She was glad when time and space (water under the bridge had unfortunate connotations) afforded a natural distance between herself and the Laceybrook by election.
Of course, the exposure of Ron Butcher’s criminality had its uses. Money expended on champagne, turbot and a society photographer paled into insignificance in the light of the thousands of pounds filched by Ron from the Deposit Account to feather his love nest.
Similarly, the notoriety of her sexually suggestive election literature was as nothing in comparison with the face of the Peacock Heating thief; glaring from the pages of The Gridchester Evening Post, accompanied by the lurid details of his crime and his political affiliation.
If he absolutely HAD to steal to split from Clare and abscond with that tart, said Hazel, uncorking a bumper bottle of Lambrusco Why the hell didn’t he nick the money from Peacock’s? The Election’s bound to be called this year – and at this rate, we’ll do worse than in ‘ 83!
Mind you – I still don’t see why they have to keep dragging the Party into it ALL the time?
It’s totally unnecessary.
She exchanged glances with Sylvia and Gail.
Try as they might, they could not get Hazel to understand that, as Ron had stolen from the Party, any coverage of his crime was bound to mention it; especially as Ron was a member of the Party himself.
No, I don’t see the relevance at all, maintained Hazel stubbornly, clicking her needles. She was knitting matinee jackets for Live Aid babies – although it was difficult to feel that woollen coats in swelteringly hot climates were the best response to the evils of famine and a lack of sanitation.
They could say he’d stolen from a charitable concern – and it would be true, wouldn’t it? But no, that wouldn’t help their Tory chums and we’re a laughing stock!
Every time I go to a Governors’ meeting, Borthwick Prosser gets in a comment about broken boilers, or heating – and last week he made a completely facetious suggestion about taking Year 7 to see the peacocks at Highbury Hall. I can’t stand much more of it!
They made sympathetic noises. Councillor Prosser, a local estate agent, was a new type of bovver Tory; epitomised by one of the puppets in Spitting Image satirised by the series’ creator who had given it a shaved head and kitted it out in biker boots and a leather jacket.
Borthwick and cohorts had none of the traditional courtliness of Sir Emrys Bowcher or Stanley Dexter Leppard and were methodically eliminating these gentler beasts from the Tory forest in a type of natural selection.
It was too bad that Hazel was subjected to the Borthwick barbs and of course they were strategically aimed.
But you mustn’t let him get to you, she soothed.
I don’t think it was a good idea to call for a vote of no confidence in his chairmanship – it just gave him an excuse to write to the Post and mention Ron Butcher again. I think we should put it behind us and move on.
It was easier said than done.
The Butcher affair, as so often with the Party; had ushered in a witch-hunt, with comrades lining up to distance themselves from the couple and blaming others for nurturing Ron’s perfidy.
Clare had gone to ground, which was a good thing because a motion was passed demanding that external auditors be brought in to examine all the accounts from her six-year custody of the Party’s finances.
She did not like Clare Butcher, but from any perspective, this was manifestly unfair.
It’s as if Clare’s guilty by association, observed Gail - and she had to agree.
The chief inquisitors were Brian Pelleroe and Shaun Mills; the crush and husband respectively, of Sylvia, who always tried to change the subject when the Butcher affair raised its head
To date, Fred Hoy and Darren Peabody had stopped coming to meetings and Youth Officer Sian Norfolk resigned after the scuffle between union delegates Laurence Fernyclough and Vince O’Reilly resulted in complaints from Duke regulars to landlady Pat.
Paul had been in the main bar at the time and took the moral high ground:
For God’s sake darling – I know you want a hobby – but couldn’t you find something else to do rather than hanging out with a set of middle-aged hell’s angels. Like helping at Richie’s group?
It was a spiteful comment. Of course she couldn’t help at a toddler group – she had a full-time job and two degrees; but it was easier to ignore it and she did.
In any case, her relationship with Paul was on rocky ground after the Dickon Cleave debacle.
It was not as if she had slept with Cleave.
They had not done anything … .much.
But she had a sneaking suspicion that Paul was very well aware of what they had and had not done and was maliciously using it against her.
Although he had not been present in the MG roadster – how could he? - or the restaurants or the pubs.
But he was aware that something had happened and took delight in mentioning her former Agent at random and monitoring her reactions.
Such as last Sunday at her parents’ home.
Vanessa was occupying herself with one of grandma’s jigsaws; Richard had been put to bed after two readings of Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Alan Ahlberg and her mother had opened a box of Quality Street in preparation for the television treat of the evening; Allo Allo.
So when’s the Election going to be? asked her father, handing Paul a beer.
He took a lively interest in politics and was aware of her own involvement with the Party at Gridchester:
Though I expect the Tories have got a fair run in your neck of the woods, haven’t they?
As she knows only too well! chortled Paul.
Did you tell Dad about your Barbara Castle moment?
And he then proceeded to expound happily upon the varied grotesqueries of the Laceybrook by-election; the salacious literature, the result, the Butcher criminality and finally the fact that her Agent had got a student pregnant (I don’t think she was under age, was she darling?)
prior to making moonlight fit to London and leaving this one in the lurch. You had a teensy bit of a crush didn’t you sweetie?
The drive home to Binley was painful; she had challenged Paul about comments that had certainly disturbed her father, who had advised her to stay clear of that lot – they sound like a rum crew.
You implied that Dickon had stolen the money, she had hissed angrily, glaring at her husband from the passenger seat
You know that’s not true – and I didn’t like what you were hinting about me and Dickon. We don’t see Mum and Dad that often and now they’ll worry - you know what Mum’s like! Why the hell did you do that?
She had raised her voice and felt close to tears. Vanessa, aware of the tension was quietly grizzling in her car seat and Richard flung a Lego man out of the window.
Paul lit a cigarette and motored smoothly on, steering lightly with one hand.
His tone was unruffled:
Well darling, if the cap fits…don’t know why you can’t see the funny side! You were making cow’s eyes at that poseur for weeks, and all the time he’d got a kid up the duff! And pull yourself together! You’re upsetting the children.
The children; the chink in her armour. He could always win by using the children.
She said nothing and that night put on a more than enthusiastic display of athleticism in the bedroom. He would leave it alone – eventually.
After nearly six months of trench warfare that had seen a further haemorrhaging of the membership; the Gridchester Party forgot about the Butchers.
Clare ceased to come to meetings; indeed, Hazel thought she might even have left the area.
Ron, who had certainly left when he absconded to Lowerbridge, was now forced to make a further change of address; HMP Porlock for 18 months, and although the sentencing triggered a further spate of lurid headlines, there was comfort in the fact that this would be the end of it.
I expect the release date will be earlier – but not even the Post will splash again, said Gail.
They were sitting in Hazel’s lounge, having watched a boxed set of Dallas on the new television. The screen was enormous and the picture was excellent, but the television, fish tank and dining table left little room for people.
It had been a tight fit on the sofa, but transferring to the more spacious surrounds of her own home was out of the question because of Paul.
He did not like Dallas or Dynasty and had it not been for the fact that the children would die without a daily dose of Rainbow and Sesame Street, he would have preferred to dispense with their set. So she watched when he went to the Duke.
When they had finished discussing the travails of Sue Ellen and Pammy, they returned to the Butchers and the selection of a candidate to contest Gridchester North at the General Election; expected later that year.
Hazel as usual was pessimistic, but she herself tended to agree with Gail that even if Ron Butcher were to serve a shorter sentence, his release would be a media damp squib because
It’s not as if he’s famous like Harold Wilson or Eric Clapton – he’s only Ron Butcher, and who wants to read any more about him? It didn’t even make the nationals in the first place.
If the papers were full of nothing but Ron Butcher for the entire course of the year there was anyway, little they could do about it. But the Election had to be contested and a candidate put in place, and sooner rather than later.
Her father had been right about Gridchester; both constituencies were fertile and well-tended Tory territory.
South might best be described as duck-egg blue; largely because of the presence of a nefarious council estate on the outskirts of the city that was riddled with social problems. In the past it had been used as a try out seat for an ambitious young Party candidate who did not expect to win but hoped to make an impression.
Gridchester North by contrast, was a determined navy and had remained so, even at the historic elections of 45 and ’66.
Nobody with an ounce of Party potential would be seen dead in it.
I’m hoping Brian might be persuaded, ventured Sylvia, brushing tea-cake crumbs from her new trousers.
They were black leather-look from the new Next Directory catalogue and she suspected that Sylvia was trying them out on the girls prior to dazzling Brian Pelleroe at the St John’s Ambulance hut.
Oh – really? she replied, simulating enthusiasm.
What makes you think he might be interested?
A little bird! murmured Sylvia and she knew that this was a cue for her friend to confide details about another of the cosy chats she had enjoyed with ‘Brian’ after official business at a Party meeting had been concluded; chats that served to fan the flames of Sylvia’s passion whilst sparing Brian the inconvenience of being stalked from daybreak to dusk both at work and home.
What on earth did Sylvia see in Brian Pelleroe?
Husband Shaun was younger and ten times more attractive – but he was only a taxi driver and she supposed that the thought of being squired by a man who was Rodent Officer to a whole city was the secret of the Pelleroe charm.
If Brian had been interested, Sylvia would have enjoyed a clear run because everyone else was repelled by his slightly chemical odour; occasioned by the day job and resistant to even the most liberal applications of Aramis.
But Brian, married to Lisbet, had never considered Sylvia in that way, and she suspected that the money spent on black leather-look trousers had been squandered.
Nevertheless, Gridchester North was interesting from a Tory perspective.
Hedley Mount, the sitting MP who had held the seat for thirty years prior to 1983; actually increasing the majority by £14,000 at that election, had announced his retirement.
The new Tory candidate would be Borthwick Prosser, the uppity estate agent who had riled Hazel about Ron Butcher and epitomised the emerging bovver element that was infiltrating the ranks of the Tory Party in Gridchester as elsewhere.
The Party’s candidate could not expect to win, but neither should he or she be trampled by a Prosser dirty-tricks campaign that could have a ripple effect far beyond Gridchester. It was for this reason that the Party’s Sectional Office would be paying more than usual attention to the candidate selection.
Also, the outbreak of disorder following the Butcher affair had resulted in Party organisation in Gridchester being strictly monitored by the Sectional Team.
It was late ,and Christine was babysitting because Paul was supervising yet another play rehearsal at Fairway.
Anybody but Brian, muttered Hazel as they waved goodbye to Sylvia who had just been picked up by Shaun in his taxi.
Prosser will eat him up but she just can’t see it, can she?
I’d really like a strong woman candidate, someone like Jessamy - but of course she’s completely lost to us now. Apparently Dickon’s getting spliced to that student – after all those years of saying marriage was a bourgeois institution.
I suppose it’s a virility thing – physical proof that he’s sprinkled his seed if you know what I mean!
They cleared the plates and she picked up a half-full glass of rose from the side table, staring determinedly at the bubbles emanating from the mouth of a large goldfish that had suddenly swum out from behind an ornamental rock in the fish tank.
It was a shame to waste it.