Monday, 27 February 2012

thanks Josie babes

for the plug  - free publicity is always good.  Comes to something when there is wrangling in the council chamber in Reading over an item on my blog revealing what is widely known in Reading, that Jon Fatboy Hartley was the source of the leak of information about the Labour Group's trashing of the council chief executive for having integrity cost-saving reasons.  Thanks for reading, Josie babes, good to know you get your information about Reading from someone who lives 600 km away and has not lived in Reading since 2005.  A little suggestion to the Labour Group - focus on Reading and not on Strasbourg if you want to control the council instead of just pretending to as you are at present.  Oh and Josie - don't eat quite so many pies, and keep the vino intake down to a couple of bottles a day -  there's no speaking to you in the mornings, and it takes half a bottle to kill the hangover enough for you to function, so a respected council officer told me just the other day.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


Her name was Winifred, always known as Winnie or Win,  She was named for her aunt Winnie, whose full name, confusingly, was Wilhelmina.  She was born in 1926 on Walney Island, off the shipbuilding town of Barrow in Furness.  Her parents were not married when she was born - the banns had been called for their wedding, but aunt Wilhelmina had persuaded her mother to call the wedding off, and her father was not seen again.  The gentle fiction was preserved that Win was the youngest of her grandmother's large brood, not an uncommon situation in the industrial towns of the early 20th century.  Win's mother Margaret left Walney and Barrow for London three years later, having secured a ring on her finger as her means of escape, in the arms of a Scottish carpenter called Jim Griffiths.  Win stayed behind.

Margaret and Jim were my grandparents.  My father, born in London in 1930, was their only child.  Years later Win came to live with them, when she was in her late teens, putting my father's nose for ever out of joint.  But Win never quite got over what she saw as her mother's abandonment of her.  So she never liked her stepfather Jim, this making her possibly the only person in the world who did not.  Jim was a drinker, with a great shock of thick hair and a wicked sense of humour.  My father inherited both (the hair and the humour).  I got just the hair.  I think Win, my aunt, felt that her mother had been taken away from her.  She never discussed this, as far as I knew, as families did not in those days.  She and my father, her half-brother, were never on good terms.  My father died young, in 1975, at one of the regular times when he and Win were not on speaking terms.  So there was a sadness and a kind of emptiness at the heart of my father's family.  I did not understand this when I was a child, but I felt it.  I was in my twenties before I understood it.  My father never mentioned it.  There were a lot of silences in the family.

Win's mother Margaret had escaped Barrow and her background, and was a working woman in London, a GPO telephonist most of her life, and a cinema usherette.  Win herself married the boy who lived next door to Jim and Margaret, and they soon emigrated, to what was then Northern Rhodesia and is now Zambia.  Win's husband Ted was a civil servant, who became the curator of one of Africa's most important museums, something his class and background would never have allowed him to do if he had stayed in the UK.  They had no children.  But they had escaped their family and their background, and I think they were happy, living what to me was an impossibly exotic life in Africa, a continent I did not visit until the new century.  Win and Ted came to hold the views you might expect of those living a British colonial life - they moved south as "Africanisation" took hold with the end of the colonial era, and Win at least was a great supporter of Ian Smith in the Rhodesia years.  They were never really to know what became of Zimbabwe later.  They ended their African life in South Africa, where they moved after apartheid ended.  Ted died there, of prostate cancer I believe, and Win moved back to the UK to live with her mother, by then retired and back home on Walney Island, Jim having died at the age of 90.

During their African life Win and Ted came back to visit about every two or three years, for a few weeks at a time.  As time went on my brother and I grew to have fun with them.  Win was always good fun.  We looked forward to their visits.  Because (perhaps) she had no children, Win made us three, her nephew and two nieces, feel special and cherished.  And we laughed.  Always, always, we laughed.

In 1971, with one of the numerous changes in post-colonial Africa, Win and Ted thought they would move back to the UK.  They came, and they stayed a year.  I was seventeen.  My brother sixteen.  We discussed African politics furiously, with the callow certainties of youth.  During that year Win bought a raincoat.  As well you might.  It was (from memory) quite a stylish trenchcoat, belted and buckled.  My brother and I called it her "neocolonialist fascist mac" and she wore that moniker with pride.  They couldn't settle in the UK.  I was told by other family members that Ted had thought there were too many black people in the UK for them to be able to settle.  Go figure.  They had come from Africa.  They went back there, to live the life they had been comfortable living for so very long.

Win's last years were spent in Barrow in Furness, living with her mother, and then alone after her mother was admitted to residential care, and then died in 2002.  She had gone back to her roots.  But her relationship with her mother never settled.  As it never had.

Win died last week, after suffering several strokes.  I had not been in contact with her for nine years, after a complication of my grandmother's will which meant that my mother was done out of some money.  But I liked her.  I always did.  Despite the neocolonialist mac, and the neocolonialist views.

The white Africans, which is what Win and Ted became, are not remembered now.  But perhaps they should be.  Unfashionable as they are.

On Saturday I go back to Barrow, for the first time in nine years, to Win's funeral and to help do what I can to sort out her possessions, and maybe some of my grandmother's, maybe even some memories of my father which are kept there. I'll be in my grandmother's house,  and I'll say goodbye to part of my family, and part of my life.

I'll always, always remember how we laughed, Aunty Win.

Goodbye, Aunty Win.

Monday, 13 February 2012

incumbency effect

This is from a paper by a US researcher called Fernando Ferreira. Just saying. What are the consequences of electing a female leader for policy and political outcomes? We answer this question in the context of U.S. cities, where women’s participation in mayoral elections increased from negligible numbers in 1970 to about one-third of the elections in the 2000’s. We use a novel data set of U.S. mayoral elections from 1950 to 2005, and apply a regression discontinuity design to deal with the endogeneity of female candidacy to city characteristics. In contrast to most research on the influence of female leadership, we find no effect of gender of the mayor on policy outcomes related to the size of local government, the composition of municipal spending and employment, or crime rates. While female mayors do not implement different policies, they do appear to have higher unobserved political skills, as they have a 6-7 percentage point higher incumbent effect than a comparable male. But we find no evidence of political spillovers: exogenously electing a female mayor does not change the long run political success of other female mayoral candidates in the same city or of female candidates in local congressional elections.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

when you're in a hole...

stop digging, of course.  Cllr Matt Rodda (Lab, Katesgrove) said he had lobbied the Planning Inspectorate over a local planning issue.  Cllr Warren Swaine (LD, Katesgrove, defeated Dictatorship Dave "moronic members of the public" Sutton) did a FoI request which indicated that he hadn't.  Cllr Rodda had, of course, done plenty of media, including the hackneyed "open a bottle of champagne on the site", which I remember doing in 1993, and not since.  Caught lying to the electorate, Cllr Rodda sprang into action.  His Master's Voice faithfully copied out Cllr Rodda's protestations that the dog had eaten the emails he said he'd sent, thusly:
His Master's Voice

the Chronicle actually talked to both sides:

notice two things here: (1) Cllr Rodda expresses "sadness" that Cllr Swaine would stoop so low as to "criticise a local councillor".  Diddums.  That's politics, matey.  It's not all champagne and Martin Salter's bottom and hagiographic pieces in the Reading Evening Post.
(2) the person actually standing for election for Labour in Katesgrove ward is Rose Williams, a fine person in my view and a former Mayor of Reading, one of the best.  She is nowhere to be seen in all this.  In her place I wouldn't be, either.  But why did Cllr Rodda, in his creepy little stunt based on lies, never mention Rose or include her?  He must have thought the whole thing was a good idea to have gone to the bother of making up a story that he had lobbied for local people, so why not try to give the candidate a boost?  She's a girl, after all, and Reading Labour have got some ground to make up on misogyny.


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

non-existent? my arse

the Normster draws our attention to a piece by the Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen, who is a Church of England cleric, about Syria.  The Rev. Dr. Mullen appears to be trying, as a number of commentators have in recent days, to justify leaving the Syrian regime to slaughter its people.  Note, however, this:

I’m afraid we have to repeat the old lesson again and again. Nations act in their perceived national interests. Sometimes the consequences are benign, but it does no good at all to imagine that they will always be so. A particular state may even sometimes take an internationalist stance. But – if its leaders are in their right minds – it will not do so out of a sentimental attachment to non-existent universal values, but only from what it calculates as its own interest.

Nations act in their perceived national interest.  Yep.  But where does Responsibility to Protect come from?  Whose national interests are served by that?  It's likely that Russia at least prefers to retain a client in the Middle East, and sees Syria as precisely that, and that both China and Russia do not want their own minority nationalities to get ideas.  (Sorry chaps, they already have).

Jolly good.  I am no theologian, but Peter Mullen has been ordained and does not believe in universal values?  Who does the Gospel apply to then?  The Ten Commandments?  Only nice people who read the Guardian?  Not a bunch of stone-throwing brown-skin Ay-rabs?  And if what I write here offends anyone, good.

The piece quoted from is to be found in the Telegraph.  Peter Mullen is:

The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael, Cornhill and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London. He is Chaplain to six Livery Companies of the City of London and has written for many publications including the Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

who will be queen o'the may

local elections of course, dummies, what did you think I was talking about?  Personally I shall be rather more focused on the presidential election here in France, the first round of which is I believe is on 22nd April, and I will be very surprised if there is not a second round (one candidate has to get over 50% for that to happen).  Angela Merkel was here yesterday campaigning for Sarko for talks about the eurozone and the economy.  Francois Hollande (Parti Socialiste) is high in the polls,, and the third placed, Marine Le Pen, Front National, is currently struggling to get the 500 nominations she needs from elected individuals.  She is coming to Strasbourg on Sunday - a great deal of Front National support is in Alsace, fortunately not in the city of Strasbourg, but in the villages.  She ought to speak to them in Alsatian, but I bet she can't.  Even I can manage a little.  Even Miss France (who is from these parts) spoke the language when she was crowned.  The fourth placed is Francois Bayrou, who is some kind of LibDem and thus doesn't count.  And then there is the Front de Gauche, supported by the communists and by the unions.  Only 7% of the French workforce belongs to a union.  Currently the airlines are on strike.  And the Greens, who will do quite well.  I like Eva Joly of their ilk, who is blonde, wears red glasses and is Norwegian.

Anyway, readers, what will happen in Reading?  Labour of course have a minority administration.  I can make better predictions for the wards in the Reading East constituency than for the West.  Because, er, you know,  constituency boundaries matter, in democratic terms.  Don't they?  Oh, please yourselves.

 Grn gain Park from Lab.  Lab gain Redlands from LD.  Lab gain Katesgrove from LD.  Con hold Church.  Con hold Caversham.  Con gain Tilehurst from LD.

The Katesgrove result is not a certain one, because Cllr Matt Rodda (Lab) was caught lying to the public a while ago, and the electorate don't like that kind of malarkey.  But it seems the LibDems are demoralised.  There's still time for them to grow a backbone though.

Minster?  Others?  Dunno.  Give me your predictions, readers.  Surprised to see so little on Facebook from Reading, other parties around the country have a great presence there.  I would single out Plymouth in this respect.

Monday, 6 February 2012

life for Holocaust perpetrator

Kaing Guek Ev (this is the French rendering of his name), known as Duch, on Friday lost his appeal and was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, by judges of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.  This is indeed an extraordinary body.  It took 30 years after the crimes in question to set it up, and unlike other courts of the kind it is situated in the country where those crimes took place.  Half its judges are Cambodian, and it operates in English, Khmer and French.  Essentially it has been set up to bring five people, all of whom are at least 80 years old, to justice, and it needs to get a move on if it is going to do so before the Grim Reaper does its work for it.  It's arguable that what happened in Cambodia in the 1970s was not genocide, arguable too that it was.   What is not disputable is that Cambodia was rescued in 1979 by the wrong people, namely the Vietnamese communists, and that therefore, disgracefully, the Cambodia seat at the UN was retained by the Khmer Rouge at the US' behest for many more years, until 1993 and the Paris conference.

This tribunal is working slowly and in difficult circumstances.  But I believe it should be supported.  It is an example of the UN, a body which is useless most of the time, supporting some work which is actually for the good of humanity.

Holocaust denial.  I have often wondered why those who are inclined to deny that such an event took place are also those who hold the view that a Holocaust, especially of Jews, would be rather a Good Thing.  This view is of course widely held in parts of the Middle East, and tacitly supported by many on the stupid left today.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "We Are All Hezbollah Now".

It's good to retain some hope for the future.  The Duch verdict (there is no death penalty, and Cambodians will no longer kill their own people) does give some hope.  Elsewhere in the world (Syria, parts of the Labour Party) it's harder to find it.  Russia and China are happy to see the Syrian people killed in huge numbers.  Let them pay the price for that.  And make the killing stop.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

media, the disgraced Post, and the Holocaust

Bosnia: picture Europe 1
well, sorry, there was a brief window before Canal Plus clocked that a clip from their programme was out on YouTube, Facebook, everywhere, and stopped me putting it on my blog (see previous post).  Having it seen this way will only bring viewers in to Guignols, but hey, what do I know.

Where was I?  Oh yes, media.  I was sent a couple of cuttings from the Reading Post and the Reading Chronicle this week, at the the of writing they are not on the websites so you will have to take my word for it, or buy the paper if you are in Reading.  They both refer to the Holocaust Day event in Reading at the end of January.  These events happen in a lot of places, I went to one outside my workplace, at which a lone violinist played the anthem of the Warsaw Ghetto, making us all cry, and subsequently murdered the European anthem.  We had a few words from the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, some from the President of Finland, the country which currently holds the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers (do try and keep up), and some from the head of the Israeli delegation to the Council of Europe.  And that was it.  Fifteen minutes and a wreath-laying.  I would not have wanted to miss it.  The rabbi of Strasbourg was there of course.

But in Reading they do these things differently.  The Holocaust memorial event has been happening for a number of years now, and is organised by the Reading Council for Racial Equality.  It's a much bigger event than the Strasbourg one.  I am told that last year, when the council was under a Tory-LibDem administration, the event was highly political and the RCRE took the opportunity to criticise the coalition administration.  Well, I wasn't there, but that is what I was told by more than one person who was.  There was fairly widespread disgust.  This year one Tory councillor, Richard Willis, decided not to attend because of what happened last year, and wrote in that vein on his blog.  There were some fairly principled comments, and some racist ones too, but that is what happens when you put your opinions out there.  I should know.

The Reading media did the following:  the disgraced Reading Evening Post read the blog, read the comments, and copied out a grudge diatribe from the former head of RCRE, Rajinder Sohpal (btw someone I have counted as a friend over the years, and this is not about him).  The Chronicle, by contrast, read all this, spoke not only to Rajinder Sohpal but to Richard Willis, whose remarks had sparked the exchange in the first place, and to the rabbi, Zvi Solomons, whose point of view counts for something on these matters, producing a much more nuanced story.  The Chronicle piece may have contributed to a wider debate on the commemoration of genocide.  I hope so.  The disgraced Reading Evening Post is just a mouthpiece for bile.  As always.  Not journalism.

I was asked once on this blog why I criticise the disgraced Reading Evening Post for writing spiteful stories about people when briefed by their friends without speaking to the people, when I do not ring up people I am about to write about on this blog to get their point of view.  My answer is clear: this blog is an expression of my personal views, what I think, and that is all it is.  It does not purport to be news, though it may at times contribute to it.  And if I refer to anyone here and they would like to reply, they may do so, so long as what they wish to say is couched in language I am willing to have published on my blog.  This is not something the disgraced Reading Evening Post allows.  There's the difference, hein?

Holocaust: the survivors of the Nazi terror are mostly gone now.  Those who were children at the time are old people now.  There are not that many of them left.  And there have been other real and attempted genocides since.  In Bosnia, in Rwanda, in Iraq.  Oh yes, Iraq.  Cue foam-flecked spittle.  And there have been many over the centuries.  In Armenia.  In Carthage.  It's worth thinking about how to remember this and how to work against it happening again.  The other day I was chatting to a Rwandan bishop of my acquaintance (as you do) who can't go back there.  He is living in poverty in France.  To him, and to other Rwandans I have met, the words Hutu and Tutsi don't mean very much at all.  He thinks of those identities as a construct that came from outside Rwanda.

I ask those who work on remembrance, and I salute them for doing so, to examine their hearts, and their attitudes to what is happening in the world around us now.  I couldn't personally have stopped the slaughter in Bosnia in the 1990s, in my home continent of Europe, of course, but I will go to my grave guilty that I said nothing, and did not campaign or demonstrate or try to do anything.  We are all Sarajevans now.

Friday, 3 February 2012

spitting Sarko says sorry

the more discerning among my readers will know the original "Desole" by Sexion d'Assaut.  Desole means Sorry.  This is the French equivalent of Spitting Image, Les Guignols de l'Info, having some fun with the song, with Sarko and his team saying sorry for unemployment, high prices,you get the picture.  With the full approval of the song's originators.  Who are great.

Oh and the crazy blonde woman is Nadine Morano, who might well be the next President of France but one or two.  She is a fairly junior minister now, but has rather the reputation, and a French version of the style, of Margaret Thatcher when she was a minister in the Heath government.  And we know what happened to HER.

You heard it here first.  Despite the language barrier for most Brits, this presidential election is important, and what happens in France is important for the UK.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Best Blessings of Existence 28

In which Emma B. reminds us that a dog always returns to its vomit.

He was also an interesting man and had spent the past 35 years in neither the City, the Army nor the Shire Counties of England.

This incontrovertible fact clinched her choice of a later train and also served as an excuse to put the length of the Sceptre Room between herself and the former inhabitants of 14a Wellington Parade.

Don’t you find, reflected Ben, between mouthfuls of chocolate fudge, that university chums have a habit of turning into their polar opposites? Take Lucy Prynne – I just had to move away – couldn’t bear any more guff about her bloody grandchildren. That voice! I suppose she needs it to intimidate the opposition at all those meetings of the ‘Friends of Orchid Common’ or whatever place she’s trying to safeguard from social housing!

Well, yes…. (taking another piece), but I’ve not really thought about how they’d turn out. We – Lynne and I - never really knew them…

Yes - Lynne!! Now why did I always think she was Maisey? Don’t know; my dear old Aunt I suppose! Something about her look. I do remember that she was always smoking – Lynne not Great Aunty Maisey. And scowling. Yes – smoking and scowling. In corners….

He was far too polite to suggest that this eccentric behaviour had not been confined to her friend and the thought of their twenty year old selves was mortifying.  She recalled Lynne’s outrage at the comments of an erstwhile student colleague when they had met again at a Taster Briefing in Lynne’s Department. Graham Pelham had been, frankly, astounded to see Lynne in role as a successful professional woman and had regaled her with the lurid rumours that had surrounded the two of them at Dorlich. The very mildest of the unspoken innuendos was that they were a lesbian couple – and from the view of anybody outside their tightly knit duo, it made perfect sense. They were a Dorlich equivalent of Pinky and Perky; at parties they scowled and smoked; enmeshed with each other in a way that must have deterred everybody else.

Apart from Sandra Milford who appeared to be the perennial deputy in the absence of one or other of the primary pairing.

The fact that they were, in reality, devising elaborate methods of entrapping Robbie Nantwich and the very Ben Bex Oliver who was at this moment, giving her such quizzical looks, was irrelevant.
They seemed as if they were founder members of the Peony Hall Gay Soc and Sandra Milford must have been the on-off lover of one, or the other, or both.

Was that why Leslie Potts (the prototype of Out and Proud and currently relishing national treasure status), had made a beeline for Sandra?

Did he think that, being lesbian herself, she would agree to be a pliant beard at work and family functions?

If so, he was a lousy judge of character, she thought, remembering Sandra’s curtain-raiser at the Briscoe party – the audition for her response to her husband’s decision to run off with the self-same Cliff Morledge who was currently plying Heather Lydgate with a plate of cheese and celery boats.

Do you keep up with Lynne - must stop thinking Maisey! said Ben Bex- Oliver, nibbling a fourth fudge square.

I saw her again some years back – her book was up for the Attenborough and she was just the same except for the smoking! The book was good - and I’m interested in that sort of thing – but she didn’t want to talk At Dorlich I think she had a much older boyfriend. Did they marry?

The light from a chandelier flickered, picking out a scar at the side of his mouth.

She was not going to tell Lynne that her template of manhood had compared her to his miserable old aunt. Nor that the template had mentally married her off to an ageing swain who teamed shorts with top hats; white socks with brogues and favoured dentures on the table rather than in the mouth whilst dining in smart restaurants.

In any case it hardly signified. Ben had moved on to an account of his life and times.  He had renounced the comforts of society along with his double barrelled surname and since 1976 had traversed the globe, living and working with primitive and tribal communities. After a spell in Malawi, at the behest of various charities, he had spent ten years in Kenya researching Maasai culture and his seminal work The Ethnogenesis of the Maasai People with a forward by Sir Leslie Potts, had been written in collaboration with his wife, Namunyak (The Lucky One), the daughter of a Maasai Chief whom he had met during the course of his research. (Fortunately, her Dad didn’t insist on the traditional herd of cows as a bride price!).

On their return, Namunyak had taken a series of university posts and Ben concentrated upon his writing – diversifying into presenting the popular films and documentaries upon which his reputation now rested. They had four children and Namunyak, the recently appointed Head of African Studies at London and Communities University was an Ambassador for UNICEF and an acknowledged world authority on female genital mutilation.

It had been, by any estimate, an exciting life.

She thought of Lynne in Surrey, pandering to the whims of Pork and Scratching and the equally tedious Greg. Had Greg Salt even read The Inuit, Man and Myth?  It was doubtful Lynne had spotted the potential in an intelligent and attractive man 35 years ago. How could they have assumed that stalking him through the highways and byways of Dorlich – sometimes on foot; sometimes in Lynne’s old Beetle and then shunning him at parties whilst grimacing in corners was cool - much less an accredited seduction technique? What had seemed sensible at the time was in retrospect, certifiable lunacy.

Robbie Nantwich, his wife Sarah and Wendy’s Press Secretary Edith Traynor were chatting to Mike Stubbs and Terence Gale. Sarah Cassidy caught her eye and the hint of a smirk, that might have been a trick of the light, was decisive.

It’s been great to catch up – but I really must go…moving towards the door – and Bill Cornish who appeared to be guarding it. He propelled her back to the drinks table, nodding to Cliff and Heather who had finished the cheese boats and were now sampling the strawberry and custard slices.

She accepted a glass of indifferent red from Bill’s outstretched hand. Gissy was right about the half-moons; he was an assiduous nail-buffer. Or perhaps he had regular manicures; in either case the Cornish nails had escaped her notice during the entire course of their professional acquaintance and now they were his most definitive feature – just as, in the case of Terence Gale………

This lurid train of thought was scotched by Clifford Morledge commandeering her attention: the Department; Fengrove – the solar energy question – did she know that he’d written the Ministerial Response to her Adjournment Debate on The Sunshine Economy on April 13th 2003?

No. She didn’t. She had completely forgotten about it. She didn’t know him either. And until five minutes ago, she was sure that he didn’t know her. And now he was treating her like the specialist subject for a Viva at Finals with Bill as examiner.

He seemed to fit with Bill in ways that Sandra, even at the 1985 Chilton Conference, had never done, He was like a rangy greyhound to Bill’s quirky Jack Russell. In fact they resembled a serious version of Morecambe and Wise and in their company Sandra would be about as comfortable as the hapless celebrity guest at the perennial Christmas Show.

Or the albatross at the wedding feast…

The Division Bell signalling imminent votes rang and then stopped and The Sceptre Room filled up with miscellaneous MPs on the scrounge for a free drink before dinner.

Isn’t this great? So good you could make it, because we were going to have that little chat, weren’t we? Mike Stubbs was a self-opinionated toad with the air of entitlement that usually went with elevation to the post of PPS to the Prime Minister at a ridiculously young age. Before she had lost her seat, he had been all too willing to listen to the poisonous bile emanating from Edgar Smith and his cohorts in the local Party. He had regarded it as a matter of duty to inform his boss that comrades would welcome a full candidate selection procedure in Fengrove because the present incumbent had ‘lost touch’.
Of course, she mused, scanning his conventional features ( less defined at the cheekbones and jaw line as early middle-age took hold), there were those who whispered that unpaid bag-carrier was not all that Mike Stubbs was to his Prime Minister.

And others who said, as they opened a second bottle of Mr Weston’s good wine, that he was not the first and would not be the last.

For he on honeydew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise……

He was the latest in a line of picture-perfect young men who had acted as factotum to Wendy. Patrick Edge; Sheridan Blake; Bryan Forster-Gill; Connor Somerton and now Mike, had carried the bags; smoothed the path; encouraged and repelled all-comers as required, whilst deputising for Freddie Runcible at dinner, the ballet and the Conference. Freddie Runcible, twenty years his wife’s senior, was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and, apart from increasingly rare appearances at official events, was rarely at her side.

There had been some near misses – notably the sudden departure from Westminster of Mike’s immediate predecessor, Connor Somerton.

In pre-Vlad days, Diarists like Peter had earned their crust with digs about high jinks in high places and supping with a very runcible spoon……..but the assiduous Edith Traynor had prevented tentative innuendo from flowering into a full- blown splash on pages 1-9 inclusive.

And then Somerton had departed – practically overnight – to a Deputy Commissionership in Europe – to be replaced by Stubbs. And life had gone on as before.

She noted, with a flash of irritation, that the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson was none too subtly monitoring her conversation with Mike. The very fact that Traynor and Stubbs had attended such a function was peculiar. Whatever it was, university reunion or political anniversary; it did not merit the patronage (for three hours) of the Prime Minister’s closest aides.

Even if Stubbs was discharging a personal debt to Derek, why should Traynor waste time, the day before the final reshuffle of the Administration, on an ill-assorted rabble with no political clout whatsoever?

Not that Edith had spoken to them – that duty had been delegated to Terence Gale and Bill Cornish. She had positioned herself diplomatically, but determinedly, at the edge of groups, listening and watching…..

It’s a lovely party isn’t it? pressed Mike.

Well, actually, Mike – I’m finding it surreal, to be honest!  My invitation had stated that Derek’s ‘do’ was all about his 25 years on the Front Bench and that he wanted to catch up with his old regional teams. I’m the only person here who has ever been in a Kingsmill team! And it’s more like a university reunion … hardly an MP in sight!

If Stubbs was discomfited by the direct approach, he was not about to show it.

Well of course – Dorlich! That’s where it began for Derek didn’t it? And you too of course? Wouldn’t you agree, Derek? --- Leslie?

Leslie Potts offered an impassive countenance.
At 14a Wellington Parade, he had been the acknowledged weed of the group; permitted to pick the toes of the gods courtesy of his money and his car. He had latched on to Derek (then in James Dean manqué phase) just as his own erstwhile girlfriend, Sandra Milford, had trailed after him, attracting commensurate ridicule.

Now, Sir Leslie was the acme of populist intellectual homosexuality.

His academic credentials had made his championing of the Government’s Equality in Marriage legislation extremely valuable and he had been a passionate defender of lead Minister Cornish when the latter was the target of a vitriolic onslaught from the religious right.

He was an Associate Professor at Oxford; visiting Reader at Yale and had fashioned a lucrative radio and television career. His latest book; Alcohol and Gender – a Gay Divide had already gone into a third reprint and its skilful combination of prurience and asceticism had been much admired.

I don’t think, he said, tapping a glass with his little finger, that I’ve had the pleasure?

Thank God for that, she thought, and I don’t think it can have been much fun for Sandra either……….

Mike Stubbs laughed nervously and draped an arm round her shoulders

Dorlich ‘76 wasn’t it Derek – flower power or was it the Sex Pistols? Procul Harum? (with a note of desperation).

Derek cleared his throat and managed a watery smile.

Don’t get your eras in a twist, Mike! And how is life treating you? (giving her the usual shifty look of barely concealed dislike).

It was a meaningless question.

Derek was repulsive. Ben Bex Oliver and Robbie Nantwich had matured into attractive late middle aged men; Derek, with his suit trousers bagging at the seat, was a wreck.

Pants Ahoy!

What pants did he wear now? Interlocking Y fronts? Boxers? Posing pouches?
Or had he meant her pants? Had she even worn them? Shoes; sometimes yes, sometimes no. But pants?

The fact that a nondescript one-night stand should have dogged her for thirty five years was ludicrous!

She recalled a different one on one with Derek, shortly after her election to Parliament, when he was indeed, her Regional Whip. He had been instructed to ‘have a word’, concerning an injudicious Motion she had tabled about increasing the availability of over the counter contraception to girls below the age of consent.

They had sat next to each other, with knees practically touching, in his tiny office in the bowels of the Palace of Westminster, clutching mugs of tepid tea.

He had listened, head cocked, as she had detailed the sexual landmines lying in wait for the unsuspecting young female; the one night stand; unprotected sex with a casual partner; the relaxation of inhibitions when under the influence of alcohol; the possibility of contracting a sexual disease…..

It had been utterly excruciating; the pants, as it were, stood between them…

She had withdrawn the Motion.

Now she understood exactly why Derek had nurtured such resentment throughout the decades. Not thwarted passion; he was as underwhelmed by her as she had been by him.

It was because of Sandra Milford; the elephant in the room then – as now.

It was Sandra’s account of the conference in the student magazine; Sandra’s written report of the debate on a possible boycott of Barclay’s Bank, proposed by Derek as the Dorlich delegate.

Sandra had described how Derek’s masterful depiction of the evils of apartheid (ably seconded by the female delegate from Dorlich), inflamed the audience until it was literally

Panting with a rage bordering upon ecstasy…..

Sandra had sold herself short with United Biscuits. She could have deputised for Peter or Vlad…….

A reply to Derek was, however, required and she gave it.

I’m keeping myself busy ….. but well done you! Congratulations!

Derek discarded his plate, glancing at Mike – and Edith.

How did you know?

Before she could speak, Mike was at hand:

The twenty fifth! – Derek’s Front Bench silver wedding!! All your old Dorlich chums! Wonderful, just wonderful!! manoeuvring her deftly into a corner with a waiter and yet another tray of drinks.

It seems as if you’ve never been away, doesn’t it? And Wendy was so grateful for your help in Fengrove with Bill – simply saving the day after the problems with Mrs Cornish …..But that’s in the past – brave new dawn – and , speaking of Dawn – did you hear on the grapevine that Dawn Jacques, our colleague from Dorlich West, is hanging up her boots this time?

Don’t want to be ageist but ( whispering ), at seventy-three Dawn’s feeling the pace, although (looking at her neck and ever the diplomat ) it’s not to say that we don’t need someone with experience in that seat. And someone who really knows the patch! Have you booked for Conference yet? It just might be fun for you to meet up with some of the comrades from Dorlich. All the best people are from Dorlich! (with a theatrical sweep of the arm)

Brilliant – that’s settled – It’s a date! …….

Belinda Briscoe, flushed from the occasion (or too much wine), burst from the throng and tugged at her sleeve.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry – but it’s Heather – I don’t know what to do!

They ran to a huddle at the back of the room where Lucinda Prynne sat on the floor, cradling the head of Heather Lydgate in her lap. The latter was propped up against a table leg, coughing and crying; legs splayed; skirt awry and gusset on show to the world.

She’s had a little accident, observed Nathaniel Bilbie who was mopping at something on the floor with his cravat.

I think it’s a combination of heat, drink and food, said Ben, loosening the pussy bow at Heather’s neck.

Now come on Heather, deep breaths – and one and two and one and two…

She’s been eating and drinking non stop…every time I looked at her she was just stuffing her face… I’m sure she’ll be ok, but she did collapse … I could run her to St Aelfric’s A&E – my car’s outside, but I think somebody else should come with her?

It was an impromptu but conclusive end to the festivities.

Details of Wendy’s ninth reshuffle seeped out from the news channels the next morning.

She wandered aimlessly from room to room. She had missed her usual train after accompanying Ben and Belinda to St Aelfric’s with Heather and had slept badly on her return. There were three missed calls from Vanessa but nothing from Gissy and Lynne.

She swallowed an aspirin to combat the after-effects of The Sceptre Room’s cheap drink.
Ensconced again in her unsellable house, she was consumed with the feelings of irritation, failure and grubbiness that had accompanied her sporadic brushes with Westminster since losing her seat in 2005.

It was always the same – and once again, she was stuck in the groove of the past.

Returning, like a dog, to its vomit…..

But now that circumstances precluded anything other than an academic interest in Wendy’s skill at butchery; she switched on the television to be confronted with the urbane and self important features of Robbie Nantwich.

The first splash was Gretchen Andrew’s return to the Backbenches amidst rumours that she had failed in an audacious bid for the Treasury. Ainsley Beadle was back, leading Business and Enterprise from the Lords; Junior Ministers were promoted – and demoted. Terence Gale stayed on as Chief Whip.

And now intoned an excited Nantwich: In what must be the story of this reshuffle, Wendy Runcible has gone for broke!

Derek Kingsmill, to many the perennial dark horse; goes to the Home Office but Bill Cornish ----who only last month was clinging to office by his fingertips after a messy split with wife Sandra – has today been appointed the new Secretary of State for Children, Families and Communities!!!

And this is truly a stunning appointment, already hailed by Sir Leslie Potts, no less, as a vote of confidence in alternative family units.

But will it be a vote winner? (shot of Bill, hand in hand with Cliff Morledge).

We’ll be back on the hour with the latest reaction to this appointment and others, but for now its goodbye from…………..


Somehow, she thought not………