Boris and Me

Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London, was recently appointed Foreign Secretary of the new Conservative government. He was briefly in the running for Prime Minister. Cameron, he of no first name that I know of, left Downing Street with his tail between his legs; indeed, the only one in the vicinity of Number 10 with its tail up was Larry the Cat (unaffiliated). Cameron was not for Brexit, Boris was. Brexit, which sounds like a breakfast cereal, is not digestible for half the population of the so-called United Kingdom. But so it goes with majority rule.

Everyone is by now familiar with the supposed six degrees of separation that connect us one to another. I cannot for the life of me build a bridge to Boris. For one thing, he went to The Other Place. Of course, I must have been to London while he was mayor, but that hardly counts.

I did, however, intersect with Boris recently, although in a way that would not count as a degree of separation. Not long ago, a German comedian was charged with insulting the caliph, sorry, I mean Erdogan, the President of the Increasingly Islamic Republic of Turkey. In Germany they have great respect for authority, even of foreign states, especially those in which they have investments and which are holding several hundred thousand potential migrants in reserve as a kind of birthday-party surprise for Angela Merkel. Besides, they were on the same side in World War I. In Germany they had, and apparently still have, a crime called Beamtenbeleidigung, or besmirching or not paying sufficient respect to an official in his official capacity. I first learned of this in an excellent book on the German mind, which it seems has not changed much. Then again, they also gave us the word Realpolitik, which offers an alternative explanation.

To get to the point, a conservative magazine called the Spectator took this as a violation of traditional liberties, including the right to insult. So they announced a contest on the Internet for the best limerick about Erdogan, with an expiration date of a month or two hence. Obscenity was a requirement. Now, I consider limericks to be among the best things I have ever written. In high school a not very well liked English teacher gave us a Christmas-themed-poem writing assignment. This was, mind you, a school that was around 80% Jewish, as was the teacher, for that matter. But in those halcyon days, the Christian religion was, apparently, not off the teaching calendar. I decided to take the mickey out of the teacher, who was a martinet, and write a limerick, which I am still very proud of. Ahem:

A department store Santa named Shay
Loudly exclaimed Christmas Day
I hate Christmas and New Years
And children of few years
And collected his severance pay.

And I recited it in class, too.

Since then I have occasionally turned to limericks in great historical moments. Here's George Bush's ill-informed and tangled explanation of how invading Afghanistan was really for the Afghans' own good.

There was a young man from Stan
I mean, a young Afghani man
His house in Kabubble
Was turned into rubble
By those rats from the Tallyhoban.

An Italian friend commented that he would like to see one on Berlusconi, but that limericks did not work well in Italian. It did not take me long; indeed, that's the best thing about limericks.

The man from Milan thought Bologna
Bred commies like colds breed pneumonia
His talk of cultura
Was strictly bravura
For cultura he had no bisogna.

Getting back to Boris. Well, I decided to enter the Spectator limerick contest. An extra inducement was an added thousand pound prize that someone had put up the money for. But this presented a problem. What if I actually won? Erdogan is not known for his sense of humor. My daughter - same rare surname as mine - and wife have taken to flying Turkish Airlines; for one thing, it's a good way to get to Tel Aviv. Daughter has friends all over the world, including at least one in Turkey that she visits. Would my name wind up on a retribution list?

I did write a limerick, but hesitated sending it in, in an act of pure cowardice, since I was convinced I would win, mixed with the urge to refine its killer potential. Meanwhile, the Spectator announced that Boris Johnson had won the contest. Suspiciously, they did not publish any of the other submissions. Really, I thought better of the English than to engineer such an obvious fix. Boris' contribution was just plain vulgar. It betrayed the Oxford - sorry, I mean the Other Place - undergraduate mentality of using naughty words to shock. True, it had a promising classical start, rhyming Ankara with wankerer, but went downhill from there. I won't bother to summarize it. Moreover, I could swear they closed the contest well before the announced date. So I never got to submit.

You're probably wondering what I came up with. I thought of using "the Turk Prez's" in the first line, but that bothered my ear. I'm not even sure what Erdogan's actual title is, or might be in the future, when the caliphate is reestablished: Grand Vizier? I kept him except by implication out of the lyric, so I could always claim I wasn't thinking of him if they hauled me off a Turkish Airlines plane on a stopover.

The new caliph's pecker, none finer,
Stretched, he claimed, from the Horn clear to Chiner
As he worked it like taffy
He got half a Salafi
But sadly his Asia stayed Minor.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has become Foreign Secretary. I understand he really wanted to be appointed Poet Laureate, but his portfolio for that job was rather thin, consisting of one limerick. Really, Gilbert and Sullivan could not top this outcome. At least I can still fly Turkish Airlines without diplomatic immunity.

Please, however, do not forward to the Turkish authorities.


Whoever said that in politics there are no second chances did not know much about the party politics of the United Kingdom. Perusing a list of British prime ministers, one notes that many became PM two or three times; Gladstone held the record for going and coming back, having become PM four times. I wrote the above a few years ago for fun and sent it to some Oxbridge acquaintances, hence the lame humor. I was motivated to revive it by the surprising and hardly inexorable ascent of Boris Johnson, even though his tenure as PM may be the shortest in history. Most certainly I never imagined he would reemerge from the scrum as the top dog in the Conservative Party. The irony is that now we know so much more about him. It turns out that not only does he have a Jewish ancestor, but a Turkish great-grandfather as well. I do not, however, think this will cut any ice if he ever has to deal with Erdogan - especially if Erdogan ever gets to read that filthy contest-winning limerick.