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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 336
07 November 2009 (19:18:21)


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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