Friday, 30 September 2011

gone a bit quiet in Reading - or has it?

Mr Salter is continuing to write a blog about fishing in Australia, which appears on the website of Fishing World, a magazine published in that country and known locally as "Fisho".  Perhaps I'll pick up a copy when I am in Australia in November.  Not. You can read it here, and you will see that Mr Salter has been using his blog to campaign against the Australian Labor Party (yes, they spell their name that way), who he says are more interested in the marine environment than they are in anglers.  Shouldn't they be?  Oh.  Perhaps he is disgruntled at failing to be selected for the New South Wales Senate.  Dunno.

Here is a sample of the comments on his latest gem:

Sorry, I must've missed the memo regarding the name change of "Fishing World" to "British Political History World". I, personally don't give a crap about the finer details of Martin's (party-political) past, much less the EU.

That went well then.

update: dead tree Chronicle has this:
so Mr S is back to what he has never really stopped doing, apart from the time in Australia: posing for the media on council premises in Reading.  Sigh.

btw I find pictures like this slightly shocking now I have lived in France this long.  It is strictly forbidden to use pictures of children in any media here, unless their parent or guardian has given written permission, in advance, for a specific occasion.  This causes endless headaches for things like children's dance shows, sports days and school plays, and something like this would be impossible.  I am webmaster for a voluntary organisation here, and have to keep rejecting really nice pix because I cannot reach the parents in person to get a form signed.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

occupy the streets - and then what?

the Normster posits the following four propositions as to what street protests such as occupywallstreet and others are about/for:

"(1) The traditional structures remain central to the democratic process and the street protests are seen as, when push comes to shove, supplementary. So democracy through the ballot box and representative assemblies, parties, pressure groups, a free press and all the rest of it are not put in question, but mass protest is regarded as one extra and legitimate way of influencing democratic outcomes.
(2) The protest movements aim for a transformative effect, but one well within the existing institutional framework: by seeking, for example, to 'capture' a major political organization already in place and determine its political programme; or by hoping to create and shape a new organization on the same terrain, to speak for the concerns of the protesters.
(3) Or those same movements hope for a more far-reaching transformative effect, aiming to change the very structures of democratic representation in such a way as to build into them a much more participatory component. (What exactly this would look like I leave to one side, as I am only sketching the alternatives in the most abstract way.)
(4) The street protests see themselves neither as supplementing the existing forms of democratic legitimacy, nor as seeking change within its existing framework or change which builds on that legitimacy but by altering its structures in a significant way. Rather, they claim to set up a competing, alternative legitimacy to that of the representative democracy already in place."
He goes on to suggest the following:
"Only the last of these four construals poses a problem of justification; the first three are perfectly compatible with the normative assumptions widely shared as underlying modern liberal democracies. The fourth, however, does pose such a problem. For if there is indeed an 'urge to bypass representative institutions' at work amongst any large number of the protesters, it needs to be explained by them what claim they can realistically make to carrying a majority of people with them if they are unable to mobilize this majority towards the winning of an election. If they can't do this - either win an election or explain why they shouldn't have to (take your pick) - then their claim to represent an alternative democractic legitimacy is spurious."
However I am not sure that those whom claim to speak for the protests are saying that they represent an "alternative democratic legitimacy".  It appears that democracy is irrelevant to them, or else that they hold it in some measure of contempt, seeing it as the domain of corrupt and venal politicians.  Well, perhaps.  That is what many public statements, seen on Twitter and other social media, which is where most of us get our information these days (don't we?) seem to indicate.  And yet, and yet.  Some people known to me have posted on Facebook and elsewhere links to those protest sites, apparently approvingly, often with comments attached which seem to say that this is a new and transformative movement, and as such to be approved. Those people are working in democratic institutions in Europe, in parliaments, and for democracy, as far as that goes.  So is all of this taking us somewhere else?  I don't equate the Arab Spring protests with Londonriots or occupywallstreet or anything so crass, but those who went out in the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, bravely, thought they could change something by doing so, and sometimes did.  Still may, in Syria.  Those who go out on the streets in a democracy - what are they seeking to change?  Just asking.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 18

In which Emma B.’s card is marked.

She approved of examinations. They measured attainment and pronounced judgement and their properties could be safely applied to most situations. As she cleared her first anniversary as Assistant Teacher of English at Oaks Haven she could have marked her own score card:

11-14 age group: C+ Sound; lacks imagination
14-16 age group: B Thorough approach
16-18 age group: A Innovative; meticulous – inspirational

Classroom Management: B No difficulties; a little unfriendly towards younger children

Staff and peer interaction: B- Pleasant and cooperative – does not always support staff social events

She was best at what she liked the best – the Sixth Form.

As far as staff relationships went, things were fine during school hours; pub lunches and a shared lift to work with departmental colleagues. They were not fine when Paul entered the equation. He had been rude when she had taken him as her guest to the staff Christmas dinner, deriding her Headmistress as a funny old woman and interrogating Andrew Penn about essays, poetry and teaching styles. When he had suggested that Andrew was insulting the intelligence of his charges by subjecting them to a pedestrian and outmoded examination syllabus (a man’s reach should exceed his grasp: Browning), she had determined to stay at home in future.

Excursions away from school with one or two staff friends had been similarly unfortunate. Paul was quizzical and appeared to be laughing at them. Eddie Furness had joined the department at the beginning of her second term. A blond and bespectacled northerner with a penchant for kipper ties and flared trousers, he encountered the inevitable discipline problems. But he accepted his nickname of Flopsy with good grace and had supported her in the fall out from a disastrous fifth form theatre weekend in which two pupils had been caught smoking cannabis in the Youth Hostel and a further four had been sent to hospital after vomiting in the stalls at the beginning of Coriolanus.

She had invited him for dinner and drinks .He had got on so well with Paul that there had been subsequent trips to The Bear and The Falcon and the burgeoning of a three-way friendship – abruptly terminated after a Bank Holiday excursion to Necker’s Gorge. Necker’s Gorge was a sleepy farming village, about thirty miles from Dorlich in the heart of cider country. During the early years of their marriage Nicola and Paul had rented a period cottage; Paul had commuted to work and Nicola had run a small bed and breakfast concern. When Ursula was three, they had moved into staff accommodation at Chudleigh but Paul had kept up with some old Necker’s friends and returned from time to time. They were mainly farm labourers who had never heard of Basil Bunting, but Paul enjoyed dumbing down; donning an army greatcoat; smoking his pipe and consuming industrial quantities of cider, fresh from the presses in the barns.

On these occasions, he would join the locals for shove halfpenny; bar skittles and cribbage in his old stamping ground The Fleece and Hoof, before returning to Dorlich to sleep off the effects, snoring and farting in the spare room. As wife number two, she was expected to accompany him on these hateful expeditions and was less than enthusiastic when he extended an invitation to Eddie during the course of an early evening drink at The Bear. Paul was at his most persuasive; they would go in Eddie’s car and the rustic treats of Necker’s Gorge would exceed those of Casterbridge. Their excursion would be the stuff of legend.

He was right about that.

The Bank Holiday brought Eddie purring to the doorstep in his trusty Ford Escort, bursting with the prospective joys of Necker’s. She experienced a twinge as he crossed the threshold, resplendent in a Barbour jacket that appeared to have been polished; a pair of army officer laced boots; green elephant cord trousers and a black, red and white checked shirt, buttoned at the neck. He wore a white kipper tie, carried a straw hamper (for the cider) and had brought a sketch book.

She did not look at Paul.

It was a sunny day and they cruised along the side roads (the scenic route), leaving Dorlich and civilisation in their wake. She sat in the back as Paul navigated, whilst treating Eddie to the historic tale of the Christmas duck.

Nicola’s detestable mother, Millicent Diggle, had ruined their first holiday in the Necker’s cottage by arriving uninvited, two weeks before Christmas. Ursula was in the throes of the terrible twos, Nicola was heavily pregnant and Millicent objected to everything. Paul had displayed the patience of a saint; enduring the enforced torture of Some Mothers Do Ave’Em; Whicker’s World; and the click of Millicent’s needles as she knitted a matinee jacket. But when she had failed to enthuse about the prospect of a turkey for Christmas lunch: we had duck at home with Daddy, didn’t we Nicky? his decision to cross the Rubicon was inevitable.

With a cry of Duck, duck, my kingdom for a duck! he had leapt from his chair; grabbed his gun and run from the kitchen – returning two hours later, garlanded by a pair of warm but dead mallards.

Me Tarzan – you Millicent!

Eddie was speechless with admiration. She was also speechless – having heard the story before…

They cruised into Necker’s, passing a row of farm labourers’ cottages.

Paul pointed to the end cottage and its untidy garden: Ursula’s hamster’s buried under that hedge; I gave her the choice of slinging it into the pond or planting it in old George’s garden and she chose the garden. Old George pegged out a few months later, so he’s probably next to it!

Necker’s itself had little to recommend it as a village and if Eddie was hoping to fill his sketchbook with the beauties of the countryside, he had come to the wrong place.  The labourers’ ‘cottages’ were charmless 1950s council houses and the grass verges had been visited by fly-tippers.

But the Fleece and Hoof with its stone floor, rotting wooden beams and individualised tankards had a certain authenticity akin to the interior of Hardy’s The Flower de Luce - after a few drinks. Paul commandeered the bar, ordering cider for himself and Eddie whilst she stuck to lager. She had always disliked cider and this was especially nasty; warm and slightly sour. A couple of regular customers sauntered in – including Young George, a grey haired man in his sixties, the son of Old George. Paul was now preening amidst his familiars; elderly men and some younger labourers. He trounced Eddie at cribbage; then shove halfpenny, charging their glasses with astonishing rapidity. She noticed with irritation that, as usual, her husband had modulated his accent to match the burr of the locals; an unsettling and vaguely threatening set who worked sparingly, drank a lot and kicked the dog.

Their faces bore the marks of alcohol abuse – and their wives bore the marks of – abuse.

They were not Drummer Hodge, nor were meant to be….

Straw Dogs was a better analogy.

How on earth had Nicola borne two years in this God-forsaken hole? The answer was that she had not. The story of the Christmas duck had been judiciously edited - omitting an incident on 29th December when Millicent had upbraided Paul at breakfast for spending the last three days in the pub – returning only for foraging expeditions. She had no wish to interfere, but had discovered a distraught Nicola in the downstairs toilet, next to a seat which had become detached from the bowl. There had been an accident following a late night visit from some of Paul’s friends; the mess was unspeakable and Nicola had been forced to clear it up.

Paul had continued with his porridge in silence – before shying the empty milk bottle at Millicent’s head. It missed – but Nicola issued her ultimatum and they took up school accommodation in Dorlich.

Eddie’s behaviour became irritating. He was new to Dorlich and glad of a male friend. But he fawned on Paul like one of the Oxbridge set and failed to notice the sneers at his accent – or the fact that he was financing multiple rounds of drinks for everybody in the Fleece. They ordered cheese sandwiches with chips and pickled eggs, and she avoided the contents of the mustard pot because it contained a green foreign body. Eddie praised the cider:

Now this is a real drink!

Paul, who had been swapping poaching tales with the locals, seized his moment: Of course, cider from The Fleece was nothing compared to the real thing - fresh from the press in the Nag’s Farm Barn. They must visit forthwith – good old Reuben would show them round and you can drink as much as you want! Remonstrance was pointless; Paul was determined and Eddie was drunk. They walked to the farm with a couple of the younger men.

Nag’s Farm, like Necker’s village, was characterised by a total absence of felicity. The buildings were shapeless and the barn lurked malevolently amidst a sea of mud. Reuben was about the same age as Young George. He was not surprised to see them and distributed plastic cups in dour style, filling each with a cloudy liquid, swimming with bits from a plastic container. Reuben described the cider-making process in meticulous detail; including the crucial presence of live rats on the press and the old country custom of the labourer urinating in the finished product: To ripen the taste.

She chose her moment and then deftly tipped her cup into the straw – a skill later utilised during a vodka tasting session on a Select Committee trip to Ukraine. Her hands were sticky and she could not dismiss the persistent image of the urinating labourer.

It’s like Talbothay’s Dairy, said Eddie.

It was not – but what was inescapable, was that he had become the butt of unkind jokes for the rest of the party. There were mutterings of Little Lord FauntleROYAL and she caught the words Prince Andrew and Gladys… She whispered to Paul that they should leave; to no avail. Eddie had acquired an echo; they were mimicking his accent. Paul goaded him on, gesticulating wildly as Eddie jumped onto a straw bale, declaiming Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun……..

At the mention of bosom, all whooped as one and broke into a raucous chorus of On Ilkley Moor bah’ tat…

Eddie paused and then pushed his face towards the most insolent of the group: Are you mocking me? This produced an uncontrollable gust of laughter. Eddie adopted a boxing stance; limbering on his toes. He threw a punch at Reuben; tripped on a shoelace and shot into a bale, knocking himself out on the corner of his hamper. I think he’s embarrassed hisself …. said someone as the elephant cords were suffused by a darkening patch. Quick – catch it – it’ll ripen the cider………….. Jollities were now replaced by practicalities, namely the removal of trousers and replacement of the same with somebody’s old blue overalls. Eddie was stripped, changed and hosed with water. The sketchbook was ruined – and there was a temporary panic over his keys – fortuitously retrieved by Paul from a pocket in the sodden cords. The trousers and their owner were deposited on the back seat of the Ford Escort by Reuben and Young George and they departed for Dorlich via the scenic route. The car swooped and swerved and Eddie whimpered and moaned; rendering conversation impossible as well as undesirable. She expected to encounter a police officer at every junction but Paul, as usual, enjoyed the benison of the gods and Eddie was eventually dumped, plus trousers, on the doormat of his own apartment.

Paul parked the car and posted the keys through the letterbox.

The hamper and sketchbook remained in the farm barn.

Eddie was off work for four days, citing an attack of gastroenteritis. She found herself incapable of referring to the incident and prayed for the ameliorating effects of alcoholic amnesia. Eddie was polite but did not join her at break time and avoided her eye at departmental pub lunches. Paul, by contrast, had acquired a new story with which to regale the Truscotts, the Chases and anyone in earshot at The Falcon, The Bear or a Chudleigh dinner.

Such an oaf – and such a drunk- one of my wife’s funny little friends!

She started to remonstrate:

Oh really darling – he pissed his pants! Probably par for the course in Division Two – but next time, don’t bring them out unless they’re house-trained! And did I tell you about the Christmas duck……….

Eddie left Oaks Haven at the end of the summer term, opting for a post on the same pay grade, closer to home. She signed his card but was not invited to his leaving party.

They did not meet again.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 17

in which Emma B. treats of matters spiritual.  And profane.

She had never been religious, although Religious Knowledge had been her best subject at school and she had modelled her classroom persona upon that of her own teacher, Judy Parkin. Miss Parkin had terrified the juniors; thawing a fraction each year, until the apotheosis of the Sixth Form, when lessons had been conducted in the coffee bar and always included fascinating digressions on men and sex. Judy was an atheist, and she suspected that her own atheism had been the key to a string of stunning examination triumphs, unequalled before or since at Loxley Green Grammar School.

Whilst the likes of Marilyn Tester, (who probably prayed before going to the toilet), refused point blank to offer alternative explanations for the disappearance of the body in the tomb (failing the subject at O level with the lowest possible grade), she had excelled in devising ever more imaginative possibilities, including the theory that Joseph of Arimathea and Pontius Pilate were one and the same person and had decamped with the body to an unknown location in Corinth. Despite a lack of personal belief, she was something of a Religious Knowledge snob, taking pleasure in humiliating the earnest Jehovah’s witnesses who came slithering to the door on Thursday mornings, inviting her to be saved. She would listen intently and wait for them to quote a text; smug in the knowledge that they would naturally assume that she had never beheld a copy of the New Testament.

And then she would pounce; quoting; interpreting and disputing with a vengeance (the Pauline Epistles were her speciality), until the poor Witness fled from the door in terror, no doubt fearing that the Last Trump and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were alive and well and residing in Fengrove. She detested any tampering with, or divergence from, the exact words and phrasing of The King James 1st version of the Bible, and had her own deeply personal likes and dislikes amongst hymns and prayers. When she attempted, as now, to find a common strain amongst her preferences, peace and quiet was certainly up there.

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind made the cut because of the line: Oh still small voice of calm, and Lord of all Hopefulness would be on her desert island because of your peace in our hearts Lord at the end of the day. But where did that leave her all time favourite line – And I did sit and eat (munching a Crunchie) from Herbert?  Not for the first time, she wished she had kept up with Judy Parkin….

Religion of itself, she decided was not the problem. She felt she had its measure.

However, she considered that it should be proscribed because of its deleterious effect upon others. Following her unexpected (unwanted) brush with Bill Cornish, the consequent media storm failed to materialise.  There had been the predictable regional television slot at 6pm, repeated in scaled-down version later that day. Then nothing. For six days.  On the seventh, unable to contain itself further, The Crier sprang into action, attacking the puff for Bill that had formed the thrust of The Sentinel’s crucifixion of Sandra; waxing in stentorian tones about family values; gross moral turpitude and a consequent breakdown in society, promoted by the Wendy Runcible Government.

This was as it should be.

What was not acceptable was the fevered speculation about her own position.

During her stint at Westminster, The Crier could be relied upon to portray her in one of two ways. Either she was Wendy Runcible’s most loyal MP; sickening in her indefatigable, buttock-clenching sycophancy to all things Government. Or she was an unbridled, venal joy-rider; roistering wherever free champagne and canapés were to hand.

Ponia Tindall’s article struck an unfortunate balance between the two. Yes, her presence at Bill’s side in a notoriously tricky marginal had probably tipped the fall-out from the sex scandal in his favour. Sacking was not an issue; unsavoury publicity had not detracted from his winning skills as a Minister - he was even a hit with the former MP. On the other hand, did the rumours, currently engulfing Westminster, that she herself was being lined up for the next halfway decent marginal, indicate that Wendy Runcible was now unfit to govern?

Having posed the question, Ponia then developed the argument by means of every single unfavourable scrap of coverage about the former MP for Fengrove that had reached the public domain since the election of the latter in 1997. If a tenth of these canards were true, this person would have been confined to house arrest, or at the very least, a padded cell in Cornflower Abbey. Indeed, a public representative who would rush to a vote straight from a Brazilian waxing table, wearing nothing but a cerise bra and knicker set and a pair of gumboots was at very the least misguidedly loyal, if not criminally insane…

She had scarcely decided whether she was angry, amused or desperately upset and humiliated when the phone rang. It was not Ponia from The Crier, but Lynne from Surrey. Sandra had turned up; devastated by a public betrayal at the hands of one of her oldest friends who had united with her evil pervert of a husband for the ignoble purpose of vainglorious ambition. Lynne had spent an hour deploying her considerable powers of appeasement, but this unwelcome distraction was in danger of engulfing next week’s lunch at The Fifth Column. Sandra had been so hysterical that Lynne had been forced to miss a rehearsal of her church choral group. Stainer’s Crucifixion was a challenging piece and the performance was on Sunday. I suppose you just couldn’t resist Bill’s blandishments – but I hope you’re not being used AGAIN. Anyway - Sandra’s in full Potts-mode – so stand warned!

Then an email from Richard. He was concerned; protective – but was there a trace of Paul as he mentioned that Lizzie had been embarrassed? Although there was nothing to link her to you… Whatever he had intended, the direct result was that she accepted Gissy’s long-standing offer of lunch and made arrangements to meet her at the House the following day. The Palace of Westminster was essentially unchanged from its aspect when she had left it for the last time in April 2005, prior to defeat at the General Election. The Lobby; Westminster Hall – time had not withered them, nor custom staled their infinite variety; but the security process at St Stephen’s was new.

As she waited for Gissy, she noted an increase in the number of police officers and a decrease in their average age. In her day, duty at Westminster had been the career lot of officers whose best days were behind them. This had been painfully evident in January 2000, when the House had been besieged by a troop of police officers hailing from the four corners of the country who had turned up to lobby their MP about changes to pay and conditions in the 2000 Police and Criminal Justice White Paper. They were all tricked out in a type of off-duty uniform; plaid shirts, grey hoods, blue jeans and Dr Marten boots, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the criminals they pursued during the course of a working day. Assuming the aspect of escaped zoo animals, many had indulged in the proffered hospitality of their MP hosts. They were certainly intoxicated by something, and had suddenly stampeded towards the Members’ Lobby like a herd of marauding bison, intent on storming the Chamber in the middle of the Home Secretary’s Statement to the House.

The indigenous Westminster police officers had attempted to head off an incident - but were impeded by age and levels of fitness. Disaster had been averted by the prompt action of the Serjeant at Arms, who had wielded his ceremonial sword with decision and dexterity, but it had been a close shave. Now, as she observed the athletic young officers who had replaced the likes of dear old Wilf, she wondered which one of them was moonlighting as Gissy’s live in lover. No wonder she had looked peaky on Politics Profile….. And then Gissy was there – in a swish of perfume, bracelets and bangles, wearing a pink suede skirt and six inch heels.

They took drinks on the Terrace and lunch in The Gallery café/restaurant.

In essence, the House was unchanged.

The Regular Suite was now The Select Bar; the staff in penguin kit had been replaced by youngsters in T-shirts and portcullis-emblazoned deck shoes; everywhere had benefited from a coat of paint. But the third toilet cubicle in the Ladies was still equipped with a faulty latch; the gift shop still sold tired looking teddies and golf balls in a set of three and the food was as terrible as ever.

She ordered potted shrimps with capers and Lancashire hotpot. The shrimps were tolerable, but the hotpot was drenched in a type of grey dishwater-style gravy which barely alleviated the true awfulness of the gristle-and-meat and the chill of the petit pois and baby carrots. This brought back memories of the many excruciating lunches she had hosted for constituency worthies; the Director of this and the Chief Executive of that. She had been embarrassed both by the quality of the food and the degrees of abasement to which her guests would descend whilst eating it. It was The Emperor’s New Clothes – Westminster-style.

They would push inedible portions of beef around their plates and conceal lumpen creamed potato beneath stringy cabbage leaves whilst drinking like fish to deaden the taste. But back in Fengrove, lunch at the House was discussed in reverential tones by those who had endured it: The steak was like velvet; and that spotted dick! I just love those old nursery puds! Oh for the dear departed Editor of the Fengrove Gazette who had responded to her obligatory Is the food all right? with No – its total CRAP. Grab your coat – I’ll stand you a burger. But Alex was the exception. As she surveyed the serried tables of pinioned diners – all guests of an MP, their neglected but suspiciously piled plates were proof that the old traditions were inviolable.

Gissy exuded the benefits of a favourable profile in The Courier; a rampant sex life with a constable and a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape. Pete, the police officer, was refreshing the parts that others had been unable to reach and the details could be enjoyed by all within hearing distance of their table. As her part of the bargain, Gissy had agreed to accompany Pete to the Westminster Alpha Course, located in Large Meeting Room 3, off Westminster Hall. In the thirteen years of their acquaintance, Gissy had never displayed the slightest interest in religion, either Christian or comparative. They had attended the Speaker’s Annual Carol Service with scrupulous regularity – but that was because of the superior canapés and four types of champagne. Penance had been exacted by an equally scrupulous attendance at the Westminster Atkins Diet Seminars in Small Meeting Room 2 - because neither could stomach the gym. They had also attended the Westminster Memorial Service for Conservative grandee, Sir Elmer Dumpster, but that was to annoy the Whips, who had detested his filibustering operation during the Third Reading of the European Enlargement Bill 2003. Gissy who could speak six languages, had been keen to serve on the Committee Stage of the Bill, but had been blacklisted by the Chief Whip, Terence Gale, because she had voted against the Government 73 times in the Parliamentary session. She started to justify the Alpha course in terms of 21st century socialism, but the wine loosened her tongue:

Oh bugger it – he’s a good screw. I’m forty-seven – oh, all right, fifty-six – I’m stuck here from 7.30am until 10pm for three days of the week and past midnight on Mondays. Where am I going to meet men? It’s not as if there was much to choose from here (waving at a table of colleagues). If Paris was worth a mass, then Pete is worth an Alpha Course.

Well, what would you do?

Good question. Moving swiftly on, she diverted the conversation to the matter of Sandra and Bill. Gissy, unencumbered by Christian sympathy, Alpha Course notwithstanding, was scathing: She should have known – of course she should. I mean, Bill Cornish. Would you? With him? He buffs his nails. Have you seen his half moons? She then instanced the shocking saga of the previous Speaker, Hugh Waverley Tench who had been exposed entertaining escort girls (and the odd gullible backbencher) in the Speaker’s Apartments on Thursday afternoons during Opposition Day debates. His wife was absent from home on these days, working as an interpreter at the Westminster hospital, and debates were overseen by various Deputy Speakers. The horrific truth had emerged when Deputy Speaker Rene Mackay had been taken ill in the Chair after a Press Gallery lunch. An Officer of the House had gone in search of the Speaker. The truth of the matter, that Deputy Speaker Mackay was drunk in the Chair, was obscured by news of a bigger scandal – Speaker Tench supine in the arms of a vice girl, wearing the loin cloth of a sumo wrestler whilst she, clad in the Speaker’s stockings, garters and black buckled shoes, applied the spare mace to his buttocks whilst nibbling from a platter of quails eggs and oysters.

This had supplied fodder for The Crier for the remainder of the year. Deputy Speaker Mackay had enjoyed a narrow escape and so had the Government.

But April Tench was a source of collective embarrassment until she departed the House and took up residence with her mother and great aunt in Liverpool.

Well – she must have known – I mean, you do, don’t you?

Do you?

She said goodbye to Gissy and pondered the question on her return to Fengate. Maybe Gissy and Lynne were somehow blessed with a sixth sense about these matters due to their heightened contact with things spiritual. But that would not account for Mary Hadleigh at Oaks Haven.

The School Secretary, a woman in her fifties, was the wife of the Reverend Arthur Hadleigh, who combined a curacy at St Swithin’s with a teaching post at the school. He was a bore of the first order; unpopular with staff and pupils, and Oaks Haven had been overwhelmed by a wave of guilt when it was announced that he had died suddenly overnight.  But it had not been a lonely suicide.  Reports of the Inquest ( in all of the local papers and some of the nationals), revealed that Arthur Hadleigh had been discovered on the afternoon of Shrove Tuesday by Mary, who had returned home unexpectedly, due to a sore throat.

He was hanging from the banisters in a noose fashioned from the belt of his trousers, on the third floor of their three storey home. The surrounding stairs were carpeted with pornographic material and appliances of an unspeakable nature. He had been dead for several hours……….

After six months, Mrs Hadleigh returned to her post beside the Banda machine and the rubber plant and continued her duties as usual. She did not speak about her husband and Arthur Hadleigh’s name was airbrushed from school history.

Was she ignorant?

Did she know about her husband’s practices and offer her pain to God as a spiritual sacrifice? Did she know but choose not to see? Mary Hadleigh had been dead herself for many years and would not be providing an answer. But the question remained; stubborn and insistent.

Do you always know?

Had she herself known the truth about Paul all along?

And after such knowledge what forgiveness?

She had no answer to that.

conference watch

correspondents are watching Labour Party conference so you don't have to.  One such cited a delegate from Reading East, called "Christine somebody or other", they tell me, who stood up and said how wonderfully flourishing the Reading East party was, especially now that "we've taken back the council" - to ironic cheers and mock vomiting gestures.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

its your's

Redlands Labour, the delightful Janet Gavin does it again:

It has been a very hectic four months since Labour won back control of the Council.  We have worked hard to make real our manifesto committments.  just as well one of them wasn't to improve literacy, hein?

Labour keeping it’s promises to the people of Reading

Yes, really.  Congratulations, Mr Howarth (prop. Public Impact Ltd)

vote today

to elect the French Senate, the upper house.  Half of the approximately 700 senators are up for election today, in a first past the post system with two rounds of voting, as most elections are in France.  The difference is that it is not the general electorate voting today but an electoral college ("les grands electeurs") which is voting.  This is composed, in proportion with the size of the constituencies and cantons, of delegates who are mainly local councillors.  That system tends to produce a Senate which is to the left of the National Assembly.  In Alsace, where I live, the right is strong, and the Front National does pretty well too, but our senator, Roland Ries, is Parti Socialiste.  The Senate is expected to be dominated by the Left in this election for the first time in its history.  As it has a scrutiny role in legislation, this is important.  A number of elderly senators, most of them in their 80s, are retiring at this election, including such luminaries as Robert Badinter, whom I heard speak in Strasbourg last year and was impressed by.  He is remembered for the abolition of the death penalty, 30 years ago this week.  No more Madame La Guillotine.

In other news from French politics,  Segolene Royal has said that if elected president she would close down the nuclear power stations.  Silly cow.  France is so dependent on nuclear the lights would go out.  There are personal smear attacks (from within the Parti Socialiste of course) against Martine Aubry - she is a drinker, her husband (an immigration lawyer) is corrupt, and so on.  Always happens.  I would have voted DSK if I could (and still would) but Martine would make a terrific President.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 16

In which Emma B. shares with us tussles with the media and being enfolded in the gayest of embraces.

Tectonic plates were moving.  The Estate Agent rang, bringing an offer on her house (low, but an opening gambit) and the post included a card from Vanessa: Chilling; thinking – take care, Vx

Suitably buoyed, she resolved to check out a pair of brown leather trousers, temptingly displayed in the window of Fengrove’s sole boutique and was half way out of the door when her eye caught a copy of The Sentinel ; freshly delivered and lying on the mat:

Desperate HOUSEwife or Devoted Doormat?  YOU DECIDE!

The Sentinel’s Chief Political Correspondent, Maurice Cantor, profiles Sandra Cornish, as the Environment Minister’s wife contemplates the wreck of her marriage… A double paged spread – and as bad as it could possibly be. No question of ‘deciding’ about it, this was pure, unadulterated vilification.  Cantor opened with a column of sycophantic drivel about Bill. He was personable; talented; always on top of his brief (when he keeps them on, she mused); and a possible successor to Wendy (another one). He had been cruelly trapped by an unscrupulous blackmailer, on the payroll of a down-market newspaper that had set its face against the Equality in Marriage Act (2009). Bill had led for the Government at Committee Stage, deftly swatting objections from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Mothers’ Brigade. His performance had been universally acclaimed as masterful.

As a result, the former Civil Partnerships Act had been upgraded to provision for full marriage, and Bill’s reward had been a place in the Cabinet as Environment Secretary. From here, he had gone from strength to strength, gaining plaudits in equal measure from The Prince of Wales, The Real Earth Trust, and the National Hunting League. He had never used prostitutes of either gender, but was glad that he now had the opportunity to embrace his true nature. He would be seeking a divorce from Sandra and taking advantage of the new legislation to marry his Special Adviser and male partner, Clifford Morledge. There was no reason whatsoever for him to slink away in disgrace. He enjoyed the support of his constituents, his Prime Minister and his children.


Sandra Cornish, by contrast, had disgraced her Party, family and friends by her refusal to accept the end of her marriage with good grace and move on. Her grotesque homophobia had been advertised to the nation when she had alerted press to view the shameful spectacle of Bill’s worldly goods, piled upon the pavement outside their London residence, topped off by a copy of Green and Gay and six pairs of boxer shorts (picture attached). She had changed the locks and Bill was temporarily bunking down in his office.

There was a mawkish statement from the Cornish children:

Daddy is still Daddy and there are lots of rainbow families in our world today.  We want a relationship with Daddy, Mummy and Cliff – and hope that Mummy will check into Cornflower Abbey so that she can have a rest and get the help she needs.

Maurice Cantor suggested that Sandra herself might have collaborated with the rival paper to expose the secret life of her husband. She was castigated as an old fashioned stay at home Westminster Wife who had been only too happy to ditch a career at United Biscuits that was less than stellar, to cling to the coat-tails of her talented spouse. ( Inset, photographs of Sandra scrutinising organic parsnips with the Prince of Wales and personnel from The Real Earth Trust; Sandra and Bill at the BAFTA awards and an excerpt from The Crier’s At Home with Sandra Cornish ).

Then, to her horror, the article re-visited long-lost Dorlich days, with anonymous University friends bearing witness to a nature both contemptible and vindictive.  The Sentinel had dredged up Heather Lydgate (now Aspinall), Sandra’s old rival for The Darwin Science Prize:  "Sandra stole my notes and claimed credit for my molecular research findings. Three years of working with her as lead seminar partner completely destroyed my confidence, precipitating my breakdown and Aegrotat degree instead of a Congratulatory First. I’ve never recovered, not really. It hurts when you are just a counter assistant at the chemist and Sandra is a guest at Highgrove."

An anonymous tutor dismissed Sandra as a second-class intellect. But the coup de grace was delivered by Belinda Lambton (nee Briscoe), who had gone on the record with devastating commentary about the ill-fated Potts affair: I didn’t keep up with Sandra when we left Dorlich; I don’t think she had many close friends, and I’m saddened but not surprised by her disgusting homophobia. She had a very brief relationship with the geneticist Sir Leslie Potts when we were at Dorlich, but her behaviour after he came out was just incredible! She literally chased him all over the city, hanging outside lectures and crying and completely ruined my twentieth birthday party. And then, she behaved like a sort of female Dr Mengele, offering to accompany him to the student Medical Centre for ‘aversion therapy’!! I’ve never met Bill, but he seems like a nice guy and a fantastic Minister. But Sandra needs locking up.

The article concluded with a close-up of Sandra, eyes bulging and hair awry and the comment: The Prime Minister is determined to hang onto Bill Cornish, one of the few Cabinet Members capable of landing a punch on a resurgent Tory Party.  But his wife is a dangerous loose cannon and could yet succeed in destroying not only the man who has deserted her but the Government of which he is a part.

She felt sick.

Sandra had her faults – lots of them – but this was totally unfair. The Sentinel was the Government’s House Journal and Wendy’s fingerprints were all over the piece. The whole affair was indicative of two things: one that the Party would go to the wire for Bill and two that Sandra was causing real problems. The article, nasty as it was, was a shot across the bows, designed to frighten her and stop her doing whatever it was that they were worried about.

The Dorlich stuff could only have been provided by Derek Kingsmill. He must have kept up with Leslie Potts and Belinda Briscoe over the years – or at least known where they could be located. Leslie was easy of course – he had been knighted in the New Year Honours in 2007 and had been an influential supporter of the Equality in Marriage Act. Heather Lydgate, working in a village chemist, must have been a lucky bonus. She left the house and walked towards the centre of Fengrove, still thinking about Sandra Milford.

The meeting in Soho next week would now be excruciating. Sandra would suspect that she herself had tipped off Derek; indeed it would seem the obvious assumption, especially as they had been colleagues for eight years in the House. The fact that Derek had never acknowledged a shared Dorlich experience – not to mention their fateful encounter at the student conference - would seem frankly incredible.

She winced as the phrase Pants Ahoy flitted across her thoughts. Maurice Cantor was also unpardonable for writing the article. He had been one of the few journalists considered ‘decent’ by herself and her best friend at Westminster, Giselle (Gissy) Wicks. They had often joined him and his colleague Ralph Egg for drinks (sometimes dinner), in the Press Bar and had been shoulders to cry on when Maurice failed to win a coveted promotion after a marathon drinking session in The Regular Suite culminating in vomiting over the new shoes of the Government Chief Whip.

She and Gissy had experienced their own tussles with the press, but never The Sentinel. Gissy maintained that if the opportunity presented itself, neither Maurice nor Ralph would hesitate: They’re journalists, its called A JOB…

But perhaps that was just Gissy. She certainly approached everything in her own unique way. Dubbed The Radical Raven because of her waist-length jet-black hair; Gissy had never married and when last heard of, had embarked upon yet another live-in relationship, this time with a Westminster police officer. She was irredeemably left wing (I’m a socialist and proud of it), and remained supremely indifferent to the machinations of either the Party or the Whips Office. Her biggest coup had been the way she had dealt with a potential revolt in her Constituency Party; briefing a journalist ( whilst sailing up the Nile on a Foreign Affairs Select Committee trip), that she intended to join Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Party and force a by-election. She had headlined every news bulletin for a weekend and then returned to Westminster to find that the Constituency Party revolt had mysteriously fizzled out and things were back to normal. She had retained her seat at the last Election with a majority of 26.

These thoughts and others preoccupied her as Porlock Square gave way to Bilton Road. A crowd appeared to have assembled in front of the Angel Top Nursery; recently refurbished with a new mother and baby crèche. Shouts; flashbulbs and then, to her utter dismay, Bill Cornish was walking towards her, accompanied by the Fengrove Director of Children’s Services, Jennet Armstrong. Before she had time to gasp, she was swept into a heady embrace by Bill, stinking of Allure aftershave and pumping her hand:

One of my dearest ex-colleagues, he enthused to reporters on The Fengrove Express and BBC Regional Television. She’s made Fengrove the wonderful place it is and we can’t wait to have back in the House where she belongs! A woman’s place is in the House, you know!!

Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the angry grimace of Edgar Smith, Chair of the local Party who had tried and failed to get her deselected over the entire course of her Parliamentary career. But he was powerless to protest as Bill gripped of her arm and propelled her into the nursery; chatting and smiling as if he had rediscovered his closest friend. In fact, he had studiously ignored her during her time at Westminster and had now spoken to her more in twenty minutes than in an entire eight years.  She snapped back into MP mode; asked the right questions; met the parents; smiled at babies and chatted to Jennet. A final kiss from Bill and it was over. She had no heart for the brown leather trousers now.

Back at home, she switched on the early evening news to see the sickening shots of herself and Bill, with commentary by the Regional Presenter who hailed her as Bill Cornish’s most loyal supporter in his fight to hang onto a Cabinet job. She hoped, vainly, that media coverage might be confined to the Western Region, but was quickly disabused by an email from Wendy’s PPS, Mike Stubbs:

Brilliant work today – and long time no see! Wendy says you’re naughty to hide yourself away! I don’t think you’d fancy fighting Fengrove again (who would!) – but there are lots of possibilities! Why not pop into the House and we can look at the options if you’re still keen…

And this from the poisonous beast who had conspired with Edgar Smith to make her life as Fengrove’s MP as difficult as possible. It was proof positive, if ever she had doubted it, that all’s fair in love and politics and yesterday’s enemy is today’s ally.

She put the kettle on, and then thought better of it, pouring a stiff vodka and tonic.

Gissy would laugh; Lynne would be angry and think she had walked into it – Sandra would be horrified.

She picked up Vanessa’s postcard with its instruction to take care.

Some hopes.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

a correspondent writes about Margaret Moran

who left the House of Commons last year and who appeared in court yesterday re expenses.  I'm not going to reproduce the pictures of her used in the Daily Mail, even if I could, because it would be wrong and cruel.  Those who have been in court, and in several cases served time, are the ones who did not get the protection of the party and the establishment.  They are not the only guilty ones.  A correspondent who is no longer in the House writes:

Pictures of the above in the dock are horrific. Aged 90 or what? I am no excuser of wrongs - but the Party, as usual, has protected its own. Fat old chin wobbler ( and living room main-houser), Jacqui Smith gets glossier and earns dosh for BBC porn programmes. I'm nuts about Hazel, the big flipper, looks more and more like a cute Squirrel Nutkin. The male expense jailees are out - looking glossy. David corrupt Laws will never go in. Neither will the Fisher King, Salter. So she, wrongdoer though she may be -- is the one left to self destruct. Not 'protected' so might as well die...If her bloke was behind it, she should shop him now. He isn't going to prison, is he?!! For what it's worth - and I think it is, considering what SWINE most of them were, she was a good Whip. Decent to me -- not many people in that shithouse were.

wonderful to have you back with us again, sir - again

The BBC website reveals a picture of Mr Salter, reading a copy of the New Statesman with the cover line "Meet the Next Prime Minister".  The text includes the following, fisking in red as always mine.

Mr Salter rose from the ranks of being a labourer in the 1970s to becoming a Reading borough councillor in 1984. there are many who think that being a labourer is as worthy an activity as being a councillor - and there are some who do both at the same time

From 1997 until 2010 he was the Labour MP for Reading West, known among the local press for supporting so many community campaigns. that's one way of putting it, his self-confessed political strategy was "buy the reporters a pint"
One of Mr Salter's most publicised notice they don't say "effective" or "good"campaigns was his call for a ban on violent internet pornography so obviously violent porn has now completely disappeared from cyberspace following the murder of teacher Jane Longhurst in Brighton at the hands of Graham Coutts. this was a piece of ambulance-chasing of the most cynical kind - Jane Longhurst's mother lived in Reading East and was relentlessly pursued by Salter until she agreed to do media with him which was then used with female members of Reading East Labour Party to convince them that their MP was not interested in "women's issues".  Mrs Longhurst saw through this but went along with it anyway because, she told people, she found it therapeuticMr Salter caused controversy after openly criticising "Sarah's Law", which allows parents to check whether someone living nearby is a sex offender. He didn't, he was one of about 10 MPs who were stupid enough to attack the late News of the World and who got their pictures in that paper looking like child molesters as a result.
Despite having an obvious passion for politics, he knew when it was time to call it a day. except that having announced he was standing down he tried to change his mind and un-resign, without success
"I was not going to rattle around the House of Commons in my 60s - I wanted to retire when I did at 56 to have enough energy to do things that were always on my bucket list.
He said that public life involved a lot of "pressure". No shit, Sherlock
Now that he is back in England he is involved with a campaign to clean up the River Thames and chairs a local schools charity that organises summer camps for disadvantaged children. According to the Reading Chronicle, so it must be true, that charity is electing its chair tomorrow evening, 21st September, wtf?
The rest of his week is taken up with gaining a teaching qualification with the aim of educating children in citizenship. Problematic, this one.  There is no local provider, and a PGCE in any case is full time.  Correspondence course?  Do tell.  You'd think the BBC would have asked.

And finally, as they say, what inspired the BBC to do this piece?  How did they even know Mr Salter was in the UK and available for interviews?  What was the point of this one?  And why is Mr Salter pimping himself to the media now that he is not in public life any more?

You tell me.

Monday, 19 September 2011


Plenty has been said about his interview last night, which naturally enough I watched live.  Claire Chazal, the journalist who interviewed him, is not known for her hard questioning, and she is anyway a close friend of DSK's wife, who stood by him throughout. I found him dignified, truthful and not making excuses.  The only way to be.  It was remarked afterwards that his interview bore striking similarities to the statement made by Bill Clinton after he had been caught.  The difference is of course that Bill lied at first, and DSK did not.  But this has something to do with the difference in climate between America and Europe.  For those who don't understand French, DSK said there had been no violence in that hotel room, and that no-one had  been forced, nor was any payment asked for or received.  He also said that Nafissatou Diallo, the other person in the room at the time, had lied in her statements to prosecutors.  It seems clear that she did, and that that was the reason why the case was dropped.  There remains a civil case against DSK, and if that is successful the plaintiff is going to make some money.  So there it is.  Quiet dignity, and exonerated of crime.  I am a feminist, but (you knew there was going to be a "but", didn't you?) the women demonstrating outside the TV studio last night might have done better to turn their protest against the ghetto culture in the banlieues of French cities which sees girls treated routinely as meat by their contemporaries, and sold by their families as marriageable commodities.  The criminal justice system has found DSK innocent. Let's move on.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 15

In which Emma B treats of masters, hair in buns and people with silly names

Chudleigh College seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence and had existed for over a century at the heart of Dorlich with very little to distress or vex it. There was a Chudleigh way of doing things – and everyone else’s’.Woe betide transgressors of time-hallowed codes.

Life revolved around the Boarding House; the Chapel; the Army Corps and the Games Field. Lessons were taught on Saturday; exeats replaced holidays and the school employed masters rather than teachers.

Oh brave new world that hath such people in it? She was cast adrift in treacherous waters without a lifebelt…A working day at Oaks Haven concluded at 4pm and staff returned to hearth and home by 5pm at the latest. At Chudleigh, a 7pm end to lessons preceded prep; staff supervision of homework on a rotational basis.

The Masters’ Common Room with its bountiful drinks cabinet was an essential perk; several glasses of single malt were natural precursors to several more in The Falcon and Paul invariably arrived home late and the worse for wear.
She bit her tongue and held her nose. The wheels of Chudleigh were oiled by alcohol.
Masters had a drinks tab and were required to settle with the Bursar at the end of term. Invariably, individuals forgot to record a quick tipple between classes.
Questions were asked when the Head of Spanish failed to return after the summer vacation; he had been dismissed forthwith after being apprehended in the act of charging three bottles of Bollinger and a magnum of Pol Roger to the School Chaplain. Consumption slumped – and then returned to normal, after a decent interval. Paul’s colleagues prided themselves upon character and made witty quips about Division Two – Chudleigh-speak for state schools like Oaks Haven. In reality, they competed in eccentricities of behaviour that were mannered and faintly absurd.

Chester and Dorian Chase were a husband and wife team in the English Department. Chester resembled a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig and favoured billowing cloaks and fedora hats. He was rarely seen without a drink - even during lessons - and delighted his charges with a medley of bonhomie, barbarity and music hall: Now you little bastards – JUMP TO IT!!! -- First ten lines of Lycidas! Tanqueray – lets hear your pearls of wisdom! Sweeping into class twenty minutes late and leaping onto the table) Come on Tanqueray – Lycidas/poem/Milton – comprenez-moi bien?!!!!!

Sir ( Tanqueray).
Well, Tanqueray?
Sir ---- you’ve just farted.
Well, what if I bloody have?!!!!! (Points a cigarette lighter in the direction of his nether regions).
Cue for shouts of Good old Chasey………

Dorian’s nickname was The Gryphon and physical short-comings were offset by sartorial choices that were flamboyant and singular. She scampered from room to room in voluminous Ali Baba pantaloons; head bobbing and breasts swinging; untroubled by corsetry.
A photograph of her enormous veined breast, attached to a child, adorned a classroom wall. She was supposedly brilliant; uninhibited and a fantastic cook.
It was also whispered that her real name was Doris.

Paul’s stance towards the Chases was typified by sycophantic abasement and her heart sank when he breezed in from Chudleigh, waving an invitation:
Chester and Dorian are having a soiree! Chop chop – frock and heels!
She was then compelled to drop everything in favour of an excruciating four hours chez Chase, skulking with the Chudleigh matrons, whilst the husbands paid court to Dorian.

The Chases lived in school accommodation; two floors of a spacious Georgian terrace, smothered with drapes; children (there were six); periodicals; plants and books. The effect was Bohemian raffish and she suspected that Dorian had spent at least an hour beforehand, deliberately untidying everything. Chester was in charge of music – normally some detestable madrigal ensemble - and drink – in abundance. Dorian squatted in the midst of a patchwork floor cushion, wearing a diaphanous silk something , picking her toes and squealing about the minor works of Charlotte Perkins Gilmour or Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

Too, too, wonderful – just simply SCRUMPTIOUS.

Paul nodded earnestly – until Dorian broke off mid-flow, swooping into the kitchen from whence she emerged bearing trays of intricate canapés. Cue for a collective intake of breath:

Such a brilliant cook; how does she find the time; cordon bleu trained ---- this is SO SUPER……….. YUM YUM.
Just WOW!!!!!!!

She sat with Betty, checking her watch and avoiding the food. Beneath the stage-managed clutter, the house was rather dirty. The bath plug was laced with hairs and the encrustation of the toilet seat was unspeakable.
On these occasions, Betty was a comrade in arms. The Chases boasted an ‘open marriage’, which gave Chester a free hand with the French Assistante and Dorian licence to pounce on the male of least resistance.
Whether she would have availed herself of these opportunities without Chester’s pioneering groundwork was a moot point – but in practice, she had made a grab at David amongst others, during rehearsals for the staff production of Bartholomew Fair.

Betty, as wardrobe mistress, had gone backstage to fit David’s jerkin – but had been unprepared to discover Dorian helping him out of it – and the bottle green hose that completed the costume.
Had Paul availed himself of forbidden fruit? Betty’s loyal assurances were less than convincing and a miserable evening, plus an abundance of Mr Weston’s good wine, produced a predictable contretemps:

Really darling, couldn’t you have made just the teensiest effort? Dorian went to a tremendous amount of trouble and you didn’t even thank her for the food. Those Angels on Horseback were divine! Who could resist?

Well, you obviously couldn’t! The way you cling to her every word is bizarre! She’s Ottoline Morell on a bad day. The ‘scrumptious’ work of Charlotte Perkins Gilmour!! – pretentious cow!

Dorian is a person whose opinion I respect (puffing his pipe; pouring a cognac – over and out).

Thirty years later, she called into the Fengrove bookshop to collect her pre-ordered copy of Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End, and there it was: Dorian Chase will be in store on Thursday 24th June at 7. 45 pm to sign copies of her new novel: His Infinite Variety; shortlisted for the Jessamy Gage European Fiction Prize. She fingered the volume, wincing at the cover photograph of Michelangelo’s David and read the biographical blurb: Dorian Chase lectures in Women’s Writing at the University of Brinmore. His Infinite Variety is her eighth novel; she has written two volumes of short stories and edits the Literary Review for the Sentinel on Sunday. Dorian Chase was a teacher of English at Chudleigh College and her former husband, Chester Chase, is the present Headmaster of Chudleigh. She has six children.

A black and white photograph of Dorian, swathed in shawls with hair in a Doris Lessing bun topped the piece.

A cursory flick through the pages revealed that Dorian; garlanded with honours; feted on Radio 4 and regular guest on every television Arts programme in existence – was in essence, unchanged. Characters, as usual, belonged to a type of literary elite – everyone lectured in English and embarked upon steamy affairs during weekend parties at someone’s place in the country. The women were Daphnis or Lydie; men were Johnno and Oscar and they whinged about questing and reading – whilst squirming in a damp patch of semen after another less than satisfactory sexual bout.
His Infinite Variety was wedged next to Villette and the latest biography of Charlotte Bronte, with a picture of the author, hair scraped from her face in the familiar knot.

She looked at Dorian, bought the Bronte biography and left the shop

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


these are the trustees, a name or two I recognise -you?  comments?








Update: Chris Bloomfield works for Reading Borough Council or did last time I looked, and is or used to be a member of Reading Labour Party. Charlie Clare is or used to be head teacher
of Geoffrey Field School and he and Salter are very close friends and have been for many years


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 14

Emma B. returns, and presents us with more Best Blessings of Existence.  In which she treats of choices, and comparisons.

The week began relatively well - she was paid early and settled some debts. But it was a rotten way of earning a crust - akin to pocketing alms instead of a salary. She had measured her life by unopened bank statements and final bill demands. Always overdrawn - but wasn’t everybody?

Before, never a hitch in the smooth   purchase of flats; houses; holidays; the right clothes and dinners in good restaurants. Perfume Chanel; face creams Clarins. Her life.

Until she lost her seat.

You’ll be spoiled for choice , fawned the Chief Executive of a charity she had championed in her salad days; closing the door to both his office and her hopes of a consultancy.

What an exciting CV – let me get my hands on it; enthused the florid Principal of the Executive Head Hunting Agency. (But only if you stump up £5,000).

No vacancies at the moment – but we LOVED your presentation: Director of a Policy Think Tank.

And so on and so forth - until it became obvious that a backbench MP was exactly right for precisely nothing that was remotely prestigious, well paid or even interesting. Meanwhile, debts accrued. Hands to the plough! After a respectable interval, she joined a supply teaching agency in a neighbouring city. Her cover was blown on Day One and she clocked off when it emerged that pupils and staff were interested in her views on Westminster but not her analysis of poetry. It was scarcely a wrench; the role was remunerated baby-minding; satisfying neither career ambition nor pecuniary advantage.

Of course, her original decision to teach had been neither decision nor choice. It was a chess move in the Paul Preservation Project, so traitorous thoughts (could have been an actress/writer/academic) were dismissed as she skipped along the primrose path to her first post, two months after the wedding. But renegade musings were not quelled; simply placed in the Coulda Been a Contender box where they rested; primed for deployment during her rows with Paul.

She had never attempted any of her preferred professions and could have graced or disgraced them – in equal measure. That was their beauty. Age did not wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety. They remained virgin and incontrovertible and were admirably fit for purpose.

She was engaged as an Assistant Teacher of English and Drama at Oaks-Haven School, an 11-18 Mixed Sex Comprehensive, situated about thirty miles from Dorlich in the part of the Oakshire countryside not colonised as a weekend retreat by lesser scions of the royal family.
The children she taught did not mix with the minor royals at polo, dressage and horse trials in the smart part of Oakshire.

They might, however, assist their parents with light farm labouring after school.

Other family members could be employed at the Open Prison or the Children’s Home. Some of her pupils lived in the Children’s Home. A ‘good job’ was a traineeship with the Local Authority or Marks and Spencer; boys joined the police force and girls became beauticians and hairdressers. During the Falklands War, some of the boys responded to media populism (Kill an Argy and Win a Metro), and signed up for the Army.

Oaks-Haven had a small Sixth Form and she shared a teaching group with the Head of Department.
Andrew Penn was pleasant enough, but at 48, considered himself and his Dorlich degree wasted upon the likes of Tracey and Wayne. This was the settled view of a good cross section of her colleagues; many of whom had taken their first post at Oaks-Haven and had stayed for the next fifteen years. They were glad of the relative freedom from the discipline problems so prevalent in the large Dorlich comprehensives and rejoiced in the knowledge that Tracey and Wayne could be bored into submission by the completion of interminable worksheets produced en masse by the trusty school Banda machine. This noxious object occupied pride of place in the School Office, next to the rubber plant. Along with the Grenadier pub, venue of choice for staff at Friday lunchtime, it enjoyed the status of a mini household god.
It could not be used without prior appointment, courtesy of School Secretary, Mary Hadleigh. Its distinctive purple ink ruined outfits at an impressive rate and its worksheets emitted a unique odour, sniffed by pupils in the Remedial Block as a substitute for glue. But it created a dangerous dependency amongst teachers who relied upon it as a source of mass pacification for children considered to be incapable of scaling the peaks of academia – or even the molehill of a place at a lesser polytechnic.

She had been used to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Middlemarch and Middleton and had fantasised about unlocking these treasures for a generation of eager pupils. The fact that she was expected, like the teacher she had replaced, to cram their heads with comprehension questions on the first five chapters of Carrie’s War, took major feats of adjustment.

The English Department stock cupboard contained boxes of used worksheets with lesson plans for every text – thereby ensuring that no member of staff would ever be required to teach an original lesson. Book choice was strictly limited and poetry was only available in teaching anthologies. The obligatory Chaucer text for the Sixth Form came equipped with Neville Coghill’s translation.

As Andrew explained: You’ll need to translate Shakespeare and Chaucer for them – it’s a foreign language! And even Dickens --- I’ve been thinking of getting a new set of Brodie’s Notes if the budget holds out.

She spent the first term cowed into submission by the Banda machine and Andrew Penn and then discovered that things worked out better if she ignored them both – an approach that paid off with the Whips’ Office many years later.

Working life became all right; sometimes enjoyable – especially when Tracey and Wayne justified her faith in them rather than the expectations of Andrew and Banda.
Shelley Johnson’s place at Cambridge was a case in point. But although it became something, it wasn’t enough and the Coulda Been a Contender box was the object of frequent visitation.

Chudleigh and Oaks-Haven had about as much in common as the children of farm labourers and the offspring of minor royals. The former were schools and the latter, human infants. And that was all. At first, she had rushed home from work, aching to see Paul; longing share her new experiences and compare teaching ideas.
His interest was perfunctory at best. Her colleagues were merely names to him and her leaving party three years later was excruciating because he insisted on calling Andrew ‘Anthony’, whilst quizzing him on his literary taste. At the mention of Basil Bunting she left the room.

The shades of Chudleigh, by contrast, polluted every aspect of her life. Whilst studying at Dorlich, she had remained in blissful ignorance of its existence. Now it lurked at the corner of every street and penetrated her private living space in the form of the Oxbridge set ; the thirty or so boys taught by Paul in small groups at home in the run up to their entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge. She detested these evenings.

Paul would conduct the tuition at 7.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the sessions were scheduled to end at 9pm. Invariably, this meant 10.45pm, because the formal proceedings were merely the prelude to a type of social party when wine was served and the boys were allowed to smoke. Paul was in his element, directing proceedings from his wheel backed throne in the living room, pipe lit and tumbler of Jamieson’s to hand. She spent these evenings crouching in the bedroom, correcting essays on the bedside table.

The Oxbridge set became a major bone of contention between her and Paul. At first, she had tried to work at the opposite end of the living room. It was spacious and with a supreme effort, she managed to ignore the general braying that characterised these occasions. But Paul seemed unable to accept this and kept drawing attention to her presence.

Darling, could you just pop to the Offie --- I forgot to get the Sancerre – and while you’re out, what about some of those cheesy nibbles?

Sweetie – we need the Annotated Donne --- didn’t you use it recently? Doesn’t seem to be in its usual place --- be a dear and check it out……..

And she would obey commands, with an increasingly surly aspect, unable to avoid the smirk of contempt upon the collective face of the flower of Chudleigh.
She was simply unable to concentrate upon her own work and became increasingly irritated by the pompous rubbish spouted by the entire group; Paul included. Matters (and her subsequent decision to retreat to the bedroom), came to a head during an especially sententious analysis of Sons and Lovers.

Now you might want to consider the presentation of Miriam and Clara: opened Paul. Of course, Paul Morel’s intrinsic creativity and intellectual freedom is inhibited and then crushed by the spiritual frigidity of Miriam and the cloying physical vulgarity of Clara. The female imperative is presented and then vanquished at the end of the novel when Paul rejects them, and in so doing, chooses life.

Yes, yes sir, yelped Dominic Crutchley- Waters: He’s the original Lawrentian High Priest of male oneness – like Gerald and Birkin in Women in Love!!!

She could stand no more and rose to her feet:
Oh bollocks! Paul Morel wanted to fuck his mother so he couldn’t fuck his women. Couldn’t get it up, that’s all. She then swept into the bedroom and listened at the door.

Shuffling; tittering.

Oh – well, my wife’s got an MA from Dorlich, laughed Paul.

Girt MA!!!!!!! shrieked Crutchley-Waters – and normal service was resumed.

The heavens opened when the last pupil left – at 11 30pm. She suspected that Paul had deliberately prolonged the session – and she was right. He thought she was paranoid; insecure; rude - had humiliated herself. She called him selfish; insensitive; opened the Coulda Been a Contender box and then slung the grenade:

Ooh yes sir, ooh no sir; can I lick your arse sir!!! Why on earth you encourage them to regard you as a literary guru I have no idea. You even lied about your degree! You didn’t get a First at Cambridge – you scraped a Third. ERIC TOLD ME!!!!!!!!!!!!! (with a flash of the eyes and a triumphant flourish).

Paul smiled wearily:

Not a lie, Sweetie. Everyone knows that a Third from Cambridge is better than a PHD from Dorlich!! Now, if you don’t mind, I need to check out my timetable for tomorrow. Garfield Proctor needs an extra lesson on Keats – his interview is on Friday and I promised him a One to One.

They made up in bed; there was nowhere else for her to go. 

just asking...

the Charity Commission UK entry for Aspire2 says it was set up by schools but does not name them.  The Chronicle piece says it was set up by a group of 10 schools, but does not name them either.  Would be useful to know which schools are putting money and support into this.  The entry also indicates that in 2010, the first year for which Aspire2 had an income above £10,000, thus requiring it to file accounts, it had an income of £28,774, and filed its accounts 21 days late.  So, could do better, but that is not a lot of money to provide outings etc for schoolchildren and also pay its staff, and presumably an allowance or expenses for its chairman.   When Mr Salter appears next week at its AGM to receive tributes from a grateful Reading take on the role of chairman, those who support the charity would presumably wish to know how much he will be paid.  It's not possible to view the charity's accounts in detail on the website as the link is broken.  Pity.  But there may be those in Reading who know the details?

Monday, 12 September 2011

ladies and gentlemen, introducing...

coming soon from Biteback, here is the contents page,modesty forbids me to, er - oh, please yourselves.  Chapter 15.

Introduction vii
Duncan Brack and Iain Dale
  1. 1  What if Lloyd George and Keynes had gone to Russia in 1916? 1
    David Boyle
  2. 2  What if proportional representation had been introduced in 1918? 13
    Robert Waller
  3. 3  What if Lloyd George had done a deal with the Tories in 1931? 27
    Jaime Reynolds
  4. 4  What if Attlee had sent Dalton to the Foreign Office and Bevin
    to the Exchequer in 1945? 47

    Ted Morris
  5. 5  What if Richard Nixon had become President of the United States
    in 1961? 65

    Neil Stockley
  6. 6  What if Harold Macmillan had not resigned in 1963? 85
    Mark Stuart
  7. 7  What if the UK had never joined the EEC? 99
    Richard Briand
  8. 8  What if Rupert Murdoch had not bought The Times in 1981? 111 Simon Buckby and Sam Cannicott
  9. 9  What if Mrs Thatcher had settled with the miners in 1984? 131
    Adrian Moss
  10. 10  What if Margaret Thatcher had won the 1990 Conservative
    leadership contest? 145

    Graham Kirby
  1. 11  What if the coup against Gorbachev in 1991 had succeeded? 163
    Christian Walker
  2. 12  What if Gordon Brown had stood for the Labour leadership in 1994? 189
    Peter Riddell
  3. 13  What if the United Kingdom had not gone to war in Iraq in 2003? 199
    Tony McNulty
  4. 14  What if David Davis had been elected leader of the Conservative
    Party in 2005? 219

    Iain Dale
  5. 15  What if Tony Blair had remained as Prime Minister? 233
    Jane Griffiths
  6. 16  What if Gordon Brown had called an election in 2007? 247
    Philip Cowley
  7. 17  What if Hillary Clinton had secured the Democratic nomination
    in 2008? 259

    David Bean
  8. 18  What if Harris and Marris had won in 2010? 275
    Matt Cole
  9. 19  What if Nick Clegg had opted for ‘confidence and supply’ rather
    than full coalition in 2010? 295

    David Mills
  10. 20  What if Pope Benedict had been assassinated on his visit to Britain
    in 2010? 311

    Andy Mayer
  11. 21  What if Ken Livingstone wins the 2012 London mayoral election? 335
    Mark Munro
  12. 22  What if Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister in 2016? 349
    Sam Macrory

Friday, 9 September 2011

now sir, will you tell us how you plan to rule over Reading?

the Reading Chronicle has another puff piece for Mr Salter, this time stating, risibly, that he was "heavily involved" (it says here on Mr S's press release, chaps) in a bid to secure funding for the Whitley Excellence Cluster in 2004.  Er, no he wasn't.  He put out some press releases, that is all.  Therefore, says the organ, he might well become chairman of the charity set up to give jobs to those formerly employed by the Cluster.  One of those very people says he would be great in the role, says the Chronicle.  And Mr S in all this?  Coyly, he shuffles his feet and will not say whether he expects to become chairman of this thing, which is called Aspire2, apparently.  The meeting at which the chairman is to be elected is on 21st September, and Mr S informs us that he would be delighted to serve "in any way that local people think is appropriate".  The Chronicle does not say how they found out that Mr S was possibly in the running for this role, or what prompted them to seek an audience with him.  The headline says "former MP tipped for leading role".  Yes indeed.  This stepping stone to being elected mayor of Reading selfless offer of service to the community is to be funded how?  Ah, we see.  Aspire2 is a charity "set up by 10 Whitley schools" and therefore funded by - Reading Borough Council.  And now that the council has returned to Labour control it is putting its money where it always has.  Getting its mates into funded positions of power and influence.  Aspire2, a charity you have very likely never heard of before today, is going to see its media profile jump very high indeed after 21st September, so long as those voting for its officers, the packed bunch of stooges bussed in by Reading Labour impartial members of the organisation, vote correctly a week on Wednesday.

Ballot papers already printed with the votes, methinks, hein, Mr Singleton-Shite? 

Remember where you heard this.

Monday, 5 September 2011

pop music is black

says Sathnam Sanghera in today's Times (£), differing from the criticism of the recent MOBO awards, in which the likes of Adele, who is white, won.  Sanghera quotes Elvis Presley from 1956, talking to a journalist, and I thought it was worth reproducing here:

"The coloured folks been singing it and playing it just like I'm doin' now, for more years than I know.  They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints, and nobody paid it no mind till I goosed it up.  I got it from them.  Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the  way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel like old Arthur felt, I'd be a music man like nobody ever saw."