If I were asked to put my finger upon the point at which the Bank of Rutland showed it had got too big for its boots, I should say it was when it started demanding an annual tribute of seven youths and seven maidens from its customers. We had become used to the inflated salaries it paid its directors and its sniffy attitude if the dividend on a chap’s Rutland Oil shares was late in arriving, but it was generally agreed that this last step was Going Too Far.
I therefore welcome this new climate in which the practices of banks are being questioned – as far as I am concerned, the more inquiries that are held the better. Thank goodness we have a Sound fellow serving as Business Secretary! I blush to recall that we used to call him ‘Low-Voltage’ Cable. No one would call him that today.
I call in at St Asquith’s and find the Revd Hughes listening to two chaps with wings.
“Isn’t it terrible about Nicaragua and I feel so sorry for social workers. I blame the coalition,” says one. “I am looking forward to seeing that new film with the dialogue in Ancient Manx. I think films like that should be subsidised. Did you read Polly Toynbee this morning?”
“Who were they?” I asked the Revd Hughes after they have gone. “Guardian angels,” he explains.
I have been busy in recent weeks organising an important event here in the East Midlands. I do not refer, let me hasten to add, to the visit of the ‘Olympic Torch’: for that piece of tomfoolery was devised by the beastly Albert Speer for the Berlin Games of 1936 and I shall have no part in it. So much so that, when it passed through Rutland, I stationed gamekeepers at every entrance to the Bonkers Hall Estate with soda siphons and strict orders to extinguish it should it show its face.
No, I am talking about my role as the regional co-ordinator of Nick Clegg’s ‘Hair-Shirt’ Tour. The newspapers say that this has been designed by “battle-hardened strategists” in his office, but that was not my experience. I was telephoned by a 12-year-old with a cut-glass accent and, he claimed, a first in PPE from Oxford.
“We want Nick to meet all the people he has upset,” the child piped.
“How long have you set aside for this?” I returned. “It could take rather a long time.”
Nevertheless, I set to with a will and have put together what may fairly be described as an impressive programme of meetings.
Nick will first be taken to the University of Rutland at Belvoir, where the students remain rather cut up about his breaking that pledge he made on tuition fees. I would not worry too much about its famed Department of Hard Sums if I were him – those fellows tend to have thick glasses and their minds on higher things – but the chaps from the Department of Cryptozoology can cut up rough when the mood takes them. Not only that: they have an impressive menagerie to hand if they choose to deploy it: gryphons, dragons, cockatrice – you know the sort of thing.
Then it is on to Melton Mowbray to meet a delegation of disgruntled pork pie makers – those things can be surprisingly painful if they catch you just under the rib cage. After that, Nick will be entertained by unemployed Stilton miners. The tour will close with a meeting with civil liberties campaigners aghast at the government’s plans to snoop on all our conversations by telephone and electric internet. “I expect you know already,” I said when writing to Nick to confirm arrangements.
After that little lot, I image Nick will be in need of a stiff measure of Auld Johnston (that most prized of Highland malts) and a little rest and recuperation, so I have included a boat trip on Rutland Water in the programme of events. What Nick does not know, however, is that I have told Ruttie that I recently heard him making disobliging comments about plesiosaurs – that should certainly enable him to “welcome the hatred”!
Experienced Liberal activists will need no introduction to my many inventions – I think particularly of the steam-powered shuttleworth press and the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus (for use in marginal wards). So they will not be surprised that I am enthused by the Dragons’ Den programme on the moving television.
After pondering which of my new ideas to set before them, I have lit upon the ‘George Formby Grill’. This will cook meat in the modern healthy way while playing comic songs with a ukulele accompaniment – the standard model will include ‘Leaning on a Lamppost,’ ‘My Grandad’s Flannelette Nightshirt’ and ‘Mr Huhne’s a Window Cleaner Now’. My suggested slogan is “The George Formby Grill – So your meat turns out nice every time.”
Should any reader wish to invest in the produce himself or, indeed, herself – thus saving me the trouble of making up for the television lights – a letter sent c/o the Whips Office in the Lords will, of course, find me.
As I have recorded here before, we gave up our attempt to split the atom early here in Rutland, finding them Terribly Fiddly. However, I am enthused by talk of a new subatomic particle by the name of the ‘Higgs boson’.
For this, I surmise, must be named for the Lancashire, Leicestershire and England seamer Ken Higgs, presumably because it has a broad bottom and can reel off a string of maiden overs even when the pitch is not helpful.
It’s just a shame that one will need a powerful pair of field glasses to see it.
A letter arrives asking me what my favourite moment from the moving television is. That is easy to answer.
Who could forget the Bird of Liberty attacking Michael Parkinson? I have not laughed so much since King Leopold of the Belgians died.
Wishing to avoid those Guardian angels (they were not receptive to my idea for a maximum price for alcohol), I eschew Divine Service for once and go for a walk by the shores of Rutland Water.
Clegg’s hair-shirt tour, I surmise, is intended by the clever children in his office to make it clear whether he has a chance of appealing to voters at the next general election. What if it proves that he has no such chance? What then?
The party would need a new leader: a man of experience who could calm the country in these times of economic crisis. Perhaps a member of the Upper House would be more to the public taste?
I walk on, conscious of the burden I may be required to bear.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South West 1906-10, opened his
diary to Jonathan Calder.
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