In the September 2000 New Criterion, I published an article about the town of Walsall and its fantastically bad new art gallery (“Crudity Beyond Belief”). I passed what I thought was an uncontroversial aesthetic judgment upon that unfortunate town, namely that it was very ugly.

Had I suggested that Akron, Ohio, was not the Paris of the Midwest, I doubt that it would have caused much stir even in Columbus, Ohio, let alone in the nation as a whole, but such is the unutterable small-mindedness of England, and such the inward-looking, trivial, and contemptible nature of its media of mass communication, that when the unimportant news that I had described Walsall as being “like Ceausescu’s Romania with fast food outlets” finally spread via a wire service, I was for a day or two the object of public vituperation and personal abuse that was both absurd and mildly sinister. In the space of a few hours ...