Wasn’t the Olympic opening ceremony fun? Such events are not usually my cup of tea (I seem to recall that the ceremony for the 1936 Berlin Games was devised by Albert Speer, who decided to repeat the ‘cathedral of light’ effect that had gone down so well at the Nuremberg rallies), but when I heard that the one for London 2012 was in the hands of that excellent Liberal David Boyle, I knew we were in for a treat. Some, I know, found the evening’s events such a cornucopia that they were at a loss to know quite what was going on; it happens that I am familiar with Boyle’s oeuvre and can therefore enlighten them.
The evening began with rustic scenes of sheep farming and cricketers in top hats – I flatter myself that this passage was inspired by Boyle’s many visits to the Hall. Then the Industrial Revolution took place (my dear: the noise, the people!) and the stadium was filled with dark satanic mills.
Just as we were all getting downhearted, the most wonderful thing happened: the mill hands realised that there was more to life than forging nuts or widgets or whatever it was they were making and began to set up their own co-operatives, open organic teashops and inaugurate local currencies. They were having so much fun that the Army had to be called in to clear them from the grass in case they were still there when the qualifying rounds of the women’s discus were due to begin.
Incidentally, if you see Boyle, can you mention that I am still looking for a bar in London that accepts these blessed ‘Rutland Dollars’ he invented.
In Westminster, I come across our own Nick Clegg. I ask him if he has seen Andrew Strauss’s resignation as captain of the England cricket team. I emphasise how Strauss had won everyone’s respect because of his dignified bearing and the happy timing of his decision.
Warming to my theme, I say: “You don’t want to be like Michael Vaughan. He stayed at his post for too long and then burst into tears. Look at Colin Cowdrey: they had to drag him bodily from the Long Room and he tried to hold on to the furniture as he went past it. And poor Andrew Stoddart shot himself.”
Clegg is polite, but when we part I remain unconvinced that he has taken my point.
Lord Steel of Aikwood’s supporters will say that he was once a great radical, supporting abortion reform and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Well, I recall that period myself – it occupied several weeks in… 1967, I think it was. I am obliged to record, however, that I have since then found him Increasingly Hard Work.
There was that damned ‘Alliance’ he was so keen on: I tried to convince him, with the aid of a boxful of matches emptied out on the table, that we could not possibly win a majority by standing down in half the seats in the country, but he seemed unable to grasp the arithmetic involved. Then there was his performance as the first Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. He tried to establish a tradition that, whenever the monarch visited Edinburgh, the Presiding Officer would lead the procession, walking backwards and alternatively bowing and capering while all the time making little cooing noises of pleasure to himself. I am, I trust, betraying no confidences when I say that the Lord Lyon King of Arms was not impressed, and I am pleased to note that Steel’s successors have allowed his practice quietly to fall into desuetude.
Now Steel has come out against electing the House of Lords, just as his fellow Liberals appear to be making progress with the idea. Perhaps my own position – mine is a Rutland peerage and I am thus guaranteed membership of the upper house, however it may be formed, under the Treaty of Oakham – leads me to take too light a view of the sacrifice reform will ask of existing members, but I recall those weeks in 1967: Steel was pretty hot on Lords’ reform then. Indeed, he was given to making disparaging remarks about “unelected legislators” and – or was this a fancy on my part? – casting pointed glances in my direction.
Whatever the truth of that, now he is himself an unelected legislator he sees nothing wrong with the idea. I have to say, in all candour, that I find that A Poor Show.
I cannot for the life of me understand the fuss in the newspapers about Prince Harry playing billiards in the nude. Isn’t that what most gentlemen prefer to do when relaxing after dinner? It is certainly my practice here at the Hall, as my many guests will remember.
Besides, playing games in the nude used to be norm – and not just in billiards, where the great Walter Lindrum won the first two of his world titles without a stitch on. Competitors in the original Olympics generally wore only frowns of concentration, and when competitive running was first revived in the reign of Charles II the chaps involved thought it proper to dress the same way. It has to be admitted that naked cricket has never caught on particularly widely, but I suspect it all depends which prep school you went to.
There is one point of etiquette I must emphasis: when playing billiards, whether in full fig or the buff, it is Simply Not Done to pot one’s opponent’s cue ball.
I trust I shall meet many of my readers at the Corby by-election over the coming weeks. I cannot in all honesty recommend that you stay in Corby itself, but why not come to Rutland? It is true that the rooms at the Bonkers’ Arms soon get booked up, but there is plenty of room in the Stables here at the Hall.
I would not dreaming of charging my fellow Liberal Democrats for a bed for the night, but it would be a nice gesture if you felt able to do a little work in return for your accommodation. The rock in the quarries hereabouts is among the most friable you will find in the East Midlands and I am confident that you would be free to go canvassing well before teatime.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South West 1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder
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