Our own Charles Kennedy – whom every fair-minded observer will admit to be Trying His Hardest – has been heard to complain that, whilst the other parties’ leaders receive the full-throated support of their troops during Prime Minister’s Questions, our chaps tend to sit back and judge his performance with a critical eye. This is true only up to a point: while from the Government side one does hear cries of “Thus perish all enemies of Newism,” “Attaboy Ant’ny” and “Can I have a job please?”, the contribution from the Tory benches is more mixed. One often hears such ejaculations as “I thought he had retired,” “What happened to that bald chap?” or “Is this IDS or the other useless one?” Besides, what Kennedy cannot see is that these days, after he has asked his questions, it is not unusual for the Lib Dem members to hold up a 7 or even an 8.
As I was taken from doorstep to doorstep by fast bath chair at the last election, I found that our plans to do away with the Council Tax were extremely popular – particularly when I informed the voters of the impending revaluation. These property taxes can be a terrible burden, as I gave more cause than most to know, and we householders can be forgiven for making every effort to reduce their weight. When the council valuers comes to the Hall, I generally have the West Wing hung with camouflage nets and have the fast-growing Rutland leylandii planted in front of many of the monuments which dot the park; I think in particular of the triumphal arch I had erected to celebrate Wallace Lawler’s victory in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election in 1969 and the statue of David Austick receiving the tribute of the captured Conservatives at Ripon. Meadowcroft may grumble, but I think it a tolerably profitable investment of his time.
Have you seen this programme Grumpy Old Men? I cannot imagine what the chaps at Alexandra Palace are thinking of. It consists entirely in a group of old men moaning about the way the world is going. Who wants to watch that? I simply can’t stand the thing. It’s typical of today’s society that we have to put up with such nonsense. You will say that every viewer has his or, indeed, her “remote control” or twelve-bore shotgun with which to turn off the set, but I do not see why we should be obliged to suffer this rubbish for a moment. Who wants to listen to an old man banging on about something he doesn’t like?
Each general election sees the Liberal benches receive an infusion of new talent, and I am happy to report that the class of 2005 appears to have the Right Stuff in it. Take, for instance, this fellow Hemming from Birmingham: realising in his youth that the electric computer was here to stay, he invested heavily in valve and Bakelite futures and has lived to reap a rich reward. It also clear that he has grasped the importance of having his name appear regularly in the newspapers. One also applauds the contribution of Susan J. Kramer whilst, of course, regretting that none of the Dakotas was returned for the seats they fought in the Lancashire coalfield.
One of the great disappointments of the twentieth century was the failure of the airship to maintain its early promise as a means of mass transportation. I remember with fondness those great ships of an earlier age: the Graf Zeppelin, the R101 and, here in Rutland, the First Lady Bonkers. The problem that saw the downfall of these graceful galleons of the sky was an uncertainty over what should be used to fill them. Some favoured hydrogen, but it had the unfortunate habit of going off pop at the most inconvenient moments. The choice therefore fell upon helium, but this gas had the effect of making everyone on board speak in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. I recall that it was this affliction that reduced the effectiveness of the Address to the People of America that I gave in New York upon disembarking from my first flight. Nevertheless, I did receive a letter, years later, from a chap named Disney who told me that my words had been an inspiration to him throughout his career, so all was not in vain.
On a rainy afternoon when no play is possible, I like to visit the pavilion close by the Hall and look through my trophies in the Lord Bonkers’ XI Museum (coach parties by arrangement). Here a signed photograph of Frank Byers and Alma Cogan after their century stand against the visiting Australians; there a bat autographed by the Flying Bellotti Brothers to mark their athletic running out of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa that turned the match against New Zealand. Here an oil of an exciting episode during our match against the National Liberals at Worksop; there my own cap, pierced by an arrow after an appeal for lbw was turned down during a closely contested match against the Gentlemen of the Apache Nation. When you add to these treasures a tearoom, a souvenir shop and the only stuffed first-class umpire on permanent public display, I am sure you will agree it offers a splendid day out for all the family.
I call at the Vicarage after the service for a glass of sherry and find the Reverend Hughes full of his plan to appoint a new curate. Though I josh him about his working only one day a week, I am all for the idea. I am surprised, however, at the way he and the Parochial Church Council intend to fill this post: rather than send a circular to the University of Rutland at Belvoir’s Department of Grace and Bedtime Prayers, they intend to advertise it in the press. As if that were not outré enough, he tells me the journals they are to patronise: The High Leicestershire Radical, the Melton Mowbray Courier, the Cropwell Bishop Shuttle, the Woman’s Friend, Put Your Feet Up! and Soduku Challenge. When I express some surprise at his intentions, he tells me: “We in the Church of Rutland have to get out of the mindset whereby only people who have been believers for 15 years and have said a million prayers can be clergymen.' I have to tell him that, while I am all for innovation, I have no willingness to let a few people get a wacky idea through as policy.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder.
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