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What bliss it was to be alive in Bath that morning. As the Reverend Stuart Campbell was preaching his sermon to the townspeople, a fresh sunbeam pierced the Greg Moodie stained glass windows, flooding the church with an otherworldly, almost neon iridescence. After the service was over, the vicar rode with the local hunt for the rest of the morning. They marauded along in their pink button waistcoats, parping gaily on their bugles and with their hounds teeming suspiciously under every foxglove. These days, genuine foxes were prohibited from participating in the hunt and so the riders instead chased a waddling robotic teddy bear. They usually caught up with it disappointingly early.

Still, the earlier they were finished, the earlier they were in the Coach and Horses, sipping on their warm bitter and watching the Morris men gathering on the green. The barmaid was carving the roast, and the reverend had a stray, bright eye on the Yorkshire puddings, when a small delegation of his parishioners discreetly entered the bar. Silently, they made a beeline for his table.

The Reverend Stuart Campbell placed down his beer glass self-consciously. “Gerald, Mabel, Roger, how can I help you?”

The first of them stepped forward. “We thought that you should see this, vicar. It concerns… Well, it concerns your great hobby.”

They were referring to Scotland, whose political independence the vicar took a keen interest in.

The vicar was handed a print-out, apparently of a page from a website. “It was on this blog called Tychy. It really is disgraceful what they’ve written – absolutely scurrilous!”

At first, the vicar could barely recognise what he was reading as a description of himself. It was indeed rather thick: “What an out-and-out humbug Stuart Campbell is! This grubby troll is on the internet every day, dishing out abuse left, right, and centre, and yet as soon as he gets some back he starts yowling like a scalded kitten and scampers off to sue. There should be a consensus amongst all journalists that defamation laws are beyond the pale, since they are weapons of the wealthy against our freedom of speech. For a journalist like Stuart – someone who has literally made a fortune from expressing his opinions – to sue for defamation is as hypocritical as a vicar getting a shag from a dockyard prosti…”

The vicar could not read on any further. He put down the sheet of paper, stunned.

“We thought that you should see it at once, vicar,” Gerald continued. “It goes without saying, of course, that the whole of the parish is behind you. For a vicar of your probity – for a man of such rectitude and elevation of character – to be besmirched on the internet in this way! Well, it’s shocking and we’re all deeply shocked. I mean, some of the things that they called you, we couldn’t believe our eyes. A “troll”… A “frenzied hopping ferret”… Later they wrote that you were – how did it go? – “an ersatz freedom-fighter with no inkling of what the word ‘freedom’ actually means.””

The vicar was trembling like a leaf. He robotically raised the glass of bitter to his lips and clung on until his body had stopped shaking. Putting down the empty glass, he looked around dazedly at his parishioners. “My word, what should I do?”

There was a tentative silence, until at last one of the group spoke up. “Well, in that article they do mention getting some help from the law. It might be something to try?”

No, it was unthinkable. The vicar shook his head firmly. The country’s notorious defamation laws were used only by foolish Saudi billionaires and preening, pampered celebrities; they were surely the legal equivalent of that expensive sphincter laser-bleaching procedure that he had read about yesterday in the Daily Mail. “I could never submit to this,” the vicar protested. “I would make a complete fool out of myself.”

But his parishioners were anxious to set him on a more advantageous course. “If there is no correction, vicar, then these people will continue to write their abuse about you. And these appalling words will be up on the internet forever. Imagine, in the future, your little nephews and grandchildren, crowding around the family desktop, discovering that description of you as – how did it go? – a “hypocritical, litigious gobshite”?”

Perhaps there was something to what they were saying. A small legal excursion might deter future wrongdoers.

“Very well,” the vicar decided. “I shall put in a call to my lawyer tomorrow.”

With these brief words, an age of darkness fell over all of Bath’s charities. For fighting a defamation case was extremely costly and the vicar knew that his Church of England stipend would scarcely cover the fees. He duly resolved to meet the shortfall through crowdfunding. As his loyal parishioners began to post in their donations, food banks closed and hospices shut their doors on the dying. A charity that sent children with terminal cancer on holiday to Disneyland had to instead re-route them to Prestatyn. Meanwhile, ever more extravagant sums were raised for the vicar, as the alleged bones of various saints were disinterred from the chancel and kitschily put up for charitable auction. Nonetheless, even the poorest parishioners were able to assist him, by publicly drenching themselves as part of an “ice bucket challenge,” with all of the proceeds going to his swelling war chest.

There was only one uncomfortable moment when the vicar was visited by the superintendent of Bath’s largest food bank. “The poor are starving,” she wailed. “How can you, a man of the cloth, reconcile this with the teachings of Jesus Christ?”

“My dear lady,” the vicar replied, “when our Lord brought defamation proceedings against Judas Iscariot, did he not suffer the little children to send in their wee pennies to help purify his glorious name?”

The superintendent was flummoxed. “Erm, I’m not sure that he did?”

“He no doubt would have done,” the vicar declared complacently.

Later that evening, the vicar sat down to his computer and logged in to check how high the stupendous spire of his bank balance had risen. The £153,000 should be sufficient, he thought cautiously, to see off his legal opponents. His case had been also bolstered by support from within the Church of England. Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York would appear at the trial to testify to his piousness of character. And then this afternoon he had received some entirely unexpected backing from the Labour leader Kezia Dugdale during First Minister’s questions. His hand hovered over the mouse before he decided that there could be no harm in replaying the clip for the seventeenth time.

The chamber was rowdy as Kezia got to her feet. “Mr Presiding Officer, a few weeks ago, the prominent Edinburgh blog Tychy made some truly despicable remarks about a universally esteemed Bath churchman, the Reverend Stuart Campbell. He called the vicar, and I quote, “a horrid little jumped-up tosspot.” How can Scotland’s hard-working communities tolerate this vile bile? Will the First Minister unequivocally condemn this behaviour?”

Nicola Sturgeon stood up wearing her sternest, gloomiest face. “Mr Presiding Officer, I have condemned this behaviour and I will continue to condemn it. I will say to her though, that I am not responsible for the Tychy blog…” The First Minister looked suddenly disconcerted, as though the tempo had altered in the middle of a ceilidh. “We must all – on all sides of this house – do more to combat disrespectful comments online and, if I may add, some of the remarks issuing from the vicar himself have at times grown a little spirited…”

The telephone rang and the vicar’s enjoyment of the YouTube clip was spoiled. He closed the tab and picked up the receiver.

“Hullo vicar!” It was the sexton. “I’m just calling to let you know that a strange-looking man has been seen hanging around the parish. The Neighbourhood Watch recently spotted him near to the vicarage.”

“Thank you for telling me, Sexton. I’ll pop out – it must be some unfortunate soul who needs ministering to.” They had recently closed down Bath’s homeless shelter in light of all the competition from the vicar’s fundraiser.

“He does look extremely odd, vicar. Maybe I should summon the constable?”

“No, don’t go to the trouble, Sexton. I shall chance my luck.”

Outside, the night was so cool that it felt almost as though the vicar had stepped into a dense liquid rather than air. He peered around the side of the vicarage, into a dimly lit brick courtyard. A bald, stooping man was standing under one of the eaves, with his back to the vicar. He was as eerily still as a wounded bird, before he twitched and shuffled slightly. For a long time the vicar hesitated, until the passing seconds had become an unbearable, pulsating beat.

“Can I help you, sir?” he called out weakly.

The man spun around and leered foully at the vicar. He was unshaven and there was white paint peeling off in flakes from his face. “Greetings Stu!” he crooned and the vicar flinched. Amidst the mellifluous voices of Bath’s townspeople, it was rare for him to hear an actual Scottish accent.

The vicar forced himself to look into the stranger’s face until it was legible to him. All at once he understood. This was none other than Paul Kavanagh, the Scottish pro-independence campaigner, popular children’s entertainer and journalist for the National. He had obviously come dressed as his stage persona, Hutu the Clown, and here was his most infamous prop, the Wee Ginger Dug, affixed faithfully to his Vaseline-smeared arm.

The clown giggled as he edged confidingly towards the vicar. “We’re gonna show ‘em, eh Stu? Every wacko Unionist zoomer, froth-merchant, and snark-retailer is going to be singing like they’ve got their wee men snagged in their flies. Off they will have to jolly well fuck, to wallow in the bin juice of their own bitterness and everlasting irrelevance.” In his agitation, the clown began to wave the glassy-eyed terrier on the end of his fist. The animal appeared to be in an advanced stage of decomposition and it had lately assumed a tinge that was more greenish than ginger.

The vicar glanced frantically about the empty courtyard to check that nobody was watching them. “Paul! You have to get away from here!” he hissed. But even if he could drive away the clown, he could no longer hold back this tide of dire memories that was now surging in. Those hours after evensong, as the shadows had lengthened on the country cricket ground and old maids had bicycled past waving at him, when he had returned to the peace of the vicarage and the comforts of the drinks cabinet. Here, after pouring a hefty sherry, he had gone online to consort with this clown and many others of the cybernat stripe. And some of the things that they had written! The vicar shuddered and the nausea rose to make his head sway like a bubble in churning waters.

Suddenly, he could see all too clearly how the pieces would fall into place. This clown would be produced, sniggering and guffawing, at the trial. The whole of Bath would be dismayed and aghast to hear the words that they had written together. The Archbishop of Canterbury would snub him outside the courtroom. The Archbishop of York would delete the vicar’s number from his phone. His parishioners would turn on him with cries of “shame!” They would apply for a new vicar; he would be turned out of his living, into the street, to huddle on a construction site somewhere with this clown and his dank dog.

He recoiled from the clown as though he was the very incarnation of Sin. Yet Hutu was pressing on into the vicarage and already making himself at home there. Scotland had been always kept far away, like a madwoman in the attic, but now she was downstairs and her filthy hands were rummaging about all over the vicar. His once fragrant Bath had been stained – polluted – poisoned!

[Comments are disabled on this post, just in case it gets entangled with any real-life legal proceedings that might happen to be ongoing. For further reading, Kevin Hague makes the outrageous claim on his Chokka Blog that Stuart Campbell is a “fake” churchman.]

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