A lot of unexpected stuff has happened in my life. I’ve had books published even though I’m clearly an idiot. I got married even though I have a face like a dropped flan. And apparently, I’ve invented a new racial slur. It’s not something I ever dreamed I’d do, but sometimes life takes strange turns.
I should start at the beginning: it’s election night 2017. I’m already three drinks deep when the exit polls come in and I nearly fall off the settee laughing. Yes, my side has lost, but they’ve lost better than I thought they would. I realise that sounds desperately sad, but when you’re a left-leaning Remainer, you take what you can.
It feels like the electoral landscape has shifted. For the first time, young people have got off their Netflixes and their, you know, Gameboys, and swung the result. Surely now, politicians will have no choice but to court the youth vote and stop ceaselessly pandering to boomers?
While all this is sloshing through my half-cut brain, I see a photo collage. It’s those angry men from Question Time who were racked off with Corbyn’s reluctance to start a nuclear apocalypse. In that moment, they became every pub bore I’ve ever switched tables to avoid. The type that complain about how you can’t say anything anymore and how Isis wants to ban the Grand National. The type that revel in their persecution complexes despite arguably being the most influential demographic in the country. I refill my glass and compose a tweet, the righteous indignation of my avocado-chomping generation (and half a bottle of Tesco’s own Rioja) surging through my veins.
It says: “Whatever happens, hopefully politicians will start listening to young ppl after this. This Great Wall of Gammon has had its way long enough.”
Right? Take THAT, Uncle Terry! I press send and don’t think much more of it. There’s hot takes flying around like paintballs at a stag do so this will definitely get lost in the shuffle.
A few weeks later, when the dust had settled and it became apparent that Theresa May was going nowhere despite orchestrating the electoral equivalent of what Spud does at that girl’s house in Trainspotting, I started getting tweets saying I’m the originator of gammon (although I have since found out that Charles Dickens technically beat me to it by 180 years).
Apparently it had become something of a meme. I’d completely forgotten about it. It was pretty fun, though: silly, lighthearted. I wasn’t involved, but some of the variations on the meme made me laugh. It seemed to me that it was less about a person’s appearance than it was about their opinions. Gammons came in many varieties.
Of course, the fun eventually lessened. Gammon was seized upon by the radical left. It felt a little nastier. More weaponised. I saw a couple of things which seemed classist, which was odd because to me, gammons were middle class golf club types.
Then the backlash came. DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly claimed to be “appalled” by it. Nice to know someone whose colleagues call homosexuality “an abomination” has such a strong moral compass.
Suddenly, there were thinkpieces about gammon everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. My drunk tweeting had become “discourse”.
I started getting replies to my nearly year-old tweet calling me a racist, despite the fact that I’m as white as a Mumford & Sons concert.
Now, I don’t think anyone genuinely believes “gammon” is racist. No one has ever found “Gammons Go Home” daubed across their front door. There were never segregated schools for gammon children. And the fact that many of the commentators claiming to be so offended by the term routinely call millennials “Generation Snowflake” is delicious. They’re also rather selective about which free speech they choose to defend. Likening right-wing men to pork products is beyond the pale, but shouting “Gas the Jews” at a pug is apparently of Magna Carta importance.
Ultimately, though, what started out as a daft meme has become just another weapon in Twitter’s neverending culture war. The right will call you “cucks”, the left will call you “gammons”, nothing will change and I will sit back and realise that even though I have had seven books published, my biggest impact on popular culture is noticing that some blokes looked like salty meat. I think I need another drink.
Ben Davis is an author of children’s books