As a responsible landlord here on the Bonkers’ Hall
Estate, I never cease to be appalled by the low standards that pertain in the
public sector. Yesterday evening, I watched a documentary on the electric
television about a family with six children living in a tower block in Barking,
and watched it with manly tears in my eyes because those poor people had to
contend with poverty, damp and a violent neighbourhood. Worse than that, they
had Mark Oaten living with them! This morning, I call the London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham and demand to speak to its Chief Executive. I am told he is
“in a meeting”, whereupon I suggest with some force to the young
lady at the other end of the line that he leaves this meeting and speaks to me
forthwith. When he comes to the phone, I demand that he send out the borough
rat-catcher and have Oaten removed. As I write these lines, confirmation arrives
from my spies in East London that this has indeed happened.
To Westminster: whom should I come across but Sarah Teather?
She is considering which measure to promote should she secure a favoured place
in the next ballot for private members’ bills. “I am thinking of
taking up the problem of people slipping on carelessly discarded banana
skins,” she tells me. “I think we should give local authorities a
duty to pick them up.” “What, the people?” I ask with (I
like to think) a twinkle. “No,” she replies, “not the
people but the banana skins.” “What about people who are hit in
the face with custard pies?” I return. “Yes, that is a problem
too,” she says. “I am planning to call for the introduction of
ASCRBOs – Anti-Social Custard-Related Behaviour Orders.” I am
about to say that I know of more than one restaurant that should be served with
one of these – not enough custard with one’s pudding, do you see?
– when a civil servant bursts out of a hitherto overlooked wardrobe in
the room. As he rushes to the door, his trousers fall down, revealing a splendid
pair of polka-dot boxer shorts. I double up with laughter, but the delightful
Sarah says: “Isn’t it terrible that there are people without trousers in Britain
in the twenty-first century?”
Sprits run high at today’s Future Fair – an
event I have organised for many years now to interest the young people of
Rutland in science and technology. This time, I have arranged a varied
programme: Alan Beith gives a talk on Bakelite; the principles of robotics are
demonstrated by Sandra Gidley (wrapped from head to foot in silver baking foil
for the purpose); and there is a display of chemical reactions by a fellow with
wild hair and a white coat from the University of Rutland at Belvoir. (I should
like to thank the men of Uppingham Fire Brigade for their prompt response).
Later this afternoon, as I walk my spaniels and look out on the oil wells on
Rutland Water, I can only congratulate myself on my foresight in acting as the
patron of this worthwhile event.
The Manchester Guardian arrives, and what does its front
page tell me that Labour’s policy will be at the general election?
“A Future Fair for all,” that’s what! I spend the day at my
solicitor’s arranging to sue Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and any other
socialist I can lay my hands on. I shall go for Habeas Corpus,
Non Compos Mentis and quite possibly a touch of De
Heretico Comburend too.
I have fond memories of Eastleigh; it was here at the
Southern Railway works that I received help in building the prototype of the
Bonkers Patent Shuttleworth Press – an invention that was to
revolutionise committee room practice in the years before the Second World War.
So when the town’s MP, our own Chris Huhne, invited me to tour his
constituency, I was happy to accept. As we drive through the Hampshire
countryside this morning, he is full of the virtues of his Toyota Prius
(apparently no polar bears are harmed in its manufacture) but, as we near a
crossroads, he begins to panic: “It’s the brakes, your lordship,
they just aren’t...” At this point I am obliged to lean across and
take command of the steering. As I explain after I have brought us to a halt by
using a ploughed field with an appreciable slope, it is a peculiarity of the
Rutland Highway Code that the landowner has right of way at any junction. Thus I
am well used to driving without brakes.
On the train home, I read that Ernest Shackleton’s
whisky has been retrieved from Antarctica. This brings home to me that we tend
to take the comfort of today's modern living rather for granted. Just
imagine what Shackleton must have suffered: forced to have ice in his whisky!
One can always tell when a general election is approaching:
on Saturdays, a long queue of prospective candidates trails past my lodge gates,
around St Asquith’s churchyard with its stately yews (and, indeed,
stately ewes) and up the long drive to the Bonkers Home for Well-Behaved
Orphans. You see, every candidate needs a fetching family photograph for his
election address, but not every candidate has children of his own and, even if
he does, then they may not be quite what his agent requires. For this reason,
the Home has long derived a useful income from making the prettier orphans
available to be photographed. This year, however, I have insisted that Matron
tighten up her administration: I was not a little embarrassed at the last
election when the same little girl appeared on leaflets in three neighbouring
Lancashire marginals and one boy was pictured with both the Conservative and
Socialist candidate in a seat in the Welsh Valleys.
An enjoyable breakfast – kedgeree, devilled kidneys,
eggs and b - quite up to Cook’s usual high standards. She does
well to produce it, I later learn, because a leopard has escaped from my private
menagerie and invaded her kitchen, with the result that she is forced to beat it
off with a ladle from time to time. As she later remarks to me, “Cooking
doesn’t get any tougher than this.”
Then to St Asquith’s where the Revd Hughes preaches a
sermon on the text: “In 1945 Sir Archibald Sinclair defended Caithness
and Sutherland and, lo, he was defeated by 61 votes and beaten even unto third
place.” I think there is a lesson there for us all.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South West
1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder
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