She was rather looking forward to the selection of a parliamentary candidate.
Admittedly, from the Party’s perspective, Gridchester North was an atrocious seat and every penny wasted on it would be better spent in defending Derek Kingsmill’s wafer-thin majority in neighbouring Lowerbridge
But received wisdom, handed down the generations like an albatross, was that people should have an opportunity to vote for the Party no matter where they were foolish enough to reside.
Otherwise the Party would be vulnerable to the charge of punishing people on grounds of geographical preference.
A candidate must and would be selected.
Paul was scathing:
For God’s sake, darling, why not pin a rosette on Splosh and have done with it?!
She could see the logic but was not about to admit it. They were sipping rather vinegary white wine chez Nuttall, the venue for the cast party after the week’s run of the Fairway 6th form play.
The Winter’s Tale was an ambitious choice for Fairway Grammar and broke with the tradition of a comedy such as Dighton’s The Happiest Days of Your Life, affording amateur thespians the opportunity to channel Margaret Rutherford or Alistair Sim, - or a musical, in which case Oh What a Lovely War was favourite.
At Oaks’ Haven, she had achieved a modest success with Miller’s The Crucible, but the complexity of a Shakespearian tragedy was an enormous challenge for 17 year old boys; and girls on loan from Fairway Convent.
She did not think that they had risen to it.
The performance had been execrable in every respect; from the garish backdrops courtesy of the Upper 6th Art set, to the mangled verse.
Kathryn Nuttall had assumed the role of Wardrobe Mistress and the skimpy green tunics she had designed for the Bohemia scenes left little to the imagination, especially when the actors bounded around the stage in an impromptu dance that Paul had choreographed for the Sheep Shearers’ Feast.
Diaghilev he was not, and lumpen limbs thrusting back and forth to the insistent rhythm bore no comparison with Nijinsky.
Worst of all, Paul himself had taken the helm, deputising at the last moment for the original Florizel, who had broken his ankle in rehearsal.
She sat in the front row next to John Nuttall, squirming with embarrassment, as her husband, in full three piece suit with fob watch, read from the script whilst cavorting with a nubile, scantily clad Perdita.
When Paul delivered the famous lines:
What you do
Still betters what is done.
When you speak, sweet,
I’d have you do it ever.
There were whistles and shouts of Bravo!
Escape was impossible - and it was also impossible to ignore the fact that Paul had thrown himself into the role with gusto.
She fancied, like Leontes in the Sicilia scenes, that there was rather too much paddling of palms going on and was thankful that the performance marked the end rather than the beginning of a process.
At the party in the Nuttalls’ handkerchief garden, there was much jollity and back-slapping with Paul as the hero of the hour, lauded by his Headmaster; Stuart Guinness for putting Fairway on the map.
A reporter from The Gridchester Post; the local paper covering both Gridchester and Fairway, was scurrying amidst cast members, and she noted to her chagrin that it was Philip Twill; the print assassin of Ron Butcher.
She also noted the fact that Perdita (the only cast member who had not changed out of her tunic into something a little more respectable) was chasing Paul round the garden like a Jack Russell.
He’s so patient with her, said Kathryn Nuttall in a tone of intense and barely concealed irritation.
But really, you’d think the nuns would teach her how to behave.
She’s obviously shortened her tunic and when she performed the arabesque, you could see everything she’s got! Although perhaps that was the idea.
The atmosphere was fractious and it was a relief to get home to Binley.
Over the forthcoming days and weeks, the Party embarked upon the candidate selection process for Gridchester North, starting with a visit from the Sectional Team Head, Norris Farmer.
At a special meeting in The Duke, peering frostily over half-mooned spectacles, the fifty-plus, dusty official outlined the process before, in effect, tearing up the Rule Book ( because you’re unlikely to get more than a handful of people interested and it would be better to shortlist them all and have done with it).
There were murmurings of discontent; openly voiced by Fred Hoy who had resumed attendance at meetings:
Well, Norris, I think that’s a bit pessimistic, isn’t it?
We’re hoping for quite a few applications. If everyone had taken that line in 1945 and 1966 we wouldn’t have had the landslides; or our great reforming Governments for working people.
Norris gave a world- weary sigh. During 30 years as a paid Party official, he had heard it all before.
Parties in unwinnable seats accepted that they were unwinnable for 99% of the time and were so lazy and irresponsible that they rarely be-stirred themselves to collect the membership money, to say nothing of organising a fundraising programme.
But as soon as a General Election was in the offing, they suddenly became affronted at being reminded of a status they had formerly accepted; nurtured delusions of victory and in practice, concentrated all their efforts on pestering Tory supporters in the black hole, rather than canvassing in marginal seats like Lowerbridge.
It was why the Party had never enjoyed full consecutive terms of Government and why the Tories were the most successful political party in Europe.
Tonight, he had neither the time nor the inclination to engage.
Well – pigs might fly, he said cheerily and left.
She sat with the girls in The Malmsey Head discussing the forthcoming candidate hustings. As it turned out, Norris, rather than Fred had been prescient; three people had applied for the thankless task of flying the Party flag in Gridchester North, including Party Chairman, Brian Pelleroe.
It’s GOT to be Brian! enthused Sylvia
Otherwise there’s absolutely NO point in fighting the Election! He knows every inch of Gridchester like the back of his hand –what interloper could match that?
She opened a new packet of menthol cigarettes and offered them round.
Of course, there was no point in fighting the Election in Gridchester North. Even if the Party Leader decided to abandon his own enormous majority and don the candidate mantle, the result would be the same.
However, Sylvia had a point. As Chief Rodent Officer for Gridchester District Council, Brian did know every inch of the constituency like the back of his hand and had treated most of it for infestation.
He was especially strong on Public Health and could campaign for an upgrade to the sewerage system, for example.
In the interests of friendship she conceded these points, but was not really concentrating.
She had taken a series of peculiar telephone calls at home: the line always cut out when she picked up the receiver. The warmer weather had ushered in a spate of petty burglaries; including an attack on the video shop near her home.
The assailants, who had terrorised Mr Patel in their black balaclavas, forcing him to drop to his knees and beg for mercy like a dog, did not steal anything and turned out to be truants from the language remedial class at GC.
But it was unnerving.
She did not teach the youths, who were quickly apprehended and had already made their first appearance at Gridchester Magistrates’ Court - but the proximity to her own home and her dog and small children was extremely unpleasant.
Do you think, she asked, inhaling for a change, that we’re being targeted?
Sort of Patels yesterday – us today? Do you think they’re putting down a marker – like a cat spraying?
She rarely spoke about GC or her work there to the girls - there would have been no point of reference - but today recounted an incident from last week when she had reported a boy to the Principal for tormenting a girl in the corridor.
He called her a lezzer – I didn’t know either of them and with that kind of lad, any girl who turns him down must be gay – but she was crying so I reported him.
He was suspended. Could he have got his mates up to this - to teach me a lesson? We’re not ex-directory.
Sylvia sniffed. She wanted to talk about Brian’s campaign and now the evening would over before she had the chance to wax lyrical over the merits of the Gridchester Chairman.
I don’t THINK so…
offered Hazel sagely.
It could be any number of things; a shared line, faulty connection --- oh and what about that after-play party that you went to? The one where they were all running around with no clothes on? What about that?
Had Hazel taken leave of her senses?
How could the Nuttalls’ cast party possibly be related to anonymous telephone calls?
No – you’re not getting it! cried Hazel excitedly.
That reporter was there – Philip Twill! You said he was nosing around! The one who wrote all the Butcher muck!
It’s a set up by The Post! YOUR NAME as Applications Secretary was printed in the paper. All applications to you and the cut off date! He’s trying to intimidate you and trying to scupper the selection! I knew it! It’s a Tory trick! They’re hand in glove with Prosser!
Did he say anything to you at the party? Think back! Did he mention the selection?
No. He hadn’t, and now Hazel was obsessing about her pet topic; the perfidy of Ron Butcher in relation to the evils of the Tory press.
But in the absence of another solution…
Paul arrived home later than usual and the chicken chasseur with button mushrooms and sauté potatoes had seen better days.
Her husband seemed to think so too, because he pushed his meal around the plate with little enthusiasm, rather like Richard when faced with carrots and sprouts.
She had been talking about telephone calls for 10 minutes to an unresponsive audience – Paul was barely listening and left the table to put Petrushka on the record player.
Stravinsky at full volume reminded her of The Rites of Spring
Hazel thought that the calls might be linked to the Nuttall’s party…
The comment was aimed at her husband’s back and Paul swung round angrily.
Oh for God’s sake – what does Hazel Sweet know about the party – or about anything to do with me for that matter? What have you been telling her? She’s an interfering old bag and, frankly I expect Martin has to put a bag over her head or he’d never get it up!
She’s a frustrated old cow and I’m amazed that you’d want to waste a second on what she thinks about anything!
His words were slightly slurred; they had not had wine with dinner and he must have stopped off at The Duke before coming home.
Nothing was said about you, why would it be? she countered.
Paul certainly did look the worse for wear and his forehead was shiny with sweat.
How odd that she had only just noticed it.
She meant the reporter – Philip Twill from The Post. He was interviewing the cast and of course, must have known that I’m your wife. Hazel wondered if he was up to mischief over the candidate selection. My name’s been in the paper three times recently as Applications Secretary.
There was a pause. Paul eased into the wheel - backed chair and took off his jacket.
Was she imagining it, or did he seem more relaxed? The storm had passed.
Of course, the play must have exhausted him. Weeks of rehearsals, all after school and now – nothing!
There was bound to be a winding down process. She should be more sensitive.
Paul gave the ironic smile she knew so well and shook his head.
Stalin’s Granny is a complete fantasist! It’s a fault on the line – I contacted BT about it earlier today – didn’t I say? Quite a few people in this group of streets have complained. It’s sorted now
(with an air of certainty).
But I think you should ask me, darling, before you let them put your name and address in the paper --- any loony could pick it up and take advantage.
She cleared the table and mixed a stiff gin and tonic, feeling slightly silly about the phone calls. She has made a fuss about nothing when Paul had done the sensible thing by reporting it.
Now Hazel would be telling all the comrades that The Post had conspired with Borthwick to sabotage the candidate selection process. Was it too late to call and set the record straight?
Petrushka’s theme reminded her of the Perdita, and Kathryn’s comments about her tunic.
She looked at Paul; happily tapping a boot to the rhythm.
The girl who played Perdita she said, stifling a laugh
Kathryn said she didn’t wear knickers! What do you think?
Paul did not reply.