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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 320
09 August 2007 (11:45:13)


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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