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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 338
09 March 2010 (14:48:21)


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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