Autumn has come to Rutland and the season of agricultural shows has drawn to a
close for another year. While I always enjoy the opportunity to display my
Longhorns, for me the highlight of these events is the sheepdog trials. It is, I
hasten to add, many years since any dog was executed: these days they take place
merely for entertainment. I fear, however, that the wider public has a wholly
unrealistic picture of what a dog can accomplish because of the activities of
Phil Drabble. ‘One Man and his Dog’, his moving television programme, enjoyed
great popularity in the 1980s until it became embroiled in a notorious scandal.
You see, the sheep on his show were not sheep at all, but out-of-work actors in
woollen costumes. While this provided welcome employment to former cast members
of ‘Triangle’ and ‘Howards’ Way’, the public felt cheated when the practice was
revealed and the programme was taken off the air under something of a cloud.
Drabble, incidentally, later decided he was ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’
(which must, in all fairness, be Terribly Uncomfortable), had the operation and
now enjoys some success as a novelist under the name Margaret.
To Cowley Street for the first meeting of the ‘Liberal Democrat Attack Unit’ put
together by Clegg to direct our fire upon the Tories. I happen to be the last to
arrive and find an encouragingly ugly crew already present when I enter the
room. In the chair is Chris ‘Hard Man’ Huhne, and around the table I recognise
Knuckles Oakeshott, Norman ‘Bite Yer Legs’ Baker and Norman Lamb, who made a
good living as a masked wrestler (‘The Sheringham Strangler’) before he entered
Parliament. Having given my apologies, I waste no further time in handing out
orchard doughties to all present and advising them to give their opponent one up
the snoot when he is not expecting it. Huhne urges us to think up some new ways
of attacking George Osborne, concentrating in particular upon his lack of
experience. After some discussion, my plan of catching him in the dorm while
Matron is having her nap, cramming him into a laundry basket and pushing it down
the stairs is agreed by acclamation.
An early start finds me enjoying breakfast at a transport café on the Great
North Road. They do the finest bacon sandwich in Rutland here, and the tea is
strong enough to go 15 rounds with Marciano. I spot a familiar face in the
corner: we exchange smiles, but I do not compromise her privacy by speaking to
her. My readers will recall that the Queen – for it is she – was a driver with
the ATS during the War; what is less well known is that she has kept her hand in
ever since. Indeed, she is never happier than when at the wheel of a
pantechnicon, finding it a blessed relief from the pressures of reigning. Many
are the motorists on the high roads of our nation who have been surprised by a
shout of “Get on with it, Granddad! One could get a tank through that gap,”
followed by a distinctive wave from a hunched figure in a headscarf. I watch her
fondly as she drains her tea and heads for Selby and the A19.
It is true what they say: Britain lacks enterprise these days. Perhaps you saw
my recent appearance in the ‘Dragons’ Den’? I offered the assembled moguls the
chance of investing in a distinctly promising chimney-sweeping business (the
labour costs were extremely low); not only did I not get a bean, but they
threatened to call the police! If I had taken such an attitude back in the
1980s, Rutland would not today be at the forefront of the personal computer
industry. Looking back on those days, the machines we sold seem terribly
primitive. The first of them was large enough to hold a man standing upright –
indeed, it did hide a man standing upright (the Professor of Hard Sums from the
University of Rutland at Belvoir) when we won the inaugural British chess
computer championships – but we believed in our ideas, and the result is the
‘silicon shire’ we see today. Wiltshire, incidentally, is known as the ‘silicone
shire’ because it leads the breast-replacement industry. Each to his own.
A busy day on the old demesne supervising Meadowcroft as he sweeps up the fallen
leaves and training my younger gun dogs. One puppy catches my eye in particular.
While I cannot fault it for keenness, it is given to jumping up and pawing one
and, when the guns go off, to barking wildly and rushing off in all directions.
I have decided to call it Clegg.
Despite being much in demand to speak at fringe meetings, I was able to snatch a
few minutes with Vince ‘High Voltage’ Cable at Bournemouth to discuss the
party’s economic policies for the next election. “It’s very simple,” he told me.
“We are proposing savage spending cuts to please the voters in Southern seats
where the Tories are challenging us and my new mansion tax to please voters in
the North where we are trying to win seats from Labour.” “That’s all very well,”
I returned almost immediately, “but what happens if the voters in the South hear
about the mansion tax and the ones in the North hear about the savage spending
cuts?” He went rather quiet after that.
Walking beside Rutland Water this morning, I am pleased to discover that the
pirate ships are again flourishing. Back in the 1960s there were dozens of them.
The pirates would all gather on deck and play sea shanties Extremely Loudly to
the crowds of young people that had gathered on the shore to listen. This
greatly concerned my old friend Anthony Wedgwood Benn – or ‘Viscount Stan’ as he
called himself in those days because he thought it more demotic – who would come
over to Rutland to chide me about it. “These youngsters shouldn’t be listening
to the pirates,” he fumed, “they should be doing traditional country dances and
singing ‘I Love to Carry Manure to the Top of the Mountain to the Benefit of my
Comrades on the Collective Farm’.” I did not take his advice, though I gather
the pirates rather faded from view when my own Radio Rutland was set up (and
this part of the Water was used for naval gunnery practice – I remain a Rear
Admiral in the Royal Rutland Naval Reserve). I shall take great pleasure in
telling Wedgwood Benn about the return of the pirates when next we have dinner.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10, opened his
diary to Jonathan Calder
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