Thursday, 20 June 2013

Best Blessings of Existence 40

A welcome return for Emma B., who wishes it to be known that she is hugely flattered by a previous commenter, who likened Best Blessings to Songs of Praise, and is henceforward dubbing herself Thora.

In which we meet a modern-day Lord Byron.

As soon as she had closed the door on Paul, Donald and Gillian, she was manacled by feelings of guilt.


She had also shut the door on her children.


Vanessa and Richard had not asked to have their bedtime routines disrupted to accommodate their unsympathetic cousins.

They had not pestered Gillian and Donald to stay and did not deserve to be stigmatised as the second division by their absurdly pretentious aunt.


As their mother, she had barely glanced at them before decamping like a dervish and as she passed the spice factory and neared the approach to The Duke, she had all but determined to turn back.


She had allowed her hatred of Paul’s brother and his wife to force her out of her own home – and for what?


Two hours of buttock- clenching boredom courtesy of the Butchers.


It was ridiculous – but if there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune she had missed it.


Come on – we can’t let them just walk over us! hissed Hazel, tumbling out of the Renault; leaving Ned in her wake and hustling all three of them up the steps and into the back room of the pub.


I’ve been doing the numbers – if Fred Hoy votes with us, we’ll get a candidate but if he bloody well kowtows to Clare AGAIN it’s dead in the water.

God knows what the  Butchers have got on people! Everyone loathes them – absolutely loathes them but when push comes to shove they all trot into the pen like sheep. Actually, I think Fred looks a bit like a sheep don’t you?


The mild retired fitter chewed on his pipe whilst sipping Newcastle Brown at a corner table and she mused ruefully that if anybody was displaying sheep-like tendencies it was her. She had been driven out by Gillian and now driven in by Hazel.


But the time for escape had passed, so she bought a glass of wine and joined her friends.


The back room of The Duke was not the ideal meeting place for a political party.

It was poorly lit and dingy with nasty sludge-coloured flock wallpaper, and it was certainly not private. because customers frequently mistook its entrance for that of the public bar. To add insult to injury, landlady Pat had a habit of interrupting proceedings by bursting in at inconvenient moments to collect the empties.


In any case, alcohol and politics were a bad fit. The Gridchester Party was an ill-assorted group of people with little in common apart from their Party cards, and two hours of unlimited access to alcohol could inflame tempers and strengthen prejudices.


Tonight’s layout was familiar.


Brian Pelleroe in a red cable jersey presided at the helm; flanked by Treasurer, Clare Butcher, wearing an unspeakable pair of khaki trousers with pockets at the knee and poppers at the ankle. As usual, the elected Secretary, Darren Peabody sent apologies and again, as was customary, Gail Pitt was asked to deputise.


Hazel was not impressed:


(Gail is so weak – she really shouldn’t. They never elect her to anything, but she ends up dogsbodying anyway. )


Diminutive Gail (whose black lace up shoes indicated that she had come straight from the geriatric ward to the pub via a detour to give Daisy her tea), pulled her shoulder-length blonde hair into a scrunchie; bit her lip and took a seat beside Clare.


Her task was to take notes, type and send to Brian for inspection. On past performance, he then corrected her grammar/punctuation/spelling and returned the copy for retyping before allowing it to be dispatched to the membership as an official record of the meeting.


Gail received nothing in return, neither payment, thanks nor respect; and regularly endured treatment (minus the overt abuse) that was essentially similar to that described by the Hambury Wells delegates   at the Rockley Conference


Brian was not a bad man; in comparison with Ron Butcher, he was a veritable apologist for Eve’s sisters – but a Women’s Section detailed to fundraise by holding Tupperware parties; meetings held in pubs rather than weekend gatherings in the community centre – with a safe play area for children - and the treatment of Gail Pitt as an escapee from the typing pool were redolent of a wider malaise.


The Party sang the song of liberation but trod the path of sexism.   


Did Emily Wilding Davidson perish at Epsom for this?  


Brian ploughed on through the agenda; Correspondence; Financial Report; Councillors’ Report (the party had no elected representatives, so this was invariably a rambling whinge about the evils of Gridchester Borough Council) and then Campaign Report.


Here matters took a political turn and it was decided to run a mini Welfare Benefits Take-Up Campaign with a stall outside Binley post office.

The trade union comrades, sitting as was customary, in a tight little group near the exit, were enthusiastic, promising to supply leaflets, stickers and free badges.


And what we really need, urged Vince O’Reilly from the Electricians’ Union

Is an MP to kick it off - and if we hold it on Saturday, we could get someone nearby when they’ve finished their surgery – like that new chap at Lowerbridge…Kingsmill…


All eyes swivelled in her direction and she became uncomfortably aware that she would now be expected to contact her supposed friend and call in a favour.


Which was completely and utterly and definitively out of the question and she was desperately trying to conjure up a convincing reason why this was the case when an unfamiliar male voice from somewhere in the room retorted:


He’s a total berk!


She suppressed a spontaneous cheer and turned round to discover herself facing a new couple sitting at a centre table. The man who had spoken looked slightly older than Paul. He had a sallow, interestingly  lined face and dark hair swept back like Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction,  but his black polo jumper and jeans; grey  fedora hat; distressed  leather jacket and knee length maroon lace-up riding boots marked him out as a veritable ET amidst earthlings.


His companion of similar age wore an olive green peasant-style robe and the fringing of the latter was complemented by her hairstyle: hennaed cornrows intricately fastened by beads in the suffragette colours of green, white and purple.


She’s just come back from the Green Gate at Greenham whispered Sylvia Mills.


Usually unorthodox interruptions were quenched by an imperious:


Through the Chair!


from Brian – but to her amazement, the Gridchester Party’s answer to Chairman Mao listened in respectful silence as the stranger elucidated Derek Kingsmill’s perceived shortcomings:


 Comes across like an estate agent; lacks credibility; abstained at Third Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill; better idea to invite personal friend Noailly Berry from the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child….


The mention of Noailly; a folk heroine who had stood in the General Election as a Communist Party of  Great Britain Candidate against  the Prime Minister was the clincher!  Even the Butchers had no answer to that. Derek was out; Noailly was in and she accompanied Hazel and Ned to the cigarette machine during a break in proceedings, bursting to learn more about the individual who had unwittingly saved her reputation.


The Sweets informed her that Dickon Cleave was a sculptor who lived for six months of the year in a cottage on the edge of Binley with his partner, the statuesque Jessamy Neape. They spent the other half of the year in London because Dickon was an Associate Lecturer at the Courtauld Institute.


Jessamy was a poet who was heavily involved in women’s issues such as wages for housework and protection in law for battered wives. .

She was one of the founders of the Greenham Common Peace Camp, had been arrested four times and was the mother of adult children by two different fathers, not including Dickon.


I think she’s so strong, gushed Hazel - although maybe a bit lesbian?

She’s spent an awful lot of time at Greenham and it can turn you – look at that grandmother who came out there….


The idea that you could somehow catch lesbianism, like a common cold was a novel concept; but Hazel had moved on to the notorious shit pit toilet facility at Greenham and she decided that there were, after all, other ways of demonstrating ones feminist credentials.


Brian shepherded the stragglers back into the meeting room and introduced Ron Butcher and his paper on voting trends.


It was unadulterated bilge.


Ron stood next to the seated Clare and cleared his throat before launching into a torrent of facts and figures culled from a multitude of sources and with no perceptible link to the Borough of Gridchester and surrounds, save that they had been collated to prove that it would be pointless to stand a candidate in the forthcoming Laceybrook by election.


The County Council division; vacant since the death of former Lord Lieutenant, Sir Emrys Bowcher, had never returned a candidate from the Party. It was solid blue-rinse land; all the more surprising as it was barely forty miles away from the Kingsmill seat of Lowerbridge.


Derek’s majority in 1983 had been under 2,000, but this was a by-product of the Party’s national drubbing rather than the intrinsic nature of a constituency that would surely return to its traditional voting patterns next time.


Dorndale Pit in Lowerbridge had been the scene of many famous tussles between police and striking miners, and Shadow Ministers like Del Kemp had won respect locally because they had lined up foursquare behind the mining communities, helping out at soup kitchens and beating the drum in the House.


Laceybrook, with its rolling hills, tasteful retreats for city slickers and estates for the gentry might have been in another country:


(They dumped all the Tories there like a Toffs’ Auschwitz – Vince O’Reilly) 


and the likelihood of a Party victory on such unpromising terrain was well-nigh impossible, unless the levers of government were seized by a military coup.


And so, comrades, concluded Ron, it would be a waste of time, energy and most of all, MONEY to contest the seat and I propose that on the evidence of national voting trends and our own local knowledge, we put the money that we would have spent on literature and publicity into the  deposit account!


Can we have a show of hands? asked Brian, not bothering to open the issue to debate


I don’t think that’s right…. she said, not daring to look at Hazel.


I mean – it’s not just about winning is it? Or we wouldn’t stand candidates in Tory strongholds - and if we weren’t doing that then we would only stand them where we always won and if we did that then seats would never change hands and we’d never win an election I mean, would we?

So – look at Emily Davison.


She had not intended to speak and had launched into an argument without knowing where it would end up. She stumbled to a halt and her face flamed.


Shit shit shit!  




And then someone was clapping and shouting Bravo!


Dickon Cleave replied in strong, authoritative tones.


The Sister who had just spoken was absolutely right – it would be heinous – indeed criminal, not to stand a candidate. In fact, it would be a betrayal of democracy and a slur upon Emily Wilding Davison who had perished beneath the hooves of a horse for the vote; the women at Greenham who were prepared to perish today (glancing at Jessamy) so that we could continue to live in an independent, country, not as serfs in a satellite of America giving birth to children who would swear allegiance to the Stars and Stripes rather than the Union Jack. And above all, it would be a betrayal of the mining communities on the outskirts of Laceybrook who had sacrificed their livelihoods to fight the capitalist tyrants who had destroyed their industry.


The people of Laceybrook – even if that is just one person - must have the opportunity to vote for the Party.


The Party must stand a candidate. And he, Dickon Cleave would be the agent for that candidate!


The words were powerful; persuasive and passionate and as she stared at the speaker, he seemed with his pale face and flamboyant clothes, to be a reincarnation of George Gordon Lord Byron at Missolonghi.


Silence again. Then Fred Hoy, whose resolve had formerly been queried by Hazel, rose unsteadily to his feet, raised his hands above his head and clapped:


It was about time that we reminded ourselves what we were doing in this Party and what this Party was ALL ABOUT. It was about the right of the people of Laceybrook to vote for a candidate of their choice and we should be offering them that candidate. And furthermore, the candidate should be that young lady who first reminded us of our duties to those who died so that we could live in freedom today!


The room erupted in cheers; feet were stamped; tables were banged and Pat the landlady poked her head round the door to see if anybody was fighting.


She was surrounded by everyone except the Butchers (who had taken the opportunity of Pat’s entrance to effect their own exit) and was swept into the public bar, sandwiched between the modern day Lord Byron and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Hazel’s excited voice rang in her ears and the overpowering aroma of Jessamy’s patchouli oil made her feel nauseous.


Dickon Cleave had propelled her through the door and was looking at her in a way that was both intriguing and quite intoxicating.


(Why oh why had she worn those putrid grey dungarees; the eighties mummies’ coverall - she needed a whole new wardrobe for the campaign; possibly a new hairstyle; and she needed them NOW!)


She smiled and nodded, hearing little that was distinct but picking up snippets amidst the noise of an unusually rowdy bunch of drinkers.


Gail and Hazel were singing her praises to the hero of the hour; Ned got out his wallet and denounced the Butchers; Brian Pelleroe recounted their first meeting as he pointed to the only spare gap at the bar:


And she’s got me to thank for ridding her house of rats!




She moved forwards and stopped.


Come on candidate, introduce me! said her agent, patting her arm.


My husband Paul – Dickon Cleave… she replied.




Anonymous said...

And who is this Cleave?

Anonymous said...

Well - me to know you to find out.