Most of my adult life, and indeed my childhood and growing up years, have been spent not going to church. I wasn't brought up that way. Although I was baptised in the Church of England, my younger brother and sister were not (they both did it on their own initiative later) because my parents thought it was hypocritical to have them baptised when they themselves were not churchgoers. I now think my parents were wrong, although when I heard this when I was growing up I was rather proud of them. Because baptism involves godparents, and it is they who take the responsibility, or should. Parents only have to promise to do their best, and that is what all parents want to do anyway. I go to church these days, have done so for the past few years, and every Sunday it strikes me that although there is much I have had to learn about worship in the Church of England over the past few years, a great deal in the liturgy is entirely familiar to me. This is because every morning, when I was at school, we had assembly, and these forms of words were used. We had grace before lunch int he school canteen. We joked about "the piece of cod that passeth all understanding" on Fridays, thinking we had invented it, but it is in the Molesworth books, which portray a generation a bit older than my own, so it must have been current in many schools. I hadn't read Molesworth at the time that phrase was being used by my contemporaries, and neither I think had they. Most people my age or older know, at least from school assemblies, the words "we have left undone that which we ought to have done" and some of us remember, or think we remember (this is an urban myth I believe) being at an assembly when the trousers of the teacher intoning these words were in precisely that condition - cue hilarity.
Anyway, I got to wondering how they taught trainee teachers to do these assemblies, back in the day. That requirement, for an assembly of a broadly Christian character, is still there today - in fact the provision in the 1944 Education Act was strengthened in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which I remember well. Not all teachers are Christian, in fact I suspect that most of them are not, and assemblies no longer use the Book of Common Prayer and other bits of Anglican liturgy as they did in the 1950s and 1960s when I was going to school. I remember thinking in secondary school that the headmaster, who took most of the assemblies, didn't believe a word of what he was saying, and despising him for it more than I did already. Quite possibly he didn't. If he had had a dog-collar on we might have made the assumption that he did. But there is still an issue now. So how then, and now, do teachers of non-Christian or no faith manage with this stuff? Can anyone tell me?
Monday, 29 July 2013
Friday, 26 July 2013
I have posted before on the case of this former head teacher, see here. Now the BBC has this:
A former head teacher who says she was the victim of "racist bullying" has won a Court of Appeal ruling she hopes could help her bid for compensation.
A former head teacher who says she was the victim of "racist bullying" has won a Court of Appeal ruling she hopes could help her bid for compensation.
Sudhana Singh is claiming constructive dismissal over her treatment at Reading Borough Council-maintained Moorlands Primary in Tilehurst.
She says the council "forced" school business manager Sue Heath to provide a statement "riddled with lies".
Employment and appeal tribunals had ruled the claim should not be allowed.
Now three appeal judges have allowed Mrs Singh, 45, to appeal.
Lord Justice Lewison said both tribunals had been wrong and there was "no immunity behind which the council can shelter".
The judge said Ms Singh ran into "serious difficulties" in her first year as head teacher in her relationships with parents, staff and governors.
He said she was accusing governors of endorsing a campaign of "discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation" against her as an Asian head teacher.
She was also accusing the council of "deliberately and unlawfully" endorsing the campaign to remove her from her post.
He added: "The council denies these allegations. It says that the serious breakdown in relationships was due to Ms Singh's autocratic style of leadership and her poor communication skills."
She may win this appeal. I hope she does. I have never met her, nor do I know the school, nor do I have any view as to her competence as a head teacher, but it seems quite clear that she has been hounded out following a non-specific campaign by a group of parents. If someone is not doing their job well enough, a noisy media campaign is not the way to deal with it. It is however Reading Labour's way, and their fingerprints are all over this. The chair of governors at the key time was a man whose day job is as the regional director of the Labour Party, South-East Region, one Malcolm Powers. Why is Labour-controlled Reading Borough Council even commenting at this moment? Given that an appeal is pending they should not be doing so. All their counsel had to say was that if Ms Singh was given leave to appeal this would "open the floodgates" to other cases. Er, only if there are crowds of teachers and others Reading Labour is trying to hound out of their jobs for being people of colour in order to appease a bunch of racists in a marginal ward, would any floodgates open. This is the same bunch who have no shame at using a racist dog-whistle to get their candidate elected against an Asian candidate, see below, "she's one of us"
Thursday, 25 July 2013
In which we are told of children's games - and were there tears before bedtime?
n the early 1990s, when she had been on the parliamentary selection circuit and spending an inordinate amount of time at Party Conferences in an attempt to impress (or prey) upon constituency officials and Shadow Ministers, there was a dress code.
Women on the hunt wore sharp suits; usually in navy or black;possibly pin-striped and invariably exposing as much leg as possible if not cursed with piano trunks.
Men adopted three-quarter-length trench-coats, belted at the back, with the number of eyelets and buckles denoting seniority.
In the absence of embroidered codpieces; flowered ties sufficed, with senior personnel vaunting the equivalent of the Chelsea Flower Show above their breasts.
In 2009, ties were out and socks were in.
Robbie Nantwich; aged 59, with a moustache, hair-weave and to-die-for salary, had dressed for combat with Sandra Cornish in a tailored grey suit, black Hugo Boss-style vest and fluorescent pink socks.
She sneaked a glance at Lynne.
The latter was staring resolutely at the set and did not say
Didn’t you bonk him at Dorlich?
But it was obvious that she was thinking it.
How ridiculous it was to even feel a twinge of embarrassment, as she, along with millions of others, prepared to watch the acclaimed presenter go through his paces with their old university friend.
Robbie Nantwich had certainly put it about at Dorlich; over the years there had been rumours about his friendships and she’d like to bet that there was an entire battalion of women between the ages of 20 and 60 who were settling down to view The Nantwich Hour with very specific recollections.
As for herself, she hardly counted as one of their number.
They had only done it twice.
Nevertheless, it would have been better if they had never done it at all and she had spent the entire evening at the recent Sceptre Room party, trying to avoid Nantwich at one end of the room and Kingsmill at the other.
She mentally berated her 20-year-old self. How foolish that person had been.
Whatever had induced her to have sex with either of them?
Thou hast committed –
Fornication: but that was in another country
And besides, the wench is dead.
Meanwhile the camera homed in on Sandra, very much alive.
Well Mrs Cornish – or may I call you Sandra? began Robbie. Perhaps you’d like to tell us in your own words exactly why you decided to break your silence and expose what you describe in a tabloid newspaper as ‘corruption’ nestling at the very heart of Wendy Runcible’s Government?
Take your time; this must be very difficult for you – and difficult for ME, to see a former university friend in such terrible distress.
Sandra did not look distressed; indeed, the workings of her mouth seemed to denote somebody trying to disguise a smirk rather than an outburst of tears. She looked positively perky – even predatory.
Was she hoping to make a move on Nantwich? In which case, she’d better forget it - Sandra trussed up to the nines was no match for Sarah Cassidy with her implants and facial fillers.
And in any case, a man who had the pick of the sweet shop would hardly light upon Sandra, who began her story with the oratorical ease that indicated many hours of practice in front of the mirror – or even with a voice coach.
Her heart was breaking, and it had been the most difficult decision of her life to bare her soul to Ponia Tindall and Jessica Trotter (no doubt eased by the money that The Crier had put her way; Bruce Oldfield and Jimmy Choo don’t come cheap) but this was a matter of duty.
And her duty as a devout Christian was to clean up politics for the sake of the ordinary, hard-working people who did not deserve to be represented by heinous toads such as these.
A Christian? Must have been a Damascene conversion, offered Lynne, genuinely shocked.
And even if it was, it obviously doesn’t require her to renounce Mammon and give all her worldly goods to the poor. That outfit must have cost a bomb!
As their friend rehearsed the litany, determined to wreak revenge for a lifetime of disappointment, she noticed that Nantwich’s interview technique was markedly different from his usual chatty style.
In fact, this was not an interview, it was a monologue; coaxed from an increasingly garrulous Sandra by sympathetic prompts such as:
And did they really? Or You found them on the sofa? And Children – you mentioned children – tell me more about that – if you can…
The reference to children ushered in the commercial break.
During the first half of The Nantwich Hour, Sandra had supplied a potted life history; beginning with what she termed the birth of the sect 37 years ago at the University of Dorlich.
Here, the prime movers were a certain Leslie (now Sir Leslie) Potts and Derek Kingsmill (now Home Secretary in the Runcible Government).
Potts was a rampant and deviant homosexual who had taken advantage of the virginal Sandra Milford as cover for his true nature. No young man was safe from his clutches ( she hinted that pressure had been brought to drop charges in connection with a homosexual rape case and two incidents of cottaging in a public convenience adjacent to Persimann’s Folly ) and his partner in crime was Derek Kingsmill.
Although Kingsmill; whom she had surprised in the act of congress with Potts on a sofa, was licentious with members of both sexes.
Indeed, he had maliciously appropriated the key to a hotel bedroom at a student conference, knowing that she had no means of escape, and had then proceeded to have sex with a drunken woman right under her very nose. The room was extremely small and the only way she could avoid the outrage was to close her eyes tightly and stuff her fingers in her ears.
(Did she imagine it, or was Robbie Nantwich struggling to suppress laughter? She could not look at Lynne).
Sandra continued her sprint down the years, via her fateful meeting with Bill Cornish; her boss at United Biscuits whom she had encountered during the course of a disastrous holiday to Marrakesh with her old university friend; a former Head of Section at The Department of the Environment and now acclaimed Inuit specialist Lynne Lessways.
Ms Lessways, (who had later nurtured the career of the infamous Clifford Morledge) had spent the entire fortnight engaged in lascivious hedonistic pursuits, risking arrest for impropriety in a strictly Muslim country, and had abandoned her to the clutches of Cornish, who had used her for cover whilst conducting a series of assignations with very young men in the Majorelle Gardens.
I’ll FUCKING KILL HER! screamed Lynne.
AND WHO’D HAVE LOOKED AT ME ANYWAY IN THAT BLOODY KAFTAN?!!!!
She sat on the chair, mesmerised by the mouth on the television; spewing its venom like Billie Whitelaw in Not I.
Sandra was not their friend. She had never been their friend. She hated them both. She hated the world.
On the mouth went; the gay film club; the spurious Honour for Leslie Potts; the infiltration of Morledge into her home; sodomy on the sofa (again); sex with male interns in the office; sex with male asylum seekers in exchange for visas; blind eyes and deaf ears from Wendy who was terrified that her longstanding lesbian affair with Official Spokeswoman Edith Traynor would be exposed; sex in the kitchen at No 10 during the Children’s Christmas Party….
How could they allow her to do this? Why didn’t they flash the credits?
Where were the lawyers?!!
The children, said Robbie Nantwich after the break.
I wonder, Sandra – could you tell us a little more about that? Now I’m not trying to put words into your mouth AT ALL – but do you think that any of the children at that party had any idea? Not of course, that they would UNDERSTAND what was going on if they happened to stray into the kitchen after the jelly... they would think that your husband and Mr Morledge were –er—‘play fighting’ wouldn’t they?
And what about the Santa? Do you think that Santa knew? Or could have been in on it? Not that I’m saying he WAS – it was a male Santa wasn’t it?
Do you know who Santa WAS?
My husband… said Sandra.
And Robbie Nantwich, who had been content to be a listener during Part One, now began probing ruthlessly; extracting the information from Sandra that Bill Cornish was always the Santa; or the Rudolph or indeed, the Easter Bunny, at the annual Number 10 Egg Hunt.
And not only did he perform these functions at Westminster to help out; dandling the children on his lap, jiggling them up and down ( being a horsey) but he was just as assiduous and eager to help out in the constituency.
Why, he had even rescheduled the Mainland Security Paving Motion in order to make the 200-mile round trip to Boughton Hallows, so that he could step in to the Methodist Church Children’s Christmas Fumble, deputising for the usual Santa who was recuperating at home following a hip operation.
I expect the children got rather over-excited at these events? suggested Robbie silkily.
All that jelly, all that ice cream, and then being bounced up and down on Mr Cornish’s knee with their presents! I expect one or two of them might have been a bit sick. Or tearful? At the No 10 party? Do you think?
Did any of them cry, Mrs Cornish?
Sandra, who seemed to have lost a little of her poise, admitted that perhaps, yes, some might have been a bit tearful.
Although she couldn’t be sure what had caused it…
And on that note, concluded Robbie, cutting Sandra off rather rudely, in mid sentence
t’s ‘Goodbye’ from the Nantwich Hour, on a day when not one but two Cabinet Ministers and the esteemed geneticist, Sir Leslie Potts are currently helping the police with their enquiries and - breaking news! – we have just heard that the Tories have tabled a Motion of No Confidence in Wendy Runcible’s Government.
So on this historic day, when the revelations of a woman scorned are poised to bring down a Government, may I wish you happiness, harmony and a very good night.
And the camera zoomed, for one last time on Sandra; providing a most unflattering close up of her eyes, which looked larger - and wetter - than ever.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
Goings-on in a Commons committee room, and in which Sandra has her revenge - or does she?
No, she said
I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It wasn’t for me.
They were drinking wine in the lounge of the Pimlico flat, waiting for
8pm and The Nantwich Hour; a television slot hosted by the presenter who had shared her bed on two occasions in Dorlich.
They had been grisly events and she usually switched channels to avoid his clipped moustache and hairline that was rapidly receding (despite an Elton John weave) but tonight there was no respite.
The subject of the interview was to be Sandra Milford Cornish; their old university friend whose actions over the last 24 hours were threatening to bring down the Government.
She replied to Lynne, who was insisting that a woman was only truly fulfilled when she had given birth.
Lynne’s view was understandable. Greg had caught mumps in late adolescence and was unable to father children.
He was also unwilling to taint the Salt bloodline by allowing Lynne to have children by donor IVF and so reluctantly, but then stoically and with relish, she had settled upon dogs, and compensated by deploying the Salt money as midwife to a stellar career.
They were sitting in the tasteful lounge of Lynne’s London flat; two women in their late fifties who had known each other, statistically, for nearly forty years – but who had never really understood each other at all.
Dorlich had been the stage for a double act and they had played it to perfection; revelling in their reputations for outlandish and daring eccentricity, but safe in the knowledge that beneath the Afghan coats, bare feet, silks and satins, were two extremely conventional, hard-working young women who seemed to unite the best blessings of existence and had lived nearly 21 years in the world with very little to distress and vex them.
If the first 21 years had been plain sailing; the subsequent 36 were best described as a bumpy ride.
There had been success – of a sort.
Lynne had made a marriage paved with gold.
Greg’s money had given her intellectual ability; academic flair and natural vivacity a launchpad that would bear comparison with Cape Kennedy. She was an internationally acclaimed environmental consultant and author, with one best-seller to her name - and no doubt more to come.
But the husband who had made all this possible was in reality,an insufferable bore with whom she had little in common apart from property and pets.
The arrogant nincompoop for whose sake she had remained childless had run off with a clerical assistant from the Lyndhurst Chambers – and they had even appropriated the dogs.
As for herself; the triumphs of prising Paul away from the embraces of Nicola and the clutches of Frances Hunt had been hollow indeed.
After the briefest of lulls, Paul had recommenced his sexual foraging with renewed vigour; generally adding a further notch to his bedpost whenever she fell out of line by scoring a political success – or even by making new friends.
Yes, she had been an MP – for what it was worth. (Eight years of underachievement; constantly soured by ‘family problems’ triggered by her failed marriage).
Yes – unlike Lynne, she was the mother of two children.
But she could not think of the guarded faces of Richard and especially Vanessa without guilt for the years when her children were unwilling adjutants in a parental war still being waged from beyond the grave, as the reading of Paul’s will would no doubt prove.
Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.
The gods had enjoyed a high old time with herself and Lynne
She thought of Paul; dark and handsome as he had been when they first met at Bunters; recalled how he had compared her to Tessy dearest, and knew that whatever it was that had dogged her footsteps, for as many years as she could remember, was not played out yet.
The president of the Immortals had not ended his sport with Tess...
What the fuck is she going to say?
Lynne’s voice came from the end corner of the Conran Habitat divan that she had bought for the flat in pre-Greg days.
After a 20-year break, the events of the past week had propelled her to the cigarette packet and there was a flicker of the 20-year-old classicist surveying movers and shakers at a Wellington Parade party.
Of course, Robbie Nantwich and Sandra Milford would also have been present at the ghostly party – and the fact that the pair would soon be duelling before the nation on prime-time television was utterly surreal.
She quelled a sudden impulse to ask Lynne for a cigarette, and switched on the set.
After weeks of humiliation that had seen her replaced in her husband’s affections by a male lover; castigated by commentators and her own children for displaying Stone-Age homophobia; and to add insult to injury – witnessing said beastly husband rise to a career high as Secretary of State for Children, Families and Communities, Sandra had cracked.
And being Sandra, she had cracked spectacularly.
The rejected girl who had pursued Leslie Potts through the highways and byways of Dorlich,erupting banshee-style at Belinda Briscoe’s party, had become the woman who had bared her soul to Ponia Tindall and Jessica Trotter from The Crier on the front page and then pages 4-8 inclusive.
Tindall and Trotter, who must have linked up with Sandra after her hysterical display in The Fifth Column.
They had observed the shameful proceedings from ringside window seats and when she and Lynne had abandoned Sandra to her fate; alone at a table, cradling an empty wine bottle and crying piteously, they had moved in for the kill.
The article was shocking; covering topics and making allegations that might be commonplace on the internet (on the Vlad site for example) but would never appear in print, because no editor could get away with non-attributable material of that nature.
Even the time-worn device of a close friend or senior colleague could not be used to report that Cornish and Morledge had engaged in homosexual congress in the kitchen at No 10 in the time gap between jellies and ice cream and presents from Santa at a children’s Christmas party hosted by Wendy.
Or that Home SecretaryDerek Kingsmill was reliant upon respected geneticist Sir Leslie Potts for a supply of pliant rent boys hailing from Malawi and Somalia, who would do anything for Indefinite Leave to Remain, thus corrupting the entire asylum system.
And that Terrence Gale and Wendy herself had turned a blind eye to the gay film club which met in Committee Room 16 whenever there was a screening of an international football match featuring the England team.
A giant St George flag draped over the locked door knob, sufficed as a Do Not Disturb notice and the squeals and yelps from therein , echoing the length and breadth of the corridor, were natural eruptions of joy whenever the team scored a goal...
There was much more in the same vein, and of course it had been printed, because Sandra had put her name to it.
Though even with a name, I’m amazed that it wasn’t legalled, she commented as the familiar introductory jingle heralded the start of the Nantwich Hour.
The programme was live from the studio, and Robbie Nantwich, as was his wont, prowled across the stage and took his seat in one of the two Mastermind-style black leather armchairs.
His well modulated measured delivery had a new tone of repressed excitement as he prepared viewers for:
The interview of the century and the woman whose revelations in today’s Crier have brought Wendy Runcible’s Government to its knees and turned the Profumo Affair into a children’s nursery rhyme.
Welcome to the Nantwich Hour and the woman of the hour – Sandra Milford Cornish!
Sandra walked on from stage left, settling herself into the chair and crossing her legs.
Her first thought was that Sandra was looking remarkably well; better in fact than she had looked in years.
Gone was the gaunt turkey neck and sense of desperation. Sandra had put on weight; her hair was swept into an updo reminiscent of her party style at Dorlich, and her lilac dress suit was pure Bruce Oldfield, setting off her legs to perfection.
Even the pop eyes; always her worst feature seemed somehow less prominent, and anyone who had tuned in hoping to see Sandra’s version of a stricken Diana (There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded) was in for a shock.
This was Sandra’s interview: her story, her moment.
She looked at Lynne, then back at Sandra, as Robbie Nantwich prepared for the first question and the truth dawned, accompanied by twinges of horror and disgust.
Sandra was enjoying this.
Saturday, 20 July 2013
I just thought I'd reproduce below, with a little light fisking of my own in my usual red, something from the Barely Literate Geordie Loser's website (how quaint of him to have one! Especially with no YouTube or, you know, anything!). He wants to be an MEP in the South-East of England. He's not from there, ran away from a contest whenever he held elected office (Redlands ward for Berkshire County Council and Park ward for Reading Borough Council) was misguided enough to allow himself to be written into history as the architect of the disastrous one-way IDR plan for Reading, was part of the corrupt deal on the Reading mosque, and refused to face his Park ward constituents on that issue, was instrumental in the election of a Conservative MP in Reading East in 2005 - and presents himself as a campaigner for Labour? Labour?
1982 Labour Full Time Organiser (Basingstoke)
1990-95 Chair, Reading (East/West) Labour Party
1995-2003 Press Officer, Reading Labour Party
- See more at: http://www.johnhowarth.com/index.php/johns-record/labour-party/#sthash.yLXXr59A.dpuf
One of many campaign launches, this one with Labour on a roll in 1996.
They're in Reading East. But Martin Salter is the candidate for Reading West. Read a map, John.
- 1974 February: joined aged 15
- 1977 Essex University Labour Club
- 1979 Intern/Campaign Aid, Harry Cowans MP
- 1979 Worked in first European Elections
- 1980 Colchester GC (Party Branch Delegate)
- 1981 Labour Students National Secretary
- 1982 Labour Full Time Organiser (Basingstoke)
- 1983 General/Local Election Agent
- 1984 Secretary, Hampshire County Labour Party
- 1985 European Election Agent
- 1985-89 South East Regional Organiser
- 1990-95 Chair, Reading (East/West) Labour Part
- 1993-95 Vice Chair, Berkshire County LP
- 1995-2003 Press Officer, Reading Labour Party
- 1990-2012 TGWU/Unite EC Member, Reading
1974 February: joined aged 15
My Dad was on strike – he didn’t want to be but he was loyal to the NUM. Ted Heath called an election and it seemed like a good idea to get rid of him, so when I was asked to help I did. Labour won, sort of. Ironically Who are we, Alanis Morissette? Nothing ironic going on here the first candidate I worked for was John Horam – then Labour MP for Gateshead West who subsequently defected to the SDP and finally to the Tories. In October I wangled time off school to work in the second election telling them it would help my Social Studies project. They agreed. The buses were on strike. I had to walk six miles to hear Harold Wilson speak at the People’s Theatre in Jesmond, then six miles home again! The PA was dreadful – much of what Harold said was inaudible, but he was a great platform entertainer.
1977 Essex University Labour Club
When I went to University I though You mean "I thought", I fancy. In the European Parliament you will find the need to pay attention to the accuracy of text matters. I was quite left wing. By Essex standards I clearly wasn’t. For one thing I was already a member of the Labour Party and rather unfashionably I believed that winning elections mattered rather a lot. It was all quite mad, but I met some great people many and I learned a lot.
1979 Intern/Campaign Aid, Harry Cowans MP
My first by-election had been in Newcastle Central in 1976. Harry Cowans, a Gateshead councillor and agent in Gateshead West, held the seat comfortably on the night Labour lost its overall majority. The Liberals did well. They produced scrappy leaflets talking about pavements and grass verges. We talked BIG politics. An early lesson I’ve never forgotten.
1979 Worked in first European Elections
I got a leaflet through my door that explained the Parliament which till then had been appointed nationally. What a great idea for a continent with a history of war to elect a multi-national assembly! I think I might have been the only person You weren't. Plenty of people wanted a result from that election for Labour, and worked for it. John Howarth, Dissing his colleagues for decades. who really wanted to work in that election only months after we had lost the General Election. Labour was hammered, but we elected Joyce Quin in Tyne and Wear who was a credit to the job and became MP for Gateshead West in 1987.
1980 Colchester GC (Party Branch Delegate)
Labour was fractious and bitterly divided. I was in the branch where Bob Russell, the candidate at the ’79 election, was a Labour councillor (Central). It was an interesting experience. Looking back it told me everything I needed to know about why we would be in opposition for the next 17 years. Bob Russell has been Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester since 1997.
1981 Labour Students National Secretary
When I became involved Labour played a secondary role in student politics. Most student leaders were elected on ‘broad left’ tickets. The time had come for this to change. In 1981 we elected the first NUS president on a Labour Students platform, Neil Stewart. I ran the communications for the campaign and I changed the ‘brand’ from NOLS (what exactly is a ‘nol’) to Labour Students. That one got me started and I’ve been doing communications and brand ever since.
1982 Labour Full Time Organiser (Basingstoke)
1983 General/Local Election Agent
1984 Secretary, Hampshire County Labour Party
1985 European Election Agent
I took a job working as a Labour constituency organiser in a part of the world with which I was unfamiliar but quickly learned was typical of the social and economic trends that helped keep the Conservatives in power through the 1980s. We did reasonably well in local elections, established some good community campaigning roots that hold to this day. Expanding towns like Basingstoke are good barometers of British politics – in 2001 Labour nearly won the seat. But didn't, because the Labour candidate, the overweight and lazy Jon Hartley, did very little work, managed to get fined for not taxing his car at the same time, and because Martin Salter put his name to a defamatory leaflet, written by John Howarth, which brought out loyal Tories. Who voted. Great success. Not. Maria Miller MP. John Howarth's part in her victory.
1985-89 South East Regional Organiser
Actually, back then the South East region was the Southern Region. I had visited every constituency long before I put myself forward for this campaign. The role of organiser has changed radically – it needed to – and I was perhaps able to influence that change a little, though it didn’t make me popular at the time. Many of the battles in the South East were similar to those the Party faces today. We were rebuilding after a serious defeat. We had to ensure that the Party had life and relevance, not just in its UK Parliamentary targets, but throughout the Region. It was all very well asking members in rural villages to decamp to the nearest marginal, but I’ve always remembered a member in Hampshire saying to me, “Of course we’ll drive to Southampton at the election, but I need my politics to matter to me here, where I live my life”. He was right – engaging in local communities is what makes Labour relevant.
1990-95 Chair, Reading (East/West) Labour Party
1993-95 Vice Chair, Berkshire County LP
While I was an South East Region official (in 1995) that would be 1985 I imagine. Who proofreads this stuff?
I haired the first meeting of Reading Labour Party combining the Reading East and Reading West constituencies. It was a great honour four years later in 2001? I think not to be elected Chair. Going to vote for this man who can't tell the truth? *8During my time as Chair we were one of the first parties in the UK to formalise a campaign focused group, which we had been operating informally, into our rulebook. The Campaign Unit was the focus of Reading’s election success, providing the right forum to develop organisation, disseminate tactics and focus resources. Later it became the adopted model of the Party nationally. I was also able to set up policy structures that gave the Labour Group and the Party practical ways of working together. Local success was built both on or strong organisation and getting the local politics right. One without the other will never last.
1995-2003 Press Officer, Reading Labour Party
2003-2007 and 2010-2012, Publicity Co-ordinator, Reading Labour Party
In Reading the Chair and Press Officer ran the Party’s media output. So in one role or another I was involved in the strategic messages for more than two decades. Working closely with Martin Salter was a privilege and a challenge. Martin’s work rate is legendary and we are the sort of personalities that drive each other on. Nobody ever really knew who exactly had written what; we were a team. The template for campaign from imcumbancy and from power in local Government developed in Reading we were able to export to many parties and MPs elsewhere.
So the victory of Labour in Reading East and the re-election of the Labour MP in 2001 with an increased majority had nothing to do with you then John? If it had you would surely have mentioned it. Hmmm?
1990-2012 TGWU/Unite EC Member, Reading
So the victory of Labour in Reading East and the re-election of the Labour MP in 2001 with an increased majority had nothing to do with you then John? If it had you would surely have mentioned it. Hmmm?
1990-2012 TGWU/Unite EC Member, Reading
I have always been a member of the T&GWU. It was my affiliated union when I went to work full time. My parents and grandparents had been loyal members of their unions in the mining industry and I was brought up to understand the importance of working people being organised for all sort of reasons. Find out more about my work with the Trades Unions here.
Emma B is on a roll ...
Lynne had distrusted Paul from the outset (how right she was) and the feeling; although voiced by neither – was mutual.
With the supposed mellowing of age and the fact that life had propelled them all in different directions, it had ceased to matter, because opportunities for meeting had naturally decreased.
In Gridchester days, a pattern emerged whereby she would invite Lynne to stay when Paul was visiting the Oxbridge colleges.
On the rare occasions that she slipped the domestic leash for a day’s shopping in London, they sometimes did lunch.
As years passed, these were increasingly strained affairs. She wanted to tell her oldest friend the truth about her marriage, but words failed her.
How could you talk about that?
When Greg Salt popped up as part of the equation, the possibilities of disclosure moved from remote to impossible.
Lynne’s husband was not sympathique.
He was, however, rich and successful, and she suspected that he had never experienced a moment of uncertainty from Nanny to Prep to Big School.
Paul and Donald’s upbringing (if that was the right word for the dilettante, faintly bohemian parenting of Lilias and Eric) had not lacked money.
Their mother and father were journalists on national newspapers, and Lilias in particular had connections with B-list actors, artists and musicians (Peter, Paul and Mary but not Dusty; Denholm Elliot but not Olivier).
As Eric was prone to say (especially on the rare and uniquely embarrassing occasions when he met her own parents) a Waverley education was the best gift he had given to his sons, and he was possibly right, as evinced by Paul’s Third at Cambridge.
But the middle-class aspiration of her husband’s family paled into insignificance beside the landed certainties of Greg Salt’s clan.
The third son of Appeal Court Judge Sir Boniface ( Boner) Salt; he had been raised in Tulberry; an hour’s drive from central London but another country to all intents and purposes, where visitors were more likely to encounter deer and horses than people.
Wickery Court, the family seat, would have been instantly recognised by readers familiar with the novels of Waugh and Mitford. Greg had followed his father and brothers into Pop at Eton; his sisters Delphine and Maris had boarded at St Mary’s Ascot.
All rode to hounds.
Sir Boniface and Lady Eleanor embodied the England of The Countrywoman magazine and, of course, each to their own.
But how on earth Lynne had become enmeshed in this world to the extent of marrying into it was beyond her understanding.
Over the years it formed another wedge between them.
Lynne married Greg in 1989, shortly after she had moved with her own family to Littelbury following Paul’s appointment as Deputy Master at the school of the same name.
The wedding itself was a shock (she had not seen it coming, and Greg had featured in only one letter from Lynne, in connection with a planning issue) but everything about the man placed him in polar opposition to her friend.
Lynne’s father was a GP in a family-run medical practice where her mother provided administrative back up. Lynne and her twin sister Olive had attended the local grammar school on scholarships and while Lynne had taken the academic path, Olive had married her first boyfriend, Kelvin. The couple now ran a successful optician’s business and were themselves the parents of twin boys.
It was obvious why Greg Salt; a rather portly Tufton-Bufton-style lawyer, would be attracted to acerbic, career high-flier, Lynne Lessways, who had already carved out a name for herself within the Department as one to watch.
She was going places fast, and already the routines of the Civil Service; dusted and tended generation after generation like plastic geraniums, seemed too outmoded for a woman of her ambition.
But why Lynne; passionately egalitarian in every respect; a voracious reader, free-thinker and a fervent advocate of what used to be called women’s lib,should wish to tie herself in perpetuity to a person who regarded Earl Grey’s Reform Act as midwife to the permissive society, was the eighth wonder of the world.
How could the woman who had dated some of the most interesting and intellectual men in London have sunk to this?
She suspected that the answer was the usual root of all evil – money.
Lynne earned a good salary at the Department; the type of income that no main grade pay scale teacher would take home. She had progressed from a series of rented studio apartments in the less fashionable parts of London to a very decent one bedroom flat in Pimlico, courtesy of a ruinous mortgage.
It was pleasant – and Lynne’s eye for detail and an interesting artefact had meant that she had acquired some extremely nice pieces from foreign travel, including severa modern mosaics from Sicily and a splendidly ornate rug; a memento from her Moroccan holiday with Sandra.
After her marriage to Greg, Lynne kept the flat (now dubbed a pied-a-terre) possibly as an insurance policy should the relationship fail.
But whatever her intentions had been, it was rarely if ever used, because when
Mr and Mrs Salt (junior) were not residing at their spacious Surrey home, or holidaying at the Seville apartment, they spent time with Greg’s family at Wickery Court.
Shortly after the wedding (listed in the Society column of The Sentinel, after the weekly Court Schedule), Lynne left the Department, retaining tenuous links as an Advisor and set up her own Consultancy, Saltways.
Exactly what Saltways did was never clear, but within the space of a year, its plush offices in Park Lane were augmented by sister concerns in Brussels and Madrid.
Lynne became a regular on the more serious quasi-scientific radio and television programmes; chaired the judging panel for the annual Green Businesses Award, and started to write.
The Inuit: Man and Myth, shortlisted for the Attenborough in 2009, was a sparkling tour de force; there was talk of a series of documentaries based on its findings, and even a short film, courtesy of the acclaimed director; Anton Lubyeck.
And of course the dogs.
She had absolutely no idea where Pork, Scratching and the long trail of their ancestors, had come from.
At Dorlich, Lynne had evinced a total lack of interest in any animal apart from the human male.
Within a month of becoming Mrs Salt, however, the first puppies arrived and assumed pole position at the centre of hearth and home with their baskets, pedigrees and expensive medical treatments.
Crufts and breeders took on an inordinate importance although Lynne showed no signs of breeding herself and thus doing her bit for the Salt dynasty.
It was a life of money and the freedom and influence that money can bring, and she had to admit that her friend had thrived.
But in the death-watch hours of the night, did the woman who had esteemed Ben Bex-Oliver wonder exactly what she was doing lying next to Greg Salt; a man who (despite his wealth and connections) probably wore sock suspenders?
If so, she did not say ...9
Now, she held the telephone, barely recognising the guttural stream assaulting her ears. It was incomprehensible but perfectly lucid
It was all about pain.
She left the house and set off for the station; her ultimate destination a Pimlico flat that she had not visited for 21 years.
She wondered if it had changed.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
In which there are Revelations.
The Sweets kept tropical fish in an enormous glass tank in their living room.
She did not particularly like fish and suspected that Hazel could also take or leave the guppies, puffers and loaches gliding inanely back and forth. They were a quirk of Martin’s, along with his passion for corned beef and tinned potato salad; intractable hostility to holidaying abroad; and refusal to move house. Hazel fancied a change (something a bit larger and more in the country…) but Martin clung to their Pendle Street semi like a turtle to its shell and only death or divorce would shift him.
The Sweets had offered her a lift to an emergency executive meeting at the St John’s Ambulance hut and as Martin revved the engine of the green Renault she decided that it was perhaps wise not to pry into the secrets of other people’s marriages.
Gone were the pre-Paul days when she and Lynne would burn the midnight oil, draining the last of Lynne’s home-made wine and subjecting the relationships of their friends and enemies to forensic scrutiny. Marriage to Paul had made her extremely accommodating towards the choices of others.Hazel and Martin had virtually nothing in common apart from two teenage children, the Party and hatred of the Butchers – but what of it?After sexual attraction had waned, she suspected that most couples chose to lump it. And divorce would be so disruptive.
I can’t think why you agreed to it….you’ve just played into Clare’s hands!
Hazel’s voice had an irritated tone and remonstration was pointless. The meeting had been called to discuss the astronomical costs incurred by the team overseeing the Laceybrook by-election – in particular the hiring of a photographer at an extortionate sum for a day’s work ‘on location’; two glossy leaflets and unaccountable bills submitted for restaurant meals and expensive bottles of wine.
During the course of an election, all monies were at the disposal of the Agent – and Dickon had been disposing with a vengeance.
Martin reversed into the hut car park and said nothing, but his back in its grey elephant cord jacket heaved resentfully.They entered the room in silence.
The hut had been the venue for her first Party meeting and as she looked at the comrades, poring over her leaflets and handing round receipts, she wished that it had been her last. Everyone was there, from the Butchers to Gail Pitt and even the elusive Darren Peabody was clutching his bic pen with an air of authority.
Everyone -- except Dickon Cleave.
They were out in force for a witch hunt.
Two hours later, the Sweets dropped her off at home and for once she was delighted that Paul was entertaining John and Kathryn Nuttall to his latest favourite tipple – Highland Park single malt whisky – a Christmas present from Eric who had brought back a case after a recent trip to the Orkneys.
For once, the sight of her husband, pipe in one hand, whisky tumbler in the other, holding forth to the Nuttalls from the vantage point of the wheel-backed chair failed to provoke more than a twinge of the customary irritation. It was a relief to be home and if the sight of Kathryn Nuttall; pale and earnest in a cream shift dress and Birkenstock sandals was provoking, then at least she was not Clare Butcher. Or Ron Butcher. Or any of the loathsome people that, after this election, she was determined never to set eyes upon again.
Brian Pelleroe, twitching uneasily in yet another red fisherman’s jumper (how many did her have?) had chaired the meeting, but the real inquisitor was Clare Butcher; imperious and foreboding in a shapeless black boiler suit.
In the absence of the Election Agent, it was only fair that the candidate be asked to justify the enormous amount of money that had been lavished upon a completely unwinnable by-election in a Tory stronghold.
She should make it plain from the outset (glaring at the comrades; daring them to dissent) that the Party had absolutely no intention of reimbursing either the candidate or the Agent for a quite astonishing display of utterly capitalist gluttony.
Of course neither were expected to campaign on an empty stomach – but tea and sandwiches should have sufficed instead of champagne and turbot.
Dickon could have taken the photographs himself instead of hiring the most expensive photographer in Gridchester whose promotional material included a Harpers and Queen shoot with Penelope Tree.
And on the topic of leaflets...
Each member of the committee had been supplied with copies of her literature – the introductory Lady Loves Laceybrook -- and the second.
The Lady Loves Laceybrook came in for criticism; it was thin on policy (Ron Butcher) and expensive – should have taken a tip from Derek Kingsmill (Fred Hoy).
The second leaflet was greeted with unanimous opprobrium.
Twenty-three years later she could see why. Even then it had been hard to defend the four-page A4 glossy colour collation of photographs under the umbrella headline
Laceybrook - A Bird’s Eye View!
The good burghers of Laceybrook were invited to cast their own eyes on the candidate leaning dreamily over the bridge of the brook (in a wet-look T-shirt)
caressing the arch of a country church (causing her skirt to ride up her thighs) and sitting on a pony (in a skirt).
Amongst other unspeakable poses….
The photographs were captioned with her name, an injunction to vote and contact details of her Agent.The Party was mentioned in small print at the bottom of a page.
I think she offered hesitantly
that Dickon was aiming for a more modern take on the traditional leaflet – something to make them sit up and take notice….
Oh they’ll do that all right, retorted Clare. And so will the rest of the world if the Tories have got any sense and pass this muck straight to The Crier.
There had been more – in fact, much more in the same vein and when even Gail Pitt had queried the expense combined with the absence of a canvassing schedule
(vetoed by Dickon as an invasion of privacy), she had become desperate.
It was all she could do to stop herself crying and when she had excused herself from Paul and the Nuttalls, pleading a headache, that was exactly what she did.
The next few days were infused with a sense of impending doom – exacerbated by the fact that Dickon – so attentive over the turbot – had suddenly decamped to London, pleading an alteration to his lecture schedule at the Courtauld.
She had telephoned his home, expecting sympathy after her ordeal in the hut only to be informed of a change in his plans by Jessamy. Had she imagined it, or was the intrepid Greenham feminist slightly chilly – even abrupt?
Of course, she swings both ways, commented Hazel when they convened with Sylvia and Gail for a girls’ night out the day before the election.
But then she’s had a lot to put up with over the years and maybe women are less threatening?
They were sitting at a corner table in The Balti Bowl, Gridchester’s cheap and cheerful curry house, sharing the contents of the popadom pickle tray. The meal was Hazel’s idea; partly , she suspected, to break the ice and repair the friendship after the terrible emergency meeting - and also as an excuse to skip corned beef hash at home with Martin and the fish.
It was a step up from corned beef hash, but certainly not haute cuisine, nor fine dining with its mandatory posh crockery and exorbitant prices.
It was all right.
It was a night out with food and she ought to enjoy it, but neither the rubbery king prawns nor the conversation were to her taste.
She was not sure that she wanted to know what Jessamy had been forced to put up with over the years, or that Dickon had conducted a rake’s progress the length and breadth of the nation with such Hogarthian gusto that no female over the age of consent was safe from his clutches. He was apparently Byronic in more ways than one...
I mean (said Hazel between mouthfuls of sag aloo and lamb korma)
He even had a go at ME (looking at Gail and Sylvia for confirmation) at Maureen Booth’s fish n’ chip supper!
With the best will in the world , the idea of Dickon engaging in rampant coitus with the 13-stone Hazel, complete with curly perm and a dress sense best described as mumsy was a step too far. But if her friend could only stomach sex with Martin by summoning up an imagined grope with Dickon over fish and chips at a Party fundraiser – then who was she to object?
I thought you liked him she said as she paid her part of the bill and rummaged in her purse for a tip.
Well, he’s wonderful of course retorted Hazel smugly, but his sort should come with the warning ‘Look but don’t touch!’
The day of the Laceybrook by-election remained stubbornly in her memory, much as she had tried to erase it over the years.
She had woken early; pressed and rejected two suits and a sleeveless red body top and finally settled upon a white linen dress sprigged with rosebuds. Red shoes and matching bag completed the outfit and as she applied lipstick and pinned on her rosette, she felt, albeit briefly, like a candidate.
Paul finished his coffee, patted the children and Splosh and stated that he had asked Christine to babysit. For one glorious moment, she thought that this meant that her husband would be by her side at the count and said so.
Oh really darling! You’ll have to imagine I’m Trotsky; airbrushed out of the picture! You can’t expect me to hang around some godforsaken church hall or wherever they have these things, on handbag duty?! Isn’t Mummy silly, Ness Ness?
Vanessa chortled, Richard beamed and Paul kissed her for luck before grabbing his briefcase and making his exit. He was hosting a departmental dinner; she was not to wait up…
Dickon had offered to give her a lift – but for some reason, she declined and made her way to Laceybrook on public transport; a train journey followed by two bus trips. Apart from a handful of assorted pensioners and mums-with- toddlers, she travelled in splendid isolation and it was surely only a matter of time before the bus routes were scrapped on economic grounds.
However, when the mind is free, the body’s delicate and as the bus traversed the country lanes, she contemplated the day ahead with mounting horror. What did you do, as a candidate on an election day? Whatever it was, she would be doing it solo because as far as she could ascertain, the comrades would be voting with their feet and staying at home.
The leaflet row had supplied the perfect excuse.
She spent the day drinking coffee in high street cafes; rosette stuffed firmly in her handbag, hoping nobody would guess who she was; debating how long she could reasonably stay in one location without being suspected of loitering with intent.
By 5 pm, she had exhausted every respectable outlet and when the roar of an engine announced the presence of the MG roadster, she felt a remarkable kinship with Captain Oates.
Comparisons with the failed Antarctic expedition were brought sharply into focus at the count.
The venue, a village hall that had seen better days, was unfortunately situated next to the church where she had posed so provocatively, and the barely suppressed mirth from the eminently respectable group surrounding the Tory candidate suggested that they too had made the connection.
Sir Emrys Bowcher’s successor, Stanley Dexter- Leppard; portly, balding and aged seventy plus, suited the place, its tea-rooms and its stifling rurality to perfection.
Judging by the 1,960 people who had voted for him, Laceybrook agreed.
She had won the allegiance of just twenty-three people.
And I bet they were all perverts! (She thought)
She was sitting with Dickon in a pub on the outskirts of Gridchester. She had cried; angry tears of humiliation and now she was drinking. Too much. She did not want to go home. She did not want to face Paul, the children, the Party or even the dog.
She wanted to die.
Dickon, by contrast displayed a remarkable equanimity in face of adversity. And of course, he looked remarkable in his stone coloured Calvin Klein jeans, crisp white shirt with a green thread and tailored black jacket. Indeed, the only extenuating factor about the whole abortive business was being seen in public in the company of such an attractive man.
The attractive man who now seized her hand, telling her that the only reason he had volunteered to be Agent for such a lost cause was the chance to spend time with her.
So it had been worth it - all twenty- three votes of it - and why didn’t they go on spending time together?
He parked in a lay-by on the way home.
For the next four days, she performed domestic and work duties in a mist; jumping to attention at the sound of the telephone and taking Splosh on lengthy walks. In the bedroom, she repelled sexual advances with a series of excuses and did not care whether they were plausible or not.
Four days became seven and then fourteen. After three weeks, sensations of misery had replaced the tremors of excitement she had nurtured during the dog-walks as certain events came insistently to mind.
She snapped at Paul and the children and left without saying goodbye before taking the familiar walk, past the spice factory, to The Duke for the Party meeting.
The back room was suffused with air of more than usual gloom – and there was something else – akin to the type of shared horror that gripped a nation when the enormity of Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes was made public.
How could she justify raiding the Deposit Account – lovingly accrued after many a meat auction, fish n’ chip supper, car boot sale, church hall rummage, cake stall and Tupperware Party for a paltry 23 votes? She looked for Dickon, who was absent, and then, raising her eyes from her shoes said:
Well, I think we all are said Brian Pelleroe, who had unaccountably abandoned his fisherman’s jersey for a funereal lounge suit.
But the question is what do we DO about it? You missed the earlier discussion. Vince (with a nod to the trade union delegates) and the majority of comrades feel that calling in the police would damage the Party – but I have to say (his voice rising angrily) as far as I’m concerned it goes against the grain..
She glanced at Hazel who looked away - and gripped her chair as the room and everyone in it spun before her eyes.
The police? For 23 votes? She had to get out – anywhere – away from there.
Ned Pitt blocked her exit and shouted angrily:
You see? THIS is the damage! THIS is what happens if we brush it under the carpet and do a whitewash - sorry Vince but it’s got to be said! Bright, new members will jump off board like rats leaving a sinking ship! And if you haven’t got the guts to ring the police about Ron Butcher then I will!
Sylvia brought the drinks to their table at the Malmsey Head and she wished that the landlord would do something about the jukebox.
I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen was on its third outing in an hour and she didn’t think she could take much more of With or Without You from The Joshua Tree album either. In fact, the insistent music was extremely irritating and perhaps it was time for a change of venue.
You can never tell what goes on behind other people’s closed doors opined Gail, whose long-suffering nature induced her to see the best in everyone.
Poor Clare – that Deposit Account was her LIFE – I’m sure she’s more upset about that than the loss of Ron – bastard that he is.
Ron Butcher, husband of Clare; custodian of Party principle; self-righteous bully and hairy ginger prig had left his wife and his job at the Peacock Heating Company and had run off to live with a customer in Lowerbridge.
The week beforehand, he had made a fulsome speech at a friend’s wedding, praising the joys of married life with particular reference to Clare.
And he had stolen the contents of the Deposit Account to finance his new love nest.
The Laceybrook by election and her ignominious role in it had been totally eclipsed by the Butcher affair and the impending court action. Ron had been tracked down swiftly and could expect a brief custodial sentence; Clare had not been seen in public and was not answering the telephone and the local paper had splashed the story.
Bastard is too good for him pronounced Hazel, tucking into smoky bacon crisps with a relish that forecast the failure of her recent enrolment at Weight Watchers.
But – men are all the same – the only difference between Ron Butcher and, say, Dickon Cleave is that Dickon’s got more opportunity for obvious reasons.
The mention of Dickon Cleave found her rummaging in her bag and hoping that nobody had noticed that she was breathing more quickly.
And of course Jessamy’s been left holding the baby again – or not, in this case!
I mean we all knew he put it about – but getting a student pregnant!! He might lose his job!
He’s certainly losing his touch, said Sylvia sagely.
Since I’ve known him he’s gone through virtually all the available women in the Party and some of the not so available – but I thought he knew how to use a condom! They don’t always. That’s why I went back to the pill after Ida.
But getting back to Dickon – I doubt we’ll see him again. How did you get on with him (taking one of Hazels’ crisps) at that by-election? We all wondered if he’d have a go - especially as you’re new. Bit of a challenge I expect!
She decided that it would be wise to have an early night in view of a heavy teaching schedule tomorrow at Gridchester and told Hazel that she would take the bus home.
And as for Dickon Cleave – nothing could be farther from the truth.
I don’t think I’m his type, she said.
Sunday, 14 July 2013
In which Emma B discovers what spoils everything.
Her predicted outcomes for Donald and Gillian’s whistle-stop were pretty accurate.
Someone had vomited, but not a child. Gillian had compensated for mediocre prawn balls, sesame toasts and a particularly greasy dish of beef and water chestnuts by drinking too much.
Cheap merlot rather than food poisoning was the cause of her confinement in the downstairs toilet and subsequent ill humour.
Vanessa had wet her bed; David had snapped the neck off Richard’s favourite brontosaurus and Paul, in inimitable style had escaped the resultant wailing and gnashing of teeth by whisking Donald off to the Duke.
She could see that they must have been ensconced for some time with Kev, Suez Mick and Fatty, whose sludge-coloured low slung trousers left little to the imagination. As usual the latter was unshaven and presented as a caricature of the horny-handed sons of toil that the Party in the adjoining tap-room was supposed to represent.
Horny-handed or not, Fatty was a horrible, drunken oaf who sponged off his parents, Edna and Stan; spent his wages on booze and had been known to treat his women to a smack around the chops when popped up.
He did not merit representation.
Donald, in Harris Tweed jacket and brogues polished to perfection with an assiduous attention to detail honed in the corps of his alma mater, seemed ill at ease. He was betraying familiar signs of discomfort such as clearing his throat and picking at his cuticles. But Eric’s financial outlay on a Waverley education had not gone amiss.
Paul’s brother waved his wallet and she suspected that Donald had borne the financial burden of the evening’s jollities.
Her husband had teamed his army greatcoat with the flat cap and Hunter’s wellingtons that were his sartorial pick when fraternising with Binley regulars. It was a type of fancy dress at a distinct remove from the tailored suits and understated cufflinks that typified his garb when visiting Oxbridge colleges.
He gave Dickon Cleave the quizzical smile that he reserved for the lower orders, and glanced at Jessamy’s ample bosom, inclining his head.
Well – if you’re offering? Mine’s a double grouse…
Donald and Gillian left with the lark the next day.
As she sat in her staff cubby hole at GC, sipping instant coffee and wading through execrable essays on The Crucible, she mused about the last 24 hours. An evening of undiluted Gillian had been exchanged – for what? A murderous headache (unlike Paul, she could not sleep whilst her toddler screamed) and laundering wet sheets at 4am. Paul had been perky; walking Splosh, and doing men’s things with the Spong coffee grinder before bounding off to work with a parting sally:
Back late – Lower Sixth play – and you’d better postpone the revolution because Christine’s visiting her mother!
The revolution was the least of her problems.
She did not enjoy teaching at GC. The mid-sixties brick and glass block was an unappealing work space and the less-motivated teenagers had forsaken - school regime for ‘college’ with its informal dress code and licence to smoke cigarettes ( and possibly cannabis) outside the entrance lobby.
The majority of staff members were on ‘rolling’ contracts and insecurity of tenure bred an inevitable lack of commitment to the institution and its students.
She was part of the Humanities team, led (if that was the word) by Selma Blaine, whose curly perm and spray-on emerald jeans made her a cross between Jane Fonda in Work Out mode and Breakfast Television’s very own Green Goddess, Diana Moran.
Or that was the idea.
In reality, the lumps and bumps of a post-menopausal figure should have necessitated a ruthless cull of all things lycra from the wardrobe but Selma, oblivious to the sniggers of her students, collected her salary, perfected her timetabling and ensured that student numbers remained stable .
If she knew that her nickname was ‘Mutton’, she betrayed no hint.
Lecturers were required to turn up; maintain a modicum of control and be seen to set and mark work. Usually she fulfilled the criteria – but today, the hamster-on-wheel routine was unbearable.She could have done the job performing cartwheels with a carnation stuck up her nose. Had nights of relentless swotting at Dorlich been a curtain raiser for this?
As she caught the bus for the homeward journey, she reflected that it was not as if domestic life offered any compensation.She had not wanted to move, and while Paul went from strength to strength at Fairway, she remained dissatisfied, bored and friendless.
Hazel and the girls were fun – but what did she really share with them?
When they had exhausted television soaps, the latest Ruth Rendell, kids, clothes, marital sex and the perfidy of the Butchers all that remained was a cultural desert the size of the Sahara
She was losing the language to communicate with Lynne, who was mixing in increasingly sophisticated London circles and had attended the champagne preview of Anthony and Cleopatra at the National.
While she had attended a political equivalent of Dad’s Army in the Duke…
She got off the bus and marched into the off-licence near thome, paying more than usual for two bottles of decent Frascati.
Things had got to change, and if it was going to take alcohol and French knickers to convince Paul that it was time for her career opportunities to take priority then so be it.
With any luck, she had a couple of hours’ pampering in the bathroom before he returned from the play rehearsal. She would team Next knickers with a front-fasten Wonderbra and don the grey jersey sheath and black patent stilettos with the bar straps. Vanessa had swimming at school tomorrow and could be persuaded into bed after tea and Richard could overdose on Thomas the Tank Engine and Rainbow.
After Paul had been bewitched by the vision of feminine sexiness adorning his hearth and home she might tactfully propose a move to Oxford or Cambridge. There would be an abundance of opportunities for him – and she might study for a PhD!
The children would thrive; lose their grotesque Gridchester accents and in the spirit of brave new worlds, she would call Brian Pelleroe and resign as candidate for the ridiculous Laceybrook by-election.
The sight of the mustard family Peugeot in the car port at the back of her house necessitated a rethink.
Paul must have cancelled his rehearsal, and the idea of captivating him unawares in guise of a 20th century Primavera was a non-starter. She walked up the path wondering what on earth had possessed her to buy the horrible brown cord button through skirt she was wearing and to complete the ensemble with a lumberjack- style checked shirt and American Tan tights.
When she had met Paul on that fateful night ten years ago in Bunters, she had been virtually bursting out of her maxi dress, a seductive vision of curves, lipstick and tumbling blonde hair. The words ripe and peach came to mind, and in one of his amorous flights of fancy, Paul had compared her charms to those of Tess, milking her herd at Talbothay’s Dairy.
As she entered her scullery kitchen Tessy dearest was back in her novel and the reflection greeting her from the kitchen mirror was a dead ringer for Patricia Hayes in Edna the Inebriate Woman.
She had let herself go, and if Paul were to succumb to a Gridchester version of Frances Hunt – then who could blame him?
In the dining room, Vanessa and Richard were busying themselves with the Fisher Price garage and she could see that tears from one or both were a probability. The three years separating them in age meant that Richard was incapable of being a satisfying playmate to a serious five year old who had started school and was learning to read.
This did not stop him following her like a dog; attempting to join in her games and invariably spoiling them. She caught his hand instinctively as he was about to hurl a car at his sister and braced herself for the inevitable wails. She had wanted two children. When would they start to like each other?
Well, I think that’s her now….
Paul’s voice came from the lounge and sounded tense. He had company and the thought that she might be expected to entertain the Nuttalls was unbearable.
She turned the lounge door handle, and was leapt upon by Splosh with such vigour that she dropped the wine, tripped and landed unceremoniously in the lap of Dickon Cleave.
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts he said.
The next hour; embarrassing for her and perceptibly irritating for Paul, did little to ruffle the composure of their unexpected guest. Dickon lounged on the sofa, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was grubby and covered in dog hairs. He had the type of angular physique that would have looked good in a sack, but the jeans, granddad shirt with a delicate blue stripe and soft brown leather boots conveyed a casual elegance that was neither cheap nor casual. It took time and money to look that good, she thought, horribly conscious of her matronly court shoes and “in between” length hairstyle.
Similarly, Paul in his shapeless grey school suit and black shoes with side buckle looked hopelessly dated. Dickon had the effect of making them staid, middle-aged and boring and she wanted him to finish his drink and go.
He showed no signs of doing so, because he had come to visit his candidate.
An hour later, her plans for a romantic evening had departed as her Election Agent sped away in his MG roadster and her husband decamped to the Duke. The children were in bed and nothing had changed – but everything was different. Paul returned after closing time and went straight to bed. He was unusually taciturn and she did not feel talkative. They slept fitfully, back to back.
When she remembered that time from the distance brought by 26 years, the sequence of events had perforce blurred, but the atmosphere was light, bright and sparkling. GC, her home and everything in it seemed suddenly Lilliputian and as she looked at her husband and children, the words from Status Quo pounded insistently:
When I look up to the skies
I see your eyes a funny kind of yellow
I rush home to bed I soak my head
I see your face underneath my pillow
I wake next morning, tired, still yawning
See your face come peeping through my window
Pictures of matchstick men and you
Mirages of matchstick men and you
All I ever see is them and you
She was seeing a lot of Dickon Cleave.
Her Agent was vibrant, witty, resourceful, charming, and possessed of unequalled enthusiasm both for the election and the candidate. As they sat, night after night, huddled in the darkest corner of the Duke’s tap room, pouring over voting trends and compiling canvassing schedules, she had never felt happier.
Years later, she realised that she had not been happy, but excited, and the rush of blood to the head had nothing to do with the prospect of fighting her first election as candidate (in an utterly unwinnable seat) and everything to do with the sensations occasioned by close proximity to an incredibly attractive man.
When she lost her parliamentary seat and made a bonfire of press cuttings and leaflets; the history of her rollercoaster ride in politics - she was dumbfounded when she unearthed her first ever election leaflet.
There she was; a cornucopia of blonde hair and red lipstick, clad in a diaphanous white shirt and pale blue jeans, arms aloft, sitting on a swing. Her smile was arch and the caption read: The Lady LOVES Laceybrook.
It was verging on soft porn and how could she ever have sanctioned it?
At the time, Dickon’s insistence on hiring he most extortionate photographer in Gridchester for a day’s shoot on location and then raiding the deposit account for the cost of a full colour leaflet seemed only right and proper. The fact that Derek Kingsmill’s humble (and winning) General Election leaflet in neighbouring Lowerbridge would have cost a fraction of the amount was entirely irrelevant.
He always was a cheapskate
And they had spent such a wonderful day; roaring off on Saturday in the nippy MG; lunch at a cunning little restaurant beside the brook of ‘Laceybrook’ with its luxuriant countryside backdrop complemented exquisitely by the Kir Royales that Dickon had insisted they drink before tucking into plates of turbot on a bed of wilted greens.
The photoshoot was a joy; choreographed by Dickon while Greville from Photo Fanatic snapped her in a variety of settings and costumes (she had packed a small suitcase). Jerry Hall and Marie Helvin had a rival!
In the end, it had been a toss-up between the swing and jeans picture and another one in which she had posed on the grass with her back to a tree, wearing a black velvet skirt and knee length boots. That one was Dickon’s choice – vetoed by her on account of showing too much leg.
Greville left early and they drove back in leisurely style, stopping at another country pub to discuss the campaign. She arrived home at 9 pm, exuding euphoria.
Paul was sitting in the wheel-back chair, smoking his pipe and listening to Ravel’s Bolero.
It jarred unpleasantly with her mood, as did the incessant yapping of Splosh, whose empty bowl indicated that Paul had omitted to feed him.
Paul was crotchety; sniping that she had said that she would be back four hours ago. “I’ve had Jessamy Neape on the phone. They were supposed to be meeting her daughter at Geppetto’s - she waited as long as she could but then had to go on ahead. And the kids have had alphabet animals and burgers AGAIN – there was nothing else in the freezer!”
She looked at her husband’s baggy old jeans and frayed shirt,his habitual weekend loafing clothes, and wondered why he felt it appropriate to channel Saville Row when visiting the Oxbridge colleges and emulate a bin man when spending time with his family.
Well, why didn’t you buy them something else? she returned as they began the low-level bickering that was becoming a staple of their relationship. She was conscious of prolonging it to avoid the imposition of sex, and her strategy worked, as Paul slammed the door and went to bed alone.
She poured herself a glass of wine and smoked a cigarette, trying to recapture the magic of the day, but he had ruined it … by mentioning Jessamy Neape.
Now, try as she may, images of herself and Dickon, eating a deux in Laceybrook were overlaid with images of Dickon and Jessamy in their house, with their family and even in their bed.
It was repulsive.
Paul had spoiled her day. Paul spoiled ----- everything.