It’s easy to express irony during the course of a conversation. A raised eyebrow here and a half-smile there, combined with a distinctive inflection in the voice – and the message is usually received loud and clear.
However, conveying the same sardonic impression with the written word is far more difficult, and frequently results in spicy misunderstandings which often develop into amusing little feuds.
The latest has occurred on Twitter.
It strikes me as a type of electronic Tourette’s, where people instinctively blurt out the first thing that comes into their mind, irrespective of context or forethought. This is why Twitter provides national newspaper reporters with an endless source of stories, and it was they who brought the altercation between Austin Mitchell and Louise Mensch to my attention.
Mrs Mensch, you will recall, said she had stepped down as MP for Corby because she wanted to spend more time with her husband – who is based in New York – and their children.
However, her old man then gave the game away by stating in an interview that she had resigned because she feared she would never be promoted to minister and would be ‘killed’ by Labour at the next election. Mrs M took to Twitter to deny everything.
This, not surprisingly, caught the eye of Mr Mitchell, an incorrigible old tail-tweaker of many years standing.
He tweeted, ‘Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics.’
He addressed her in those terms because that’s the way professional Yorkshiremen like Mr Mitchell think they are expected to write. Had he said it to her face, she would probably have tweaked his ear and kissed him on the nose, before telling him to go forth and multiply in a posh accent.
Honour would then have been satisfied on both sides - but it’s not easy to do that sort of thing with angry, mangled spasms of hastily-written English.
Channel 4 has decided to fulfil its horse-racing brief without the assistance of John McCririck. Predictably, the old blusterer has taken enormous umbrage and accused his former employers of ageism. His sense of self-importance would not have been enhanced when he learned the decision was made after the channel carried out some audience research. This point will have been lost on McCririck, who does tend to listen with his mouth. I once attended a lunch for about 70 people at which he was present and all you could hear above the hubbub of conversation was his persistent braying.