleet Street it also inhabited this 1925 Ellis & Clark-designed Art Deco HQ with neo-Egyptian features. In 1988, as Fleet Street emptied, the entire editorial Mail operation decamped to the West End.

Although much of the building is re-developed to diverse office space, sufficient whiff of printer’s ink and hot metal lingers to allow an envelope to be dispatched from one of their columnists to one of my doors. Let me explain.

Puffins with short memories will have already forgotten that when The Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens was last a Question Time panellist, I took the liberty of noting, as one shouldn’t meet one’s heroes, perhaps one needn’t bother to write to them either.

The non-correspondence (or so I thought) started on X, once called Twitter. Mr Hitchens, taking time out from obsessing about British summertime, pot smoking and an injustice metered to a bishop of his acquaintance alleged to be a child molester, touched upon a subject close to both of our hearts. One feels obliged to reply. Baffled by X, I put pen to paper.

Being ignorant of Mr Hitchens’ address (other than Oxford, the mention of which is another of his obsessions) I forwarded my letter to Peter’s proprietor, Lord Northcliffe, confident his valet in charge of unsolicited correspondence would do the right thing. One’s imagination took over.

The 73-year-old author, broadcaster, journalist, and commentator would be well entertained. An exchange of letters would follow. Perhaps a podcast? Cameras would roll. We might invite Fiona Bruce to ‘Peter and Worth Saying’s Honest Answers Time’.

The following long silence (punctuated by the unnoticed noise a letter makes when fluttering to the perpendicular between grass cuttings and mouse droppings) was, therefore, all the more disappointing. During the Question Time programme, Peter said he was fresh from a reality TV show involving him being in prison.

Flipping to the other extreme, rather than being ignored, I speculated my letter had been the only thing to distract the incarcerated scribe. He’d spent all day staring at it as if a captive Bunyan looking up to a stained glass window. All the while his letter was standing upright in my passage.

Never mind all that, and apologies for the tedious introductory ramble, what did Mr Hichtens have to say? Find out next time in Postcard From Peter Hitchens!

Happy Easter and to be continued…

© Always Worth Saying 2024