This year’s Uppingham International Film Festival opens today, and I am busy in
my role as Patron. We have a particularly fine programme this year; notably, a
series of lectures on the Liberal revival of the early 1960s and showings of
British Realist films of the period, under the title “It’s Grimond Up North”.
Beyond this, there is a strong selection of moving pictures: Beith in Venice, Greg Mulholland Drive, For Huhne the Bell
Tolls, The Colin Bulldog Breed, Braveheart with our own
William Wallace, of course, some episodes of Mike Hancock’s Half Hour
that were long believed lost, Night of Mark Hunter, Danny Alexander
the Great, The Killing of Andrew George, Adrian Sanders of the
River and many riches besides. The only fly in this particularly fine
ointment is what to do with Michael Moore. I knew him first as a well-scrubbed
young fellow who was often to be seen carrying Elspeth Campbell’s shopping, and
in due course he was elected to Parliament from a seat in the Scottish Borders.
Something unfortunate then happened to him: he took to wearing a baseball cap,
making films and, worse, telling all and sundry how wonderful those films are. I
fear that he has not been invited. Incidentally, I met a fellow in the
Bonkers’ Arms last night who swore that Moore is now the Liberal
Democrats’ Shadow Foreign Secretary; but, as I pointed out to him, if this were
the case, surely one would see his name in the papers more often?
The antics at Trent Bridge, involving as they did the scattering of jelly beans
on a good length spot, cast dark shadows for those of us who remember Douglas
Jardine’s notorious “Peanut Brittle Tour” of 1934-5. I spend the morning in my
Library writing a stiff letter to the President of the MCC demanding that he put
his foot down.
What a worry these floods are! Today I visit Witney in Oxfordshire, where I meet
the visiting leader of the Rwandan Conservative Party. A charming fellow, he
feels it his duty to travel to help unfortunate people in other countries –
notably those whose own elected representatives are not on hand to help. He also
expresses a wish to meet “Ma Widdecombe” and I promise to put my good offices at
his disposal. Incidentally, I was very worried a few weeks ago when I heard that
Hebden Bridge had been affected by flooding. How, I wondered, would it affect
the Spring of Immortality? I have since been assured by one of those fellows
with beards from the Birchcliffe Centre that all is well on the chalybeate
front, but this is a good opportunity for me to put it on record that my
longevity and habitual rude health is entirely due to the influence of this
spring; there is no truth to the rumours one hears locally to the effect that my
great-grandmother used to dally with the elves of Rockingham Forest.
A telephone call asks me to hurry to Bonkers Halt, where I find the Station
Master in a state of agitation. “It’s Mr Kennedy, you lordship,” he explains.
“We’ve tried everything. I’ve blown my whistle and waggled my flag at him, but
he just won’t stop smoking.” English legislation does not pertain in Rutland, of
course, so the celebrated Caledonian is at liberty to smoke until we reach the
Leicestershire border, but he insists on smoking Golden Virginia Bottomley
tobacco, which gives off the most awful acrid fumes – quite unlike my own
Havana. I therefore seize the soda siphon from the buffet car and extinguish the
former leader without further ado.
To Southall for a day’s campaigning in the by-election. I meet a group of jolly
Sikhs who, despite sporting Labour rosettes, are all decent chaps in their own
way; I am grateful for the chance to practise my kitchen Punjabi. I know it is
the height of bad manners to say that these fellows all look the same, but after
luncheon I could have sworn I saw the same group all wearing Conservative
rosettes. I return to the nerve centre of the Liberal Democrat campaign to find
our people cheered by the publication of a photograph of the Tory candidate
kissing Mr Blair at a recent Labour Party fundraising event.
I was sorry to hear of the fate of Shambo the bullock – could not a good
sanatorium have been found for him? Some have questioned the practice of keeping
farm animals in religious communities, but here at St Asquith’s it does not seem
strange to us. For as it says in the Bible (and I think rightly): “And the cow
and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion
shall eat straw like the ox. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young
ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the
suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put
his hand on the cockatrice’s den.” We do not go quite that far – we did have a
cockatrice once, but it had a foul temper and once bit the Bishop of Oakham on
the buttocks – but we do keep pigs in the rearmost pews. When the Revd Hughes
first came to us, he asked about the smell, but I was able to reassure him that
they soon get used to the incense.
Seeking respite from the hurly burly of the film festival, I go for a walk
beside Rutland Water. I soon find myself in country I do not know well and the
shore becomes unusually rocky for this part of the world. Eventually I come
across a fellow wearing one of those hooded tops that are all the rage nowadays;
he happens to have a chess set and challenges me to a game. I rather drift in
the opening, and he soon obtains a strong attack. However, he rather overreaches
himself and I find myself two pawns up. I return one of them to reach a textbook
rook and pawn ending, and duly force his resignation. He gathers up his set and
stomps off mumbling. So to the Hall, where there are crumpets for tea.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland
South-West 1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder
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