Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Paranoia and Pickles

What Ho Proles!

My usual mediation with a glass of brandy was interrupted, last night, by a visit from the condiment magnate who owns one of the cottages down the lane from the Hall. The man is obsessed with European politics and spends half of his year buying up onion and gherkin crops throughout Eastern Europe. He arrived at my door stinking high to his swollen gills on raw pickle juice and claiming to be the victim of Kremlin infighting. I asked what he expected me to do and he demanded that I put him in contact with friends I maintain in our secret service.

‘Don’t be a fool, man!’ I said. ‘What would the British government want with the Russian gherkin harvest? You have piccalilli on the brain!’

He didn’t care, having no doubt imbibed more magic onions than is good for a man. He pushed his way into the house, settling himself in the drawing room where I’d been eyeing Fiona Bruce on the ten o’clock news.

‘You have to help me, Murgatroid,’ he said before he flicked over to Sky News and proceeded to rant about Chelsea’s domination of the Premiership. Finally he settled down and produced a picture of himself standing before a Russian piccalilli super-tanker. ‘I know all the secrets,’ he explained. ‘I know why red cabbage is red! Can't you see that I fear for my life?’

What could a man say or do? I feared more for my sofa and wondered if Mrs. Priggs owns a chemical proven to nullify the stench of raw pickle. Leaving the condiment man to get excited by the discovery of minute levels of radioactivity on British Airways flights into Russia, I told My Man to fire up the Bentley and I left the Hall, overwhelmed by the smell of condiments, and retired to the local tavern where I caught the rest of Ms. Bruce on satellite. I say she’s a fine looking woman, by any accounts.

But as I was sitting there, wishing for happier days when the mass media had much less mass and Ms. Bruce might see the appeal of tall aristocrats, I was stuck by insight into the national condition.

Hold the fort, I thought! Isn't this condiment man suffering from the same paranoia that has the country testing its drinking water for the last week or so? We're all suffering mass panic since the ex-Soviet spy died of radioactive poisoning. Everybody fears that Russian agents are posing as the local Polish builders. But I say, so long as he can lay a good patio, why should we bother what secrets he might steal? You have to pay for good workmanship in some form or other.

'But damn it all, Murgatroid!' I hear you cry. 'What about patriotism?' To which I reply: it is our patriotic duty to live free of worry.

We live in fear and government like us to live in fear. Ye gods! I know the political mind so I can assure you that they are never happier than when calling meetings of the Cobra committee. More paper gets shuffled, more meetings arranged. And it’s all different, of course, to real fear: those sphincter clenching moments when we face an proper abyss. Preventative measures against bird flu don’t get the politicians excited at all, but if they can make the nation feel like it's living on the brink of collapse and would not function without the politicos, then they leap for their Geiger counters and declare every sushi-bar unfit for humans for one hundred years.

So now the raw fish is off. The nation is falling to pieces and the government does everything it can to sap the national spirit, stripping us of our rights. Crime casts dark shadows at every street corner and we’re in danger of splitting up the union we’ve worked so damn long to sustain, despite more mutual loathing than anything found in a bag full of European diplomats.

When I got back to the Hall, Mrs. Priggs came running around the side of the house. She was dressed in her nightshirt and with a head full of rollers under net.

‘Oh, Mr. Murgatroid, I’m so glad you’re back. He’s threatening to kill himself!’

‘Who is, for goodness?’

‘Your guest. He’s sitting eating all of your favourite red cabbage.’

I recollected my hasty retreat and the odour of onion.

'A jar of that would be sure to do him in,' I agreed. 'Oh, who will rid me of this meddlesome pickle salesman?’

My Man stepped forward with a suggestion. The look on his face said so much about his enthusiasm for trouble.

‘Deal with it how you will,’ I said. ‘I’m going to bed. And don’t wake me unless the government call a national emergency.’ I looked at my watch. ‘That’ll give me at least eight hours of shut eye.’

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

25. Plans, Pens, and Planes

What Ho Proles!

Cyril Henderson stood before an A2 whiteboard with a large black marker pen in his hand. He looked, I imagine, much like General Montgomery would have looked had the British Army in North Africa shopped at Stationary Box.

In front of him sat the rest of ‘the team’, as I’d taken to calling Cyril, Spoon, Cropper, Jenkins, Harris, My Man, and myself. We’d assembled in the nursery like children fearful of our governor who, though free-spirited enough to take a great delight in sniffing the end of his pen, still refused to conjugate the verb ‘to wear’ with the noun phrase ‘any underpants’. In the spirit of fear, we had dutifully copied down everything Cyril had written on the board but, so far, this amounted to the names of Jeremiah Finch and Millicent Granger which he’d penned in at the top of the board before replacing the top on the pen after only the briefest sniff of the nib.

I could see the attraction. A smell not unlike that of pear drops had filled the room and I had been transported back to happier days until Cyril’s voice cut through the warm fuzzy nostalgia of the local sweetshop.

‘The Smallchurch Air Show’ he said and promptly went about writing that beneath the two names. Again there was the smell of pear drops and I thought I could even hear the rustle of sugar-coated toffees inside small paper bags. I opened my eyes as saw it was only Jenkins opening a packet of pork scratchings.

He caught my inquisitive gaze.

‘In case I miss lunch,’ he explained.

‘J.P.? Your attention, please?’

I instinctively ducked, expecting a stick of chalk to hit the back of my head. At Eton, I was known as ‘cueball’ on account of the amount of chalk dust usually left north of my neck after lessons when my mind had wandered.

‘Sorry, Cyril,’ I said. ‘You were saying?’

‘I was saying that it starts tomorrow and runs through until Friday.’

The man was being too damn elliptical for his own good and, as you might know, a man with a craving for pear drops cannot tolerate an elliptical nature.

‘I take it that this is all good?’ I asked.

‘Good?’ he laughed. ‘It’s good if you have wings but just about ruddy perfect if you’re a Tory.’

‘And I am a Tory,’ I assured him.

‘You most certainly are, J.P., and this is definitely perfect for you.’

‘I’m so glad.’

‘The plan is simple,’ Cyril carried on, his voice rising to an almost Montyesque whine. ‘You’ll be attending the air show as the honoured guest of Sir James Vembre. You get yourself in the public eye, press some flesh, kiss some infants, generally praise air traffic, and totally dominate the first day’s proceedings with speeches, toasts, and, when the need arises as it certainly must, suitable input from Mr. Mullins the duck.’

‘That means you get plenty of chance to make him quack,’ said Samantha Spoon, who, it I’m honest, probably held something of a grudge against me over the bald spot she’d found on Mr. Mullin’s rear end.

‘That sounds like a plan,’ I agreed.

‘It is a plan, J.P.,’ said Cyril before he popped off the top of the pen and wrote ‘Plan’ right at the top of the board and the name ‘Vembre’ at the bottom. He then proceeded to join everything up with a sequence of arrows that made no sense unless they resembled a strategy to take Tripoli from Rommel’s African Korps.

‘Vembre?’ I mused. ‘Why do I know that name?’

Cyril was too busy sticking the end of the pen up his nose, which is why it was Larry, sitting at my side, who answered me.

‘Oh, come now, Murgatroid,’ he said. ‘You must remember Jimmy from the club. He pops in occasionally. Usually gets very drunk and dances a burlesque fandango on the snooker table.’

‘Can’t say I do, Larry. Are you sure you’re talking about the same club? Men dancing on a snooker table sounds much more like the Savile Club...’

‘Don’t doubt me, Murgatroid. Jimmy’s a tall chap, about your height, and likes everybody to know he once flew tornadoes with the RAF. He seduced that one legged barmaid we had in the shop a couple of years back. Don’t you remember? They had a child that’s supposed to be a mathematical prodigy. Jimmy’s always going on about how his lad’s already solved some tricky puzzle that’s been baffling the German’s since the days of Leibniz.’

‘Is that right? Leibniz? Well, I hate to say it, Larry, but you’re barking up the wrong tree. The name means nothing to me. Don’t know the chap. Wouldn’t spot him in a line up of sausages.’

Larry’s face reddened with despair. ‘Come on, Murgatroid. Remember the Christmas party when Jimmy set himself on fire after spilling gin on his coat? Fell into the curtains and the whole ruddy place went up in flames? The fire brigade took an eternity to get there but Jimmy had already beaten back the flames single-handedly using the Christmas tree and a soda bottle. We all ended up singing carols on the back of the fire engine?’

‘Nothing rings a bell,’ I said again but this time with an apologetic rise of the shoulders for good measure.

‘Honestly!’ sighed Larry, sagging back into his seat. ‘Can’t believe you don’t remember Jimmy. The man’s a walking legend... Or rather, a limping legend.’

‘Oh, Jimmy!’ I said as memories of the man now came hobbling back to me. ‘Of course I know Jimmy. He has a limp!’

‘Well done, J.P.,’ said Cyril who quick as quick as a flash, popped the end off his pen and jotted my name on the board before drawing a double-headed arrow between myself and Vembre.

‘I thought you knew him,’ said Larry. ‘But even if you didn’t, Jimmy certainly knows me. He owes me a few favours too and tomorrow is his chance to pay me back. To start off, you’re going to be his guest at the air show.’

I shrugged. ‘Fair enough,’ I said. Air shows are nothing new to me. I’ve done many a deal with munitions moguls during the time I spent working as a minor executive in the military branch of one of the UK’s largest aircraft manufacturers. ‘I still don’t see what’s so wonderful about this news. When do I get chance to outwit T.H.U.M.P.’

‘You’ll have plenty of chance to outshine those oversized amateur penguins,’ Cyril promised.
Don’t worry. He made no sense to me either. In fact, he made no sense at all. A glassy sheen had fallen over his eyes.

‘Go easy on the pens, there, Cyril,’ I said.

‘Most certainly will, my love,’ he replied and began to draw oddly shaped aeroplanes on the board.

That’s when Larry Harris piped up again.

‘Millicent Granger’s going to be there,’ he explained. ‘She’ll be pressing the flesh with the crowd, so there’s no doubt her brother will be close by. It’s going to be a big event. Chance to impress lots of people especially when you’re given such an honour...’

‘An honour? What honour?’

‘You’re going to set the day’s festivities going. You see, Jimmy heads the organising committee for the show. He was going to signal the off by waving the first plane off the runway. Only, he’s agreed to let you do it instead. It’ll be on the news and make the local papers. It’ll be a fine chance to upstage T.H.U.M.P., especially if you take your lucky mascot along with you.’
Cyril wasn’t so much rubbing his hands at the thought than waving them above his head. ‘Can you believe it, J.P.? You get stand in the runway and wave the flag to tell all the penguins that winter has arrived!’

‘It’ll be the highlight of everybody’s day,’ agreed Larry, for the first time casting a funny look towards Cyril. ‘And who will they think about when they look back on those happy memories?’

‘Me, of course,’ I said, damn sure that if any scheme was sure to succeed, it was a scheme involving airplanes, ducks, and a man called Murgatroid.

I would have considered the plan further but I had to move.

Cyril was claiming he was an Angora sweater built by Boeing to be flown by Himalayan pygmy Nazis. It was a fine delusion as delusions go, but not so fine when taken to the extreme of jumping out of a nursery window proclaiming ‘Charles Handy is the leader of Namaland!’

It took My Man nearly an hour before he brought him back.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

24. Breakfast With The Polls

What Ho Proles!

I want to make it abundantly clear that I had nothing to do with the bugging of Jeremiah Finch’s Morris Minor. No matter what rumours you’ve heard or newspaper reports you’ve read, the simple truth remains that I was too busy stealing the man’s pipe when that decision was taken.
I say this, of course, understanding that the oldest of all the political dark arts has always been the ability to appear virtuous when deep in the proverbial quagmire. And, occasionally, being political astute does mean ignoring the realities of your life. ‘Whiteness at all costs’ is the cry of all Westminster bandits; irrespective of whether we’re actually up to our ears in filth, cavorting with one or more mistress, or being blackmailed by an ungrateful pooch who has incriminating photographs locked away in its lawyer’s safe.

I call this the eternal political condition. It’s been around since the pyramids, or at least, since those ancient Egyptians discovered a thing or two about burying secrets. That’s why their tombs were built with enough elbow room for all the administrators, attendants, and scullery maids, who knew too many of the pharaoh’s peccadilloes to be allowed to go on to star on the late night chat show circuit, peddling their grubby little biographies.

Let me tell you that modern political life is no different, except, instead of being entombed beneath five hundred feet of cut sandstone, those with insider secrets are usually doled off to the European Parliament on a hefty salary and with a title that usually involves some combination of the words ‘commissioner’, ‘inspectorate’, and ‘cheese’.

It’s been said that avoiding bean spillage is a knack that younger politicians usually find the most difficult simply because they haven’t sinned enough to spot a potential newspaper headline. I, on the other hand, can profess to have mastered it at an early age. You might say that I’ve had plenty of practice as I’ve had a few too many secrets to bury.

The key rule in these situations is never to leave anything to chance. You must ensure that you retain a high degree of plausible deniability and this is why, after I discovered what had been done in my name, I left Larry Harris to handle the material coming from the electronic intelligence wing of the Murgatroid campaign. I knew only too well what trouble Nixon found himself over a few tape recordings.

(Let me just add as an aside: I do believe that people have got to know whether or not their MP is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got. Everything, that is, except the Hall, the estate, my education, the Bentley (won in a shooting contest), My Man (ditto), my job (father does have connections), and the majority of the money I have in my various bank accounts. Everything else came through the old fashioned application of blood, sweat, tears, buckshot, and so on.)

All of this is the longwinded way of saying that when many bad deeds were done in my name that Friday afternoon, I was hard at work in my study and knew nothing about them.
As the rest of the team kept station in Cropper’s small attic bedroom listening post, I was at my desk, where I would stay for the weekend; preparing speeches for the campaign ahead and ghost-writing a column on the life of a politician’s duck for the following week’s edition of the Telegraph (it appears in the edition for April 21st).

When Monday morning came around, I was raring to go and roused myself early to catch breakfast in the dining room.

Despite what you think of me, I don’t take every meal in bed and with so many guests around the house, I thought it only right to set the standard by which I expected my team to work. Since I’d pretty much ignored their comings and goings over that weekend, I thought it time to reconnect with them.

That’s why, on Monday, 17th April, I was up early at eight; washed and shaved by eight fifteen; dressed in the full uniform of the country squire by half past; and enjoying the rousing symphony of fork and knife against eggs, bacon, and plate by eight forty five. Samantha Spoons was sitting reading the newspapers at a corner table, while Colonel Cropper was making the most of a fry up as Cyril Henderson lectured Melvin Jenkins on the benefit of abstinence. I wanted to raise an optimistic flag for these people about my eventual electoral victory and I was quite glad to see that Larry had piped himself onboard the same ship. He appeared on the stroke of nine, a bundle of papers in his left hand and a large cup of black coffee steaming in his right.

‘We have the first results of our polling,’ he said, carefully setting his cup down before rustling a sheet of paper under my nose. I didn’t know what he expected me to do: read the papers or blow my nose into them.

‘How large is my margin?’ I asked as I cut my way into a rasher of bacon.

‘Sizable but not so large that we need to worry at this stage.’

‘Worry? Why on earth would I want to worry? Let the margin get as big as it likes. I’m not too proud to win by a landslide.’

His face darkened. ‘Oh, but you’re not leading the poll,’ he said and, blow me, if he didn’t start to laugh!

The sound of knife and fork falling to plate silenced the dining room for a moment.

‘What do you mean: not leading?’ I hissed.

‘I mean, you’re not first.’

‘Not first? You mean I’m...’ I tried to swallow the word rather than speak it aloud but my throat had gone dry. ‘You mean I’m second?’ I said, my voice now reduced to a whisper.

‘Secondish,’ said Larry handing the polling statistics to me. ‘Actually, you’re third. The Lib Dems are still out ahead with a good six point lead. But it’s neck and neck between you and Mrs. Granger for second.’

That was enough to put me right off my French toast. I ran my eyes over the results.
‘I’m neck and neck with a lollipop lady who’s running on a manifesto meant to see me off?’

‘T.H.U.M.P. appears to have a strong following in some areas of the constituency,’ he explained before his face brightened at some hint of optimism that I had yet to see. ‘But when you look at the figures, you’ll see that you’ve narrowed the gap with the Lib Dems since the last election, especially in one of the key demographics.’

‘And which demographic would that be?’

‘Illiterate farm workers,’ he said. ‘They love your anti-Europe message and general intolerance. And the good news is that in all other demographics, Mr. Mullins is proving a winner.’

‘So, I trail in the polls except for people who cannot read, but Mr. Mullins is proving popular with the rest?’

‘That’s about it,’ he said before sipping his coffee. I almost wished it even hotter when he winced as it scalded his tongue.

‘Well, we need to improve matters,’ I said, setting my eyes to my breakfast. ‘We need proper plans to overcome my two opponents.’ I picked up a toast soldier and jammed it into the yolk of one of my fried eggs. I felt faintly ill as the yolk ran and I imagined the yellow expansion of Liberal Democrat victories over John Snow’s election night map.

‘Well, on that score,’ said Larry, ‘we’ve got an ace up our sleeve,’ he said.
‘What form of ace?’

‘Cropper,’ he said, nodding to the man slurping at his morning tomato. ‘You remember the little device he planted in Finch’s car?’

‘It was not my idea,’ I said, ensuring that plausible deniability I went on about for so long at the head of this chapter.

‘Well, I swear on Margaret Thatcher’s handbag that the man’s a genius. He tells me he can pick up military communications with his equipment and though I can’t confirm that, I can confirm that he can twiddle with a knob in a way that it would unfair to describe as anything but professional.’

I picked at the bacon and chewed it without enthusiasm. I hadn’t been happy with Cropper’s assumption that he could erect his radio masts wherever he liked. I didn’t mind them fixed to the chimneys but when I looked out of my window and saw the ornamental fountain and the nymph Diana waving a parabolic antenna, I did wonder if it had gone a little beyond the neoclassical look of the garden. It might also have been my imagination but I swear there had also been more low flying jumbo jets above our heads that weekend and a couple had looked ready to make their final approaches.

‘Are you telling me that he’s discovered something?’ I asked, turning back to Larry.

‘He did tape a rather interesting conversation lat discussion last night,’ he said and began to page through his file. He pulled a sheet clear and slid it across the table. It wedged itself under my plate. ‘This is a transcript between Finch and his sister.’


He tapped the page. ‘His sister has some pretty strong opinions about car drivers.’

‘As have we all,’ I replied. ‘I’ve told you on many occasions we should be running with a word of two about Fiats in my manifesto. They should be stopped at the border.’

‘No,’ he said, tapping the page again. ‘Look at the name.’

I peered where his finger sat on the page and read the word.


‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘Milly.’


‘So? So her full name is Millicent Granger.’

‘The lollipop lady!’

‘One and the same,’ he smiled. ‘The person currently sitting in second place in the polls happens to be the sister of the man hounding you about the harvest festival and your campaign mascot.’

It took me a moment or two to clear a piece of bacon that had become trapped in my incisors before my brain turned all its resources to the discussion at hand. Finally, things began to spark and I came alive.

‘The rotten lot!’ I cried. ‘It’s a conspiracy!’

‘Of course it is!’

‘The dirty rotters!’

‘But information is power, Jacob.’

‘It damn well is. I’m going to see him this very afternoon.’

‘I wouldn’t advise that.’

I threw down my napkin. There are few things in life you should try to restrain than a Murgatroid on the offensive and dressed in English tweed.

‘And why not?’ I asked. ‘Let me march in on him and see how he likes those apples.’

‘But we have a better idea.’

‘Such as?’

He sat back and pulled a cigar from his inner pocket. He made me wait as he lit it and then smiled.

‘I think I’ll let Cyril tell you about that,’ he said before disappearing into a cloud of smoke.

Monday, November 27, 2006

New Week, Old Problems

What Ho Proles!

I awoke this morning to find a bright blue sky above the Hall and Larry Harris sleeping off a drunken stew at the foot of the stairs. As McDuff says: ‘Such welcome and unwelcome things at once ’Tis hard to reconcile’. Once we managed to wake him up, Larry was dropping large hints about it being so nice down here that he fancied staying for the week. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I simply have neither the time nor the room and that I had to get back to work on my memoirs… It took some organising, but things are now settled down. The next instalment will be up as soon as My Man gets around to typing it up. At the moment, he’s had to nip to London. Once Larry fell asleep again, helped no doubt by the extra large whisky I poured him at lunchtime, we bundled him into the Bentley and had My Man drive him to London.

Before I go, I must say a few words about D.W.D (or David Cameron as you lot are more likely to know him). I hear that he’s about to win some award for Parliamentarian of the Year. I say this with a certain heavy heart. Had I been in the chamber, I’m sure it would have been more of a contest. I’m still waiting to give my maiden speech, which I’ve now been working on for the last three years. The subject is a defence of the Union titled, ‘Scotland’s No France’. Had he heard it, D.W.D. might not have won. Or if he had, he might have stayed in the country to receive his damn award, instead of clearing off to Iraq. I wouldn’t mind but he’s playing Lawrence of Arabia when he should be giving a speech at the CBI. What rot!

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m an old fashioned Tory, who believes in the might of British industry. You can’t go gallivanting off, leaving your deputy to go blab about green taxes with the big fish of the nation’s commerce. These are men who appreciate large rivets, heavy iron girders, and thick deep foundations. Tony Blair managed to throw a few words like ‘investment’ and ‘profitability’ about for them, and D.W.D. should have made time to spin a yarn about the same. The next thing you’ll know, he’ll be announcing that the party has changed our policies on ties, tweed, or the right of every Englishman to defend his castle with artillery.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Drunk again...

What Ho Proles!

I'm feeling slightly ashamed of myself that my memoirs have taken such a back seat this weekend. I must force myself to return to the story tomorrow...

Last night I got unfeasibly drunk with Larry Harris who had tootled up from London to persuade me to help the party prepare for the next election. If you’ve been following my memoirs, you’ll recognise Larry because he used to be my campaign manager during the last run out against Blair’s lot. He’s currently working for a well known member of the shadow cabinet, doing preparatory work on the green issue. It gave me plenty of chances to mock the poor fellow on all matters ecological. Larry wouldn’t know the difference between and oak and an alder, but isn’t that always the way with these inner city environmentalists who get misty eyed over urban foxes and want to attach wind turbines to every chimney pot?

This is all an aside and what I mean to say is my head’s very heavy today. Wine lubricates my words very poorly so I won’t bother you much with my theories of why England’s doing so damn poorly in the Ashes. Tomorrow I return to work and aim to start the run in to finishing the memoirs. I still have plenty of stories to tell and shames to confess.

Toodle pip.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Saturday, Sushi and Spies

What Ho Proles!

Bit of a brief update today, it being Saturday, the day of sport. I’m also a bit bleary eyed after staying up to watch the Ashes. I stayed awake until England started to get thrashed, which means I got my head down quite early and had my full nine hours.

I also have to be quick because my mind is taken with up with this business with Russia spies and London sushi bars. Many of my investments are out their in the wilds of East Europe so I’m watching the business with a keener eye than usual. I can’t believe that Putin is a rascal. He looks such a friendly sort of chap and reminds me of my Aunt Mary who also had a black belt in judo.

Mind you, I’ve always had an interest in Russia. When I was at Oxford, I was once approached by a member of our secret service intelligence service to join their ranks. I turned him down of course, giving him the same excuse I’d given the member of the KGB who had offered me a similar job a week earlier: that I couldn’t keep a secret, didn’t like the hours, and liked my neck too much to put it on the line for anyone. They would probably have rejected me at the medical, however, due to this ocular deficiency I suffer.

Still Moscow and London’s loss is C---- N---- gain.

I’ll chat more lengthily tomorrow,

Friday, November 24, 2006

23. A Finch Too Far

What Ho Proles!

A greatly chagrined Tory candidate sat in his study at three o’clock that afternoon. I’ve always been aware that more than fifty percent of the good citizens of this country of ours have moderate to strong opinions about the Murgatroid brand and are more likely to prod me in the kidneys with a rusted umbrella than shake me by the hand. What I hadn’t expected was that one hundred percent of the local population of lollipop ladies would feel the same way, choosing to spade me with the wide end of her ‘STOP CHILDREN’ sign should I ever dare venture onto her crossing.

I lulled myself into a false calm by taking one of my favourite books down from the shelf. Caesar’s Commentaries is always good for a chuckle and I’d just reached the part where Julius the C. had done something brutal yet witty to the Gauls when there was a knock on my study door and Mrs. Priggs came in.

The old dear looked quite riled about something or other, and I was loath to have the word I’d been meaning to have with her about the close call the previous evening, when Mr. Mullins had come close to providing some mean tempered Dobermans with a protein rich snack. I knew she would only shrug and accuse me of cruelty in allowing the dogs to be fitted with the mood-altering rubber bands, but even before I could lock horns with her, I caught the whiff of pipe tobacco.

‘He’s here again,’ she nodded and backed out of room without another word.

Jeremiah Finch looked no different than three days earlier, except his pipe was already churning out more smoke than China’s industrial growth. He reached out to shake my hand but this time I barely rose an inch in my seat before I directed him to a chair.

‘Mr. Murgatroid, so good to see you again,’ he said, occupying the same space and suit as he’d done earlier that week. It felt like déjà vu but without any chance of high japes and mind games.

‘Mr. Finch,’ I said. ‘This is like having Christmas twice in a year.’ I said, though choosing not to add what I really think about the festive season. ‘Is this courtesy call or are you simply here for my autograph?’

‘More official business, I’m afraid,’ he said and gazed out of the window as indifferent as you please. ‘Your estate is looking quite wonderful. I take it you have plenty of employees to keep it in such good nick?’

‘I choose to take the fourth amendment,’ I replied.

He looked at me quizzically.

‘I have the feeling that anything I might say might be taken down and used against me in court of law,’ I explained. ‘Or failing a court of law, at some European witchhunt where English wool and a love of cricket count for very little.’

‘I only meant it as a passing compliment,’ he smiled, sucking on the end of his pipe in that way that makes his eyes narrow to fine slits.

‘Compliments be damned!’ I said. ‘What brings you here? Have you changed your mind about your senseless obedience to Europe? Can our festival of flaming goats go ahead?’

‘I’ve told you the council’s position on that,’ he said, softly, calmly, and ruddy patronisingly. ‘Make the changes I asked for and you can go ahead with your festivities.’

I picked up my paper knife and slit open a letter. I gazed at it for a moment and then cast it aside. I just wanted the chance to have the knife in my hands. I had a feeling that I would need it.

‘I assume you caught my appearance on Newsnight last night?’ I asked.

‘Oh, yes, I did,’ he smiled. ‘You gave quite the performance.’

At least the man was not totally devoid of sense.

‘And no doubt you agree that I made a pretty good case against the interference of Brussels in the affairs of an English shire?’

‘As it happens, I thought you made a very good case. Rarely have I heard that particular argument put with so much...’ He paused as he waved the end of his pipe in the air, as though looking to pin down a word.

‘Eloquence?’ I offered.

He smiled a sinister smile. ‘Actually, Mr. Murgatroid, the word I was looking for was “duck”.’


‘Yes. As I was saying, I’ve never heard the Eurosceptic case give with so much emphasis given to a large white duck sitting on a man’s lap.’

‘That was only for the cameras,’ I assured him.

‘What can I say except that is a relief,’ he replied. ‘I’d hate to think you spend time with a duck sitting on your lap for any other reason.’

There was a thinly veiled insinuation behind those words which I did not want to address except I have that damn inquisitive nature I’ve told you about before.

‘I’m afraid I don’t see you inference, Mr. Finch.’

He closed his eyes and placed the pipe between his teeth.

‘I’m sure you do,’ he nodded. ‘You see, Mr. Murgatroid, today I’m here in my capacity as the council’s animal welfare officer. We don’t make moral judgements about how a man chooses to live his life, but we do take great care in the welfare of our local animal population. And to be honest, Mr. Murgatroid, I’m not convinced that a duck makes for a good pet. I’m here to make sure that you’re treating it well.’

‘Oh, you are, are you?’

He smiled. ‘It really isn’t on, you know? Ducks are not political animals.’

‘No,’ I said, stabbing the knife into my blotter. ‘But clearly the same cannot be said about you, Mr. Finch! That’s the problem with you local officials. You love to play politics with another chap’s politics. Well you won’t play that game with me!’

And with that, I jumped up from my chair and grabbed his pipe. It was to my eternal regret that his teeth didn’t come with it.

‘Give me that back at once!’ He said, making a grab for the briar as I jumped out of his reach.

‘Then stop this nonsense! You’re hounding me, Finch, and a Murgatroid is dangerous when hounded the sort of chap who spends his time going around banning bonfires and criticising a chap’s treatment of wildfowl. And the cheek of it! You make more smoke with that pipe than half of Ireland aflame with a burning bog fire. I ask you, Mr. Finch: do the local tax payers know what you do with their money? Pestering a man about his duck one moment and his sacrificial goats the next?’

His arm shot out to make another a grab for the pipe but I dashed to the door.

‘This way, Mr. Finch,’ I said and not for pausing, I ran for the main hall.

I found Mrs. Priggs dusting the tables along one side of the wall whilst coming in through the front door was Colonel Cropper, carrying a small toolbox in his hand.

‘Ah, are you leaving, Mr. Finch?’ piped up Mrs. Priggs, throwing her duster to one side and indifferent to the scuffle that had broken out in the centre of the hall. ‘I’ll get your coat for you.’

I put my elbow in Finch’s chin as he tried to twist the pipe from my hands.

‘Give me that pipe this instant, Murgatroid or I’ll make this a matter for the police!’

I fell back, victorious with the pipe still in my hand.

‘Isn’t there a ban on smoking in public places, Mrs. Priggs? Do we normally allow smoking within the Hall?’

‘You know my opinion of that,’ she said as reappeared from the little cloakroom hidden under the stairs. She was carrying a grey overcoat in a herringbone style.

‘I thought as much,’ I said and threw the pipe back at Finch. ‘Now take your rotten shag tobacco out of here and darken my halls no more with your filthy talk of European regulations.’

‘This won’t be last you hear of this, Mr. Murgatroid!’ warned the Finch.

‘I’m damn sure it isn’t,’ I replied. ‘But the next time, I want to see the written law that says a man can’t put a duck on his lap.’

And that’s when Colonel Cropper winked at me.

I confess: it threw me for a moment. It gave Finch ample time to deliver his last speech of the act.

‘I hope to be seeing you again,’ he said. ‘Think again of what I’ve said to you. You’ve made an enemy in the council, Murgatroid. An enemy with a very long memory.’

He turned on his heels and marked out of the house and to an aging Morris Minor sitting on the drive like somebody had dropped it from the great grappling hook in the sky. I wouldn’t have believed it was mobile if Finch hadn’t climbed inside it and driven it away. The exhaust produced more smoke than half a dozen druid rituals I could mention and he could probably outlaw.

Still, there were more pressing matters to attend to.

‘What on earth is all this business of winking at me, Cropper?’ I asked as I returned to the hall.
‘Couldn’t you see I was giving that man a dressing down? Damn off-putting having you winking at me like that.’

Cyril Henderson was suddenly behind me, laughing as he began to shake the hand of the tall colonel. ‘Go on, tell him,’ he said. ‘Bloody good show!’

The Colonel blushed slightly, but hid it well with a wipe of his tash. ‘Well, you know when I was going around the Hall last night and I was checking for bugs?’

‘I remember... You’re not telling me that old Finch has been eavesdropping on our campaign meetings?’

‘Oh no,’ smiled Cropper. ‘But I hope nobody checks his car for the next couple of days.’

‘I should think that car hasn’t been checked for the last couple of decades,’ I promised him.
Henderson nodded and the Colonel looked at me with wide eyes. Even Mrs. Priggs had her hand to her mouth. All three produced a tableau which if done by Caravaggio might have been called ‘The Penny Prepares to Drop.’

It didn’t quite hit me like lightening but more like rice pudding being poured over me on a cold day.

‘You’ve not bugged him?’ I asked.

Henderson clapped his hands together, Cropper blushed ever more, and Mrs. Priggs began to laugh nervously. The next thing I know, Larry Harris was coming down the stairs a huge beaming smile on his face.

‘Wasn’t that a bit of a good luck that my chap here happened to be in the house?’ he said, clapping Cropper around the shoulders.

‘Look here,’ I said. ‘Are you saying we can listen into Finch’s every moment?’

‘Within a five miles radius and so long as he’s inside his car,’ explained the Colonel.

I shook my head. ‘I’m very disappointed with the lot of you,’ I said. ‘In fact, I’m more than disappointed. I’m appalled to the point of being shamed.’ It took a moment but eventually the smiles had disappeared from the gathered faces.

‘I mean,’ I added, ‘five miles doesn’t sound terribly far at all...’

Thursday, November 23, 2006

22. Knowing Mine Enemies

What Ho Proles!

[In addition to posting my Proles Corner piece, below, I'm also putting up a chunk of my memoir. I'd have My Man edit it down a bit but after nearly losing him the other day, I thought I'd go easy on the fellow.]

Friday, 15th April, 2005. AKA: The Following Morning...

I awoke early to welcome a pot of piping hot coffee into my room, followed pretty swiftly by the majority of a loaf (toasted) which I duly went about stressing under lashings of strawberry jam. My Man has many skills but his ability to apply cold butter to warm bread is second to none. As he cleared the dishes away, I complimented him on looking so well recovered from his martial action the previous day and he left me to wrestle with the newspapers and conquer the Times crossword. I was to have little success on either front.

Pretty soon, I was soon stuck at fifteen across, pondering the ways that ‘Chinese whispers leave Belgian monks looking for petroleum jelly’, when Melvin Jenkins came blustering into my room to inform me that I would soon have to field a few hundred telephone calls. It seems that he’d been up since dawn organising radio stations across the country eager to pick up on the big story of the previous day and now busting a gut to wag chins with the famous Tory and his duck.
I could see that this was work best seen off by keeping to my warm bed. I promptly despatched My Man to harass Mr. Mullins and record a couple of his trademark quacks on tape. I could then field the calls from between warm sheets where toes and duck affairs seemed to fit hand in glove, or at least, bunion to shank.

By noon, the radio stations were all done, dusted, and happy with my chat and pre-recorded duck calls. It was time to change out of my peejays and move my base of operations to the old nursery.

My toes would be colder there but this is the grim life one reads about in this kind of modern political diaries. There are hard political realities we sometimes need to face and you can only face them when wearing patented leather shoes. Today’s reality would be my getting to know my enemy.

It has been a singular omission of mine that my memoirs have yet to contain a single detail of my political opponents who would be lining up to face me on the election night on May 5th. A story cannot exist without antagonists yet mine has done pretty well so far. It’s my own fault, I know, wanting to protect you from those odd people of the political left, but now I think I’ve shielded you enough. It’s time to let you see the task ahead of me. I can’t promise you it will be pleasant, but we are all adults. We shall just have to try our best.

Besides, I’d grown tired of talking about ducks. It was time to talk turkey and that’s why I called my campaign team together in order to discuss the elephant in the room.

‘I need facts,’ I said to Team Murgatroid as I stretched my heels up and down the nursery. ‘Who are my opponents? How do we beat them? What are their weaknesses? What do they know? What do they want? Are they open to bribes? If so: how much? How do we pay them? What will they spend the money on? Is it legal? If not: can we blackmail them? If so: how?’

My questions hung in the air and I gazed around the room waiting to see which member of my top flight political team would provide some decent answers.

I looked first at my agent, Cyril Henderson, who was sitting at the head of the table, with Larry Harris, campaign manager, at his side.

Cyril looked as indifferent as any man might look when trying to tackle tough political questions when not wearing any underwear.

Larry, on the other hand, was looking his phlegmatic best; absorbing all but saying little, a bit like one of those Greek statues he loves so much. If only Cyril would have taken a lesson out of Larry’s book. There is, I feel, a salutary lesson about Y fronts giving a man a stable foundation for the day.

Colonel Cropper was at the other end of the table, fiddling with something small, electrical, and more than likely to go ‘whizz bang’ at any second. I didn’t like to look at him for too long lest I make him nervous and triggered a detonation. The last thing I wanted were any of his fingers ricocheting around the room.

Melvin Jenkins sat silently at a side table where Mrs. Priggs’ had put two plates of her celebrated all butter shortcake biscuits. I’d told My Man to keep an eye on the blighter but, to my eyes, Jenkins had put on a pound or so in a matter of days.

It was quite a relief to turn my eyes to the svelte Samantha Spoon. Not only was she a trim five feet eleven, but she was the only person who looked to be doing anything productive. She was setting documents out across on the table and constantly moving sheets between folders. I watched her for a few moments, being a great admirer of the ancient British art of paper shuffling.

It was Cyril Henderson who finally took my lead.

‘I’ve asked Samantha to compile dossiers,’ he explained, looking to the blond locks swirling around a body that was now loosing papers from a pile of folders in varying shades of political hue.

‘I have it all here,’ she said, finally setting six files out before her. She smiled at me and ran a finger over an ear to lodge her hair back there. ‘I think we’re ready.’

Cyril reached forward and took one of the folders. ‘Where would you like to begin?’ he asked, looking at me.

‘What are my choices?’

Samantha fanned out the remaining files. ‘You have six opponents,’ she said. ‘Naturally, we have the Labour Party candidate. Where would we be without the lovely labour lot?’

‘Like media consultants around freshly baked biscuits?’ suggested Larry.

Melvin Jenkin’s curse came out as a cloud of crumbs.

‘Then,’ said Spoon, ‘we have the Liberal Democrats. As we all know, they had a four thousand majority at the last election and have made noises about increasing it this time around.’

‘They should coco,’ I spat. ‘The only way they’ll get more support is if lentils are given the vote. Nobody votes for them unless they’re mightily displeased with us Tories or they want to give the Labour lot a bloody nose.’

It was good to see Larry agree with me. ‘Classic protest voting,’ he said. ‘Things will be different this time around.’

Samantha allowed our exchange to finish before she looked back at her notes.

‘Well that leaves only the Greens, the UK Independence Party, and a candidate for Respect.’ She looked up and rolled her eyes. ‘You know,’ she said. ‘The “Stop the War” lot?’

‘That’s still only five parties,’ I noted.

‘Ah,’ she replied, looking towards the tan file in Cyril’s hands. ‘We also have one another candidate... But he’s just an independent. I didn’t think it worth mentioning...’

Cyril Henderson coughed as a momentary silence fell over the room.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I don’t think we need worry about that one. Nothing to worry your head about, J.P.! Let’s ignore these silly parties, shall we, Samantha? We should concentrate on the real contenders.’

I tutted back his naïve assumptions. ‘It’s a hotbed of independent activism, around here,’ I said.

‘Don’t underestimate the indies. What are they called? What’s the raison d’être? Can we bribe them or otherwise bring them down?’

Samantha brushed the hair from her eyes and began to go thump through some pages. ‘I really don’t know...’ she spluttered.

I can spot hesitancy a mile off but when a rum lark sits right under my nose I begin to get worried.

‘Is there something about this I shouldn’t know?’ I asked.

She blushed slightly, began to speak, but then fell silent again. With an audible sigh, Cyril Henderson opened the tan folder.

‘The party is called the Thump Alliance,’ he said.

I laughed. Rash, I know, but there you have me in a nutshell: impulsive in the extreme.

‘What kind of party is called Thump?’ I asked.

‘It’s an acronym,’ explained Cyril.

‘Oh good!’ cried Larry. ‘A game! Are we all to guess what it stands for? Well, I’ll go first. Now, let me see... Thump. T. H. U. M. P.’ He scratched his chin for a moment or two. ‘Is it The Humane Unlicensed Monkey Patrol?’

That was it. The team was away, cracking the code with solutions than ran from the surreal to the absurd.

‘Thursday’s Hot Uncensored Mooning Parade?’ said Colonel Cropper. I thought this a bit of a worrying suggestion and reminded myself to put a watch of the man. I’m a great believer in the subconscious sending out signals when we’re doing spontaneous tasks.

‘Trees Hurt Under Mankind’s Patronage’ was Ms. Spoon’s rather environmental suggestion. I thought it a definite candidate.

‘Taste Ham Under My Pillow?’ asked Melvin, clearly struggling with the concept of the acronym game, though I thought it a nice touch that his solution said something about him and his dietary requirements. I made a note to also put a watch on him. At the very least, I’d have Mrs. Priggs check under his pillow. It’s not a place for ham. Not even when it’s tinned.

Still, as the silly suggestions carried on, I thought I’d try one of my own.

‘Tread Humans Under Murgatroid Plimsolls’ I said.

There was polite laughter, except for Cyril and Samantha who said looking at in silence.

‘I thought it had a ring to it,’ I told them in protest.

Cyril looked nervously around the room.

‘The thing is, J.P. You’re almost right.’

‘I am?’

‘T.H.U.M.P stands for The Horrible Unlikeable Murgatroid Protest. It doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but then, these acronyms rarely do...’

I could have told him that I gave no hoot about acronyms. ‘I don’t understand?’ I said.

Cyril nodded. ‘They hope to gather protest votes.’

‘Protest votes against what exactly?’

Cyril leaned forward and cleared his throat.

‘Well, actually, J.P., they’re protesting against you.’


‘That’s about it.’

‘But why would somebody go to the trouble of protesting against me?’

He shrugged. ‘Have you any enemies? Think who you might have upset in the last couple of years.’

I sat down, the effect of my morning toast and jam finally wearing thin.

‘Should I list them alphabetically or chronologically?’ I asked. ‘To be honest, alphabetically might be easiest. I could go at them in groups and...’

Larry Harris stood up and walked to the window.

‘I think we can forget about this little protest vote,’ he said. ‘We’ll mark their cards for them soon enough. What we should concentrate on are the main two political campaigns. Labour and Liberal. Don’t you agree, Jenkins?’

Melvin raised a hand. ‘Smashing biscuits,’ he said with a healthy deep purple glow to his cheeks.

‘You can really taste all that butter.’

Larry continued to take charge. ‘Come on, Miss Spoon. Tell us about the people who should really concern us?’

‘Well, I think Jacob probably knows all about the sitting MP,’ Spoon said, suddenly much brighter. ‘Gabriel Kettle is forty two years old, and has been the Lib Dem MP for the last six years after winning her seat in a by-election.’

‘Not happy memories,’ I agreed. ‘The sitting MP died while judging the prize bulls at the local village fete.’

‘Heart attack?’ asked Cyril.

‘Goring,’ I replied. ‘Like I said: they’re not the happiest of memories.’

‘Her campaign will probably focus on the local cottage hospital. There’s been talk of merging it with the general hospital at Smallchurch and Kettle’s been leading the campaign to save it.’

‘You should make a speech about the hospital,’ said Henderson.

‘Should I take the duck along?’ I asked.

His eyes narrowed. ‘Oh, I think it would help, don’t you?’

‘The Labour candidate is one of the party’s rising stars,’ said Spoon, moving to the red folder.

‘I detest it when party’s parachute one of their favourites into a constituency.’ I said.

‘Only thirty two years old...’

‘In nappies,’ Jenkins mumbled.

‘He used to be one of Gordon Brown’s economic advisors, so we can expect him to perform well on anything financial. He’ll probably be very strong on national issues but will lose credibility on local matters.’

‘I’ll ask if he knows how to milk a bull,’ I said. ‘That one usually goes down well with the locals.’

‘How do you milk a bull?’ asked Jenkins. The man still had dairy products on his mind.

‘The Green party are putting up one of their usual bunch. Expect bad cardigans and crazy earrings,’ said Spoon with evident disgust. ‘Her name’s Elizabeth Manning and owns a jewellery shop in the village. She’s only lived down here for five years. Trained to be a nuclear technician before she adopted the Green cause.’

Henderson cleared his throat. ‘Minor inconvenience and easy to answer their criticisms but increasingly likely to take votes from all parties. Let’s move on shall we?’

I slumped further down in my chair.

‘Move on if we must,’ I gasped, ‘but one would do well to consider the enthusiasm of the chap who pays the wages around this table.’

‘The UKIP candidate is one of the usual far right types. Strong on national defence and won’t touch cheese unless he’s seen the passport for cows that produced the milk.’

‘Sounds a sensible sort,’ I said. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Henry Churchill Fotheringham. He changed his name by deed poll.’

‘A danger if the election is close,’ said Harris. ‘He might take votes from you, so we’ll have to be sure to neutralise his threat.’

‘And the name of the THUMP candidate?’ I asked.

Cyril turned to me. ‘Don’t bother with it, Murgatroid!’

‘But I must know the name of my nemesis.’

‘It will only weaken you.’

‘Then weakened I will have to be. I want to know the name of this political titan who hopes to stride into C---- N---- and wipe the Murgatroid name from the face of the earth.’

Cyril looked down at the tan file and took a deep breath.

‘Her name is Millicent Granger,’ he said. ‘She’s sixty nine year old and works as a school traffic warden.’

‘My nemesis is a lollipop lady?’

Harris stretched himself on his toes and hooked his thumbs into the band of his trousers.

‘Tricky,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘Very very tricky.’

‘I told you the truth would weaken you,’ said Cyril.

But I could barely hear as for the fourteenth time in less than a minute I spluttered the words: ‘A lollipop lady!’

Proles Corner

What Ho Proles!

And I should say: Welcome to Proles Corner

In what short time my blog has been live, I’ve been sent a broad range of emails. Some have asked me to help save endangered animals, such as the Patagonian Rubber Eared Baboon (I said no). Some ask me to rehouse young female Russians aged between 17 and 21 (I said 'What Ho!'). Whilst others have simply wanted to borrow my bank account to help large quantities of cash (I said maybe).

Many of the letters, however, have been from readers soliciting me for advice. I’ve been putting them aside, classing them as a valuable though second class correspondence, with the aim gathering such letters into a regular column where I might advise my regular readers and help them cope with life. I like to think of myself as Dear Deidre but with a little more tweed.

This is my opportunity to provide an online clinic for people’s problem and if you do need a bit of advice, you can email me at I shall do my best to answer your questions, solve problems of etiquette, or give you sort of wisdom that have served the Murgatroid family well for generations. You must remember, at all times, that I’m here to listen. I might not care, but I will certainly lend you my ear.

And now, with no more shilly-shallying, the letters…

Dear Murgatoid,

I found your website after googling around for something to do with politics and the UK parliamentary system. I am interested in politics and I’m considering studying it at university. I’m thinking of starting out in local politics. Do you have any advice?

Daniel P.

Dear Daniel,

My first piece of advice is: learn some manners, my boy. I did not achieve my Honourable title for inconsequential people to address me by my surname.

As for higher education: do you plan to go to Oxford or Cambridge? If you’re going to Oxford, then I’d simply advise you to have a good time. The rest will sort itself out, have no doubt about that. I have very little to say about a Cambridge education except to warn you away from that den of equality. Mind you, should you end up there, I doubt very much if it should stand in the way of your making a career out of politics. Just try to avoid the people with common accents. They have to allow them in, I suppose, to fill some government quota, but it doesn’t mean me should mix with them. Remember the Murgatroid motto: little good comes from denim or Yorkshire.

Yours truly,

The Honourable J.P.M.

Dear Honourable,

Why don’t you include more pictures on your blog? Most blogs I like to visit every day have at least some multimedia content and your’s should have the same. Can’t you at least provide a picture of your house? How about some pictures of the grounds of the estate? What does your man look like? What do you look like?

Lorraine P,
New Mexico, USA.

Dear Lorraine,

My, my… Some people demand so much but contribute very little. If I were to adopt the habits of the average blogger, I would be no better than that: average. You must remember, my dear, that I am an English Tory gentleman. That brings with it certain requirements. I have standards. This blog shall remain free of media and heavy on words. If you don’t like that, then may I politely inform you about the asperity of your dairy products. In other words, my dear: hard cheese.


The Honourable J.P.M.

Dear Jacob,

My boyfriend […].

Sarah Q, Dundee.

Dear Sarah,

I’ve omitted a portion of your letter. I have no interest in reading about your love life and I’m quite sure my readers would be equally unimpressed. Please learn to have a little dignity. Not everybody is interest in what you do with your body, nor what half the population of Dundee has done with your body. And in my opinion, your boyfriend deserves locking up. What he did with that cream horn warrants criminal prosecution.

Good day to you, Madam.


The Honourable J.P.M.

Dear Mr. Murgatroid,

Do you honestly expect to get into parliament with your attitude? You represent a bygone era of British life and British culture. With your house and servants, and your supposed wit, you’re a pale imitation of the great Wodehouse, and a poor representative of what was once a great political party. Cease your sham!

We Tories don’t need your sort muddying the electoral waters.


Neville C., Hull.

Dear Neville,

I’d appreciate it if you’d take your Communist talk back to Russia with you. You Red Devil! Have I mentioned that My Man is armed to the teeth with knuckles? I cannot help but be what I am. As for professing to be a Tory: I knew Cameron when he was at Eton, so there’s nothing you can tell me about him that I’ve not seen in the communal showers.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

21. Another 15 Minutes of Fame

What Ho Proles!

Just as Larry ‘Bomber’ Harris promised, Larry ‘Bomber’ Harris delivered. The nation’s press came calling the next day; bandwagoned to their glassy eyeballs, hot with breaking news, and desperate to be bitten by sound. Proving himself a dab hand in his new role as media coordinator, Melvin Jenkins soon had the networks organised like a crescent of crisps around the edge of a very large plate at the centre of which sat, naturally, an ample serving of duck.
It allowed me to spend the entire morning posing with Mr. Mullins on the back lawn and occasionally getting him to bless us all with a quack on cue. This isn’t half as difficult as it sounds, though anyone who may have cared to inspect his lower regions around lunchtime might have discovered a curious thinning of his rear-facing feathers.

After doing some entertaining little segments for both the BBC and ITN lunchtime news, I gave the cable and satellite channels chance to coax a performance out of me throughout the afternoon. I can’t say I minded any of this at all, but then again, I can also assure you that my own rear facing feathers were all in tact. Any politician will tell you that they relish the chance to put their point of view to the gentlemen of Fleet Street, though even Mr. Mullins’ patience was tested by an interviewer from a popular show on the BBC’s children’s channel who insisted on conducting the interview dressed as a large purple rhinoceros. You must take my word on it but purple rhinoceroses appear to be the natural enemy of the duck. As Mr. Mullins grew more agitated the questions grew more banal. In the end, I had to inform the poor dolt that her interviewing technique was at the best infantile, but most likely just idiotic in the extreme. I withdrew the participation of my duck and had her thrown from the estate while she was still in costume. I don’t know about you but the presence of a purple rhinoceros demeans the very tradition of democratic elections.

My only other concern about the morning was that I had rarely been asked very much about anything. Anything, that is, except the duck, my thoughts about the duck, duck issues, life with a duck, ducks in the workplace, duck rights, duck moods, and the food, music, and hobbies most enjoyed by ducks. Even the chap from Sky News seemed less interested in my views on Europe than whether I ate foie gras.

‘I really don’t see what different it makes,’ I told him rather snappily but he just carried on preening himself in front of his mirror as a cameraman plastered Vaseline on the camera lens ready to film the cut away shots of our interview.

‘Look here, my love,’ said the reporter, ‘I’m only here for the duck. I couldn’t care less about your policies.’ He looked up over the mirror part way through applying his mascara. ‘Unless, of course, there are some policies to do with ducks that you haven’t told me about...’

I chose to dignify that question through silence.

After that, the day went from one interview to another and it was only after my ten fifty five appearance with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight that Mr. Mullins and I could kick off our flippers and relax.

I was sitting on the wall of the flowed bed on the small patio at the back of the Hall, gazing out on the night with a heavy glass of brandy in my hand. Mr. Mullins sat in a heap in the middle of the lawn and was being fussed over by Samantha Spoon who had formed an unlikely relationship with the bird. Except for myself, this Spoon was the only member of the household that Mr. Mullins didn’t attack on sight. I secretly commended him for his choice.

‘I thought the day went rather well,’ I said to her somewhat as a cue to bring the chit together with the chat.

‘I thought Paxman gave you a rather rough time,’ she replied, though keeping her back to me as she tried to backcomb Mullin’s remaining rear facing feathers.

‘Oh, Jeremy and I are old friends,’ I said. ‘His bark is much worse than his bite.’

‘Didn’t he call you a “publicity seeking gutter hound”?’

‘He didn’t call me anything of the sort,’ I protested. ‘He compared me to “publicity seeking gutter hound” which is quite different... And he did it in such an affectionate way.’

Spoon was right though. I was worried that, after a day spent in front of the cameras, my most important interview hadn’t gone all that well. I’d been accused of copying a Labour councillor in London whose lizards are supposed to be much more photogenic. I reconciled myself with a particularly large sip of my brandy and wondered how the day would affect my standing in the polls.

‘Do you ever think how odd all this is?’ I asked, back from my mental wandering.

‘Odd is as odd does,’ Spoon replied rather cryptically. I had a mind to let the conversation finish there only I’m one of those poor fools who cannot let an ambiguity rest. Rhetorical questions have been known to make me apoplectic.

‘Explain yourself,’ I said, finally giving in to my curiosity.

She paused from wiping down Mr. Mullins’s bill and turned to face me. She was sitting cross legged on the grass and had thrown her long blond locks over her shoulder to reveal more of an attractive face that reminded me of an old girlfriend and a terrible time we’d both had with a policeman and his bicycle outside Boothby Pagnall.

‘I said odd is as odd does,’ she repeated, ‘which I guess is my way of saying that I think wanting to become a politician is pretty out of the ordinary. A duck doesn’t seem that strange when you look at it like that. Cyril has done some pretty odd things in the name of the party. I suppose he told you about the time he made me throw those sausages to David Blunkett’s guide dog?’

‘He has taken great delight in recalling that anecdote on a number of occasions,’ I assured her.

‘The sausages get more heroic with each telling. But that’s so very typical of Cyril.’

‘I don’t know why he gets so passionate about politics,’ she said. ‘I think it’s just a bit of fun.’
I hate to disagree with anybody so attractive but sometimes it’s just necessary.

‘You fail to realise that Cyril’s highest ambition is to change the nation’s attitude towards underwear. I would imagine there’s very little he wouldn’t do to accomplish that goal and I sometimes fear for the man. He’s really dabbling in a form of terrorism.’

At that moment, a curse came from the shrubs at the side of the house and a figure leapt out and started to wave a hand about as though an acre of skin had been taken from knuckle.

‘Cyril?’ I guessed.

‘It’s only me,’ said a voice I didn’t recognise. The figure moved out into the light and I saw it was Colonel Duncan Cropper, our expert in electronic surveillance and guerrilla warfare.

‘Well, what you doing hiding back there?’ I asked.

He held up a small box with a bulbous probe. ‘Bugs,’ he said.

‘Bugs? You mean insects?’

‘Not quite,’ he answered and proceeded to scratch his ginger tash with three fingers of his right hand in that overt way that some men have when they are far too proud of their nasal hedgerow. I thought it quite the debonair touch until I noticed that he only had three fingers on his right hand. He must have recognised the look on my face.

‘Lost it on South Georgia,’ he said holding up the hand as though to wiggle an imaginary little finger. ‘Argie mine went off. Didn’t feel a thing. Oddest business though. Finger ended up twenty feed away. Poked the sergeant major in the eye. Poor chap traumatised. They couldn’t risk removing the finger for fear of damaging an optic nerve. Terrible business. But on the bright side, he now has the oddest bit of shrapnel.’

‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ I said and wondered if I should recount the tale of my Great Grand Uncle Hector P. Murgatroid who lost his right lobe of manhood to the Boars, but since it hadn’t poked anybody’s eye out, I thought it a tale not worth telling.

‘You can never be sure who’s using electronic bugs,’ the Colonel explained as he looked up at the wall. ‘I’ll be doing a sweep like this every evening, especially when there have been so many strangers hanging around the place. Don’t know who’s listening in on our conversations.’

‘Indeed you don’t,’ I said, giving Ms. Spoon a knowing wink.

The Colonel looked like he was about to reply when there was a sudden braying of hounds from down towards the main gates. At once, Mr. Mullins hopped onto his feet to gave a rather desperate quack before waddling off.

‘What’s that?’ asked Ms. Spoon, taking much longer to jump to her feet.

‘Sound like dogs,’ said Cropper.

Drink addles my brain.

‘Dogs!’ I cried and dropped my glass into the flowerbed and leapt after my precious Tory duck.
I’ve mentioned it on more than one occasion that the estate is guarded by some of the country’s fiercest guard dogs who have the run of the grounds at night. They are looked after by My Man’s wife, down at the gatehouse lodge. Somebody must have failed to inform her that with the TV cameras only leaving gone eleven, we’d be knocking around the place later than usual.
It took three attempts to catch Mr. Mullins and then only after Ms. Spoon had thrown herself at the poor befuddled creature and trapped his legs.

Cropper, in the meantime, had made it to the patio doors where he was fumbling with the bolt. He had one half of the doors shut by the time Ms. Spoon and I carried Mr. Mullins in. There had not been a moment to lose. Seconds later, we heard the sound of scampering Dobermans drawing near. Cropper had the last bolt in place by the time the hounds’ noses bounced off the glass.

‘That was close!’ I gasped, dropping Mr. Mullins who went flapping across the room.

Ms. Spoon slipped to the floor, wiping her brow as she gazed at the dogs, snarling beyond the windows. Her hand when it came away from her face seemed to have left a puzzled look behind.

‘That’s odd,’ she said, peering outside. ‘It would appear that your dogs are wearing rubber bands.’

I didn’t like to explain, or at least, not until we’d got a drink or two inside her. There really are some facts in this world that are best faced on the other side of sober.

On Various Types of Ham

What Ho Proles!

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve fired My Man. He’s down in the lodge right now, packing his bags and looking up bus timetables to heavens knows where.

I know it all seems a bit sudden – rash you might even say – but it came to my attention late last night that the blighter had misnumbered all the chapters of my memoirs! When I came to look, there were two chapter 16s and three chapter 11s. I told him that such shoddy work is not acceptable and he should seek employment elsewhere. I suggested he try to get work proof reading for the Guardian. It seems to be more his level…

It’s a crying shame. The chap seemed genuinely heartbroken as I gave him the rough end of the horsewhip. I suppose I should ring down to the lodge and tell him to stay put. I sometimes act a little harshly. Say what you like about the man, he’s served me well and probably deserves a second chance.

Onto matters of more significance: I see another of our football teams has been bought up by a foreign investor. I say ‘football team’ but I actually mean West Ham United. They play football of a sort but teamwork seems to be sorely lacking this season. Iraq has more unity at the moment and probably has a better defence. The investor is some Icelandic chap, a bigwig in the world of herring, no doubt. And this comes as FIFA President, Blatter, has been ranting on again about the English game not being the best yet the most attractive for investors. I’ll ignore his first point -- the man’s clearly a fool -- and address the second. Caveat emptor. I shouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that the poor Icelandic fish mogul hadn't got a bit confused and thought he was buying the company that makes John West’s Ham…

As for myself, if I have any loyalty to any team then I share Michael Howard’s affection for Liverpool. It’s a place I’d hate to visit and could not hit on a map if you gave me a paint roller, but my sports master at Eton drummed into us lads the discipline of the Bob Paisley team and it’s has stuck with me ever since. We’re struggling for form this season but I have no doubt things will come good. A team full of fresh faces needs time to work together. It’s a bit like David Cameron and the rest of us Tories. Once we hit our stride and learn to appreciate each others little ways, I’m sure we’ll be at the top of the league.

Okay. I better dash. Speaking of ham, I think I've made a bit of a ham fist of it. I’d hate My Man to disappear before I could undo the damage. I just hope he appreciates that words were said. Mistakes were made. etc. etc.

Toodle pip.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

20. Quack If You’re Tory

What Ho Proles!

Journeying home in the Bentley turned out to be a rather odd business. I put it down to the fact that one of the passengers insisted on riding on my lap and quacking every time we passed stretch of open water. I didn’t know what to do. The last time I’d experienced anything like it was during my time at Oxford when I’d agreed to go along with Rupert Katt’s plan to help Flakey Smythe’s sister elope during Cowes week. She had been all set to join an all-women crew in a voyage around the world but by the time we rode in for the rescue, the queer bird had drank a little too much and spent the whole journey back to Oxford attempting to direct us by the stars; a fine thing if you’re in the middle of the Southern Atlantic but of little use to a chap when deciding where to join the M3 nor-nor-east of Southampton.

I told as much to Larry Harris but the man was much too busy giving cowardice a bad name. Citing ‘health and safety’ as well as a copy of ‘Bill Oddie’s Fieldbook to English Ducks’ which he’d picked up from a local bookshop, he had retired to the front seat of the car and proceeded to flood his system with high quality Cuban nicotine.

‘This is your lucky break,’ he assured me as he blew another plume of cigar smoke out of the passenger side window. The view of the back of his head afforded me a glace of the edges of a smile so smug that it was stretched into a grin wider than the span of his ears. ‘If every campaign began as well as this,’ he continued, ‘I’d have made a fortune as a political advisor. Can you imagine the publicity we’re going to get in the coming days?’

‘It’s only a duck,’ I reminded him.

‘A mighty fine duck!’

‘But, still, only a duck...’

‘Quack!’ said Mr. Mullins.

‘And that’s why it’s a stroke of fortune bordering on genius!’ Larry said, slapping his knee. Then the excitement got too much for him and he slapped My Man’s knee. I could have told him that, even at the best of times, it’s a dangerous thing to do, but it’s downright suicidal when My Man’s driving a speeding vehicle and his reflexes are still in martial mode. I wouldn’t have been surprised had Larry’s head come bouncing into the back seat with the grin still attached and the cigar clamped between his teeth.

As it was, My Man’s only reaction was to swerve the car into the oncoming traffic, narrowly avoiding a tractor, and, in the process, startling Mr. Mullins who proceeded to give a sequence of ever louder quacks.

Larry shook his head and gave another chuckle.

‘All politicians look for an easy win,’ he said, indifferent to the near miss. ‘Sometimes you can get a break when your opponent slips up but that’s not something you can ever rely upon. A gimmick is the surest way to election success. Churchill had his cigar. Harold Wilson had his pipe. Of course, Margaret Thatcher’s gimmick was being a woman and John Major’s gimmick was not being Margaret Thatcher.’

‘And what’s Blair’s gimmick?’ I asked, eager to learn from this respected (though cowardly) political mind.

‘Oh,’ he purred, ‘Blair’s gimmick is that damn smile of his. You have to admire the man, Murgatroid. It’s a beautiful smile and when you really study it, it becomes a rare thing of beauty. It is at once flawed yet perfect.’

‘Pish,’ I replied. ‘In fact, I’ll go further than that pish. I’ll give you a pish raised to the power of posh.’

‘Scoff as much as you like, Murgatroid,’ he said. ‘You could do with a smile like Blair’s. You see: it’s a matter of getting the eyes right while you allow the mouth to reveal an almost perfect set of teeth.’ He turned to demonstrate the smile which he mimicked so poorly that it set Mr. Mullins to quacking again.

‘Have you ever noticed that one of Blair’s teeth in the bottom set sits in front of the rest?’ he asked. ‘That’s the most wonderful part of the gimmick. In some deep recess of the electorate’s mind, they recognise a man with charisma but who is really like them. It’s the flaw that makes him so electable. Too perfect a man could never have enjoyed such a lasting appeal. We grow to love the flaw as much as we love the ideal.’

He blew another could of smoke into the car’s slipstream. It felt like being caught in a wind tunnel but where the line of smoke sped across the car’s profile as well as the elegant lines of Larry Harris’s political theory.

‘But gimmicks that work are rare things,’ Harris continued after a moment or two’s consideration of the road ahead. ‘You don’t know if they’re going to win you an election or alienate you from your key demographics. I’m telling you, Murgatroid. People can sniff out a false promise or a bit of staged razzmatazz easier than a bloodhound sniffing a bucket of kippers in Alaska.’ He pointed the wet end of his stogie over the seat and towards Mr. Mullins. ‘But that, my friend, that is a duck destined to lay you your golden egg.’

‘I thought it was geese that lay golden eggs,’ I said, surprised that a chap who read classics didn’t know the basic premise of the fable.

Harris’s eyes narrowed with that look of shrewd political cunning that sets the men out from the boys.

‘We’ll use that duck on every hustings,’ he said. ‘You’ll carry him to every door and into every interview. That duck will represent what you are bringing to this election.’

‘The way you describe it, the only thing I seem to be bringing is a duck.’

‘No,’ he replied. ‘What you’re bringing is novelty and novelty gives you the chance to attract the attention of an electorate tired of the men in their grey suits. In a way, you’re bringing a new hope to poor disillusioned voters.’

‘Hope in the form of a duck?’ I asked.

‘Symbols are powerful things,’ he said with a knowing lilt. ‘What is commonplace one day catalyses public opinion the next. That duck could be the next Mao!.’

‘I do hope not,’ I said, but catching a look of the bird’s eye, I could see how one might perceive a glint of tyranny lying there.

‘Well, perhaps not Mao,’ Larry smiled. ‘But that duck could be the next Nelson Mandela. Think about it, Murgatroid. That bird has lived fearing for its life until you gave it a home. That duck was consigned to a life of ignominy, imprisonment...’


‘What was Mr. Bridlington if he wasn’t Mr. Mullins’s gaoler?’

‘Oh come of it!’ I cried. ‘It’s a duck!’

He held up his hand. ‘And that duck will get you into parliament or my name isn’t Larry “Bomber” Harris,’ said my rash campaign manager, Leonard Andrew Harris.

I gazed at the bird who gazed back at me with those small all-seeing eyes. It is then that I noticed the duck’s bill hadn’t quite been put on quite right. Its lower half appeared to slip over the upper half giving Mr. Mullins an underbite. And damn it if I wasn’t staggered to realise that it actually looked good on him.

Harris threw out the end his cigar and wound up the window. He turned to me.

‘You have to promise me, Murgatroid... Promise me that you’re going to keep that duck close to you. A lucky find like this is worth millions in exposure. I’ll make sure the press get a sniff of this story and I promise you that we’ll be the talk of the country.’ He gazed into the air and began to draw headlines in space. ‘Politician’s Duck Question! Murgatroid’s Feather Touch!’ He shook his head and thought for a moment. Suddenly his eyes were bright with revelation. ‘Quack If You’re Tory!’

Well, I’m not one to question the expertise of a man like Larry, and by the time we arrived at Murgatroid Hall, I was treating that creature like it was some kind of film star. Larry sped off immediately to call friends in high media places while I led Mr. Mullins through the hall and into the house. Everything was going fine until Mrs. Priggs caught up with us as I was about to show Mr. Mullins the dining room.

‘Mr. Murgatroid,’ she said, suddenly blocking my path. ‘You know I’m an honest and loyal servant, but I refuse to allow that creature into that dining room.’

‘I don’t see why not,’ I observed, perhaps a tad too breezily for a woman like Mrs. Priggs. ‘We’ve entertained many a piece of fowl in there over the years.’

‘That’s different,’ she said with a wag of the finger. ‘I will not be having feathers near people’s food. That just not right.’

‘Fair enough,’ I said, though I confess, I don’t like the idea of setting a precedent of the staff taking the upper hand with me. ‘I’ll take him to my study.’

‘You’ll do no such thing,’ she said, moving to my block my retreat in the other direction as well.

‘Then, Mrs. Priggs, where do you suggest that I to take Mr. Mullins?’

‘That is not Mr. Mullins. That is a duck.’

I had neither the time nor the energy to explain that it was really Nelson Mandela. I just looked at her with peaked eyebrows.

‘Where should I put it?’

‘I’ve got a very good idea where you can put it,’ she bit and then closed her eyes and seemed to count to some rather large numbers. When she opened her eyes again, she seemed infinitely calmer. ‘Why don’t you take your friend into the yard? You might like to tie him to the fountain. There’s water out there and I’ll be sure to keep that... that Mr. Mullins fully fed.’

‘You’d do that?’ I said, not a little relieved.

She looked down at our visitor. ‘I promise,’ she said, though I can’t account for the uncertain look in her eye.

My Thoughts On The Nanny State

What Ho Proles!

So, Tony Blair is planning to hire eighty Super Nannies across England to cope with unruly children. As a man brought up by nothing but nannies, I feel I’m fully qualified to comment on this plan.

It’s undiluted horse twaddle.

And you can quote me on that. The man doesn’t know a nanny from a nanny goat. Not every nanny flies in looking like Julie Andrews about to turn a bit supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. My nannies were all of a kind: overweight Teutonic Valkyries with a liking for mint humbugs and wielding the lash. What limited supply we may have of these women should be saved for the fight against Al Qaida or KGB hit squads and not wasted on some sniffling buffoon brought up on cocoa pops and hamburgers and now spending his days hanging around the local mini supermarket and throwing rocks at stray dogs. What troublesome children need isn’t a nanny but a damn good kick in the pants and something to keep them busy.

Which is why I was rather taken with an idea I read about yesterday suggesting that the little vermin should replace foxes in hunts. I've spoken about plans like this before, but my only concern is that it might reduce the quality of the hunts. Yet if it can be proved that the little tykes can sprint faster than a hound after the scent, I’d say lets give them a run.

I’m now sitting down to revising the next chapter of my memoirs. I hope to put it up sometime this afternoon.

Until then,

Monday, November 20, 2006

19. Mr. Bridlington

What Ho Proles!

‘Sir?’ said the man, breathlessly leaning against the barrow like some weak-kneed greengrocer struggling to shift a particularly prosperous potato harvest. ‘Sir?’ he said again but this time his face darkened as his voice struggled to overcome the noise of the crowd. In a blink of an eye, the stoop to his shoulder disappeared and he seemed to stand a foot taller as he turned to them and with a strangled scream, he brought the crowd to order. Then he seemed to wither even as he turned to look up at me.

‘Sir,’ he said, his voice now loud and clear. ‘Can I just say, sir, that you are a very great Englishman!’

You understand, I suppose, I wouldn’t normally repeat such compliments if it weren’t absolutely vital to the narrative. Nevertheless, it was just the sort of thing a man likes to hear after devoting so much breath to a long speech full of finely tuned political nuance.

‘Well, thank you so much for saying so,’ I replied from my lofty perch of the fruit and vegetable barrow. ‘One always likes to think one is doing one’s patriotic duty, Mr...’

‘Bridlington,’ said Mr. Bridlington. ‘John Arthur Alexander Bridlington: eighty seven years old, forty years with British Railways, and a life-long supporter of the Liberal Democratic Party until this moment. Now I’ll be voting for you, sir. I’ll be voting Murgatroid.’

‘Well, I’ve very glad of your support,’ I assured him.

From a distance, I must have looked like an overfilled sack of ripe apples; such was the pride making my chest swell and cheeks blush red. It always feels good to get a convert to the Tory cause but since Central Office has been giving us all coupons for every new member we bring into the fold, I felt doubly glad. It meant I now had enough coupons to get a new set of golf clubs and, in my mind at least, Mr. Bridlington was worth a whole nine iron.

‘Of course, Mr. Bridlington,’ I continued, ‘I can’t say that I’m totally surprised. You do look like the sort of chap who takes the running of the nation seriously and I always pride myself on being extremely sensitive to the feelings of our more senior citizens. Might I ask: what made you see the light at an age when, if you don’t mind my saying so, senility usually starts to creep in?’

‘Oh sir, I’ve still got my faculties,’ he assured me, tapping a finger to his bony brow. ‘It’s like I always say, sir: my prejudices keep me young.’

‘Do they indeed?’ I replied. ‘Well there might be some wisdom in that. My Uncle Hector Murgatroid lived to one hundred and ten years and until his dying day he could never forgive the Kaiser.’

‘It’s what you were saying, sir,’ he said, tugging at the lead that still wouldn’t come from the crowd. ‘It’s like you were saying... They want control.’


‘Brussels!’ he screamed, sending a new ripple of quiet through the crowd. ‘Those damn European bureaucrats. They want to control us all!’

‘They do indeed,’ I agreed and raised my voice to make sure that even an ignorant couple of pre-pensionable ladies loitering outside Dorothy Perkins could catch the full import of what I was saying. ‘They all want control. Whether you’re a bibliophile who fears your favourite book shop will turn into an pizzeria, or you are a larger lady confused by European gusset sizes, you know that we don’t need other countries telling us how to run out lives. Only a Murgatroid victory will keep your book shops safe. Vote Murgatroid and keep gusset sizes down to single figures!’

I confess that I know very little about gussets but judging from the applause from those outside Dorothy Perkins, I was sure that I had hit some kind of chord.

‘You should have control, sir,’ proclaimed Mr. Bridlington boldly as the applause died down.

‘You’d see to it that we’d come to no harm.’

‘Well, if you put it like that...’ I said with a large smile meant for the crowd.

But Mr. Bridlington was not for letting me off that lightly.

‘It’s my late wife, sir,’ he said as he grabbed my ankle. ‘The last words she said to me… She said: that Mr. Murgatroid would make a fine politician!’

‘Did she, indeed?’ I replied. ‘And those were her last words?’

‘Well, she did ramble a bit towards the end but I say she knew what she was talking about. And that business you were saying about the spring festival, sir. If that’s true, then I’m properly disgusted, I am.’

‘Ah, a bit of a pagan are we, Bridlington?’

‘Lapsed, sir,’ he said. ‘I am a lapsed pagan. Fourteen years in the robes but that was on account of my late wife. She believed in the old rituals.’

‘Well, you shouldn’t worry yourself,’ I answered. ‘I’ll be damned if officialdom will prevent centuries of religious service taking place in my fields.’

He released my ankle and patted me on my foot. ‘That’s what I thought, sir,’ he said. ‘And that’s what my wife thought. And it struck me, sir. It struck me as I was listening to you that you might be able to help me. You might be able to solve my problem with Mr. Mullins.’

I raised myself up and directed my words as much to the crowd as to our dear Mr. Bridlington.

‘We Murgatroids were created in order to help this country,’ I announced. ‘And if I can help any man, woman, or child, then it’s my duty to do so!’ I turned back to the fellow standing at my feet. ‘Now then,’ I said, ‘who is this Mullins and how might I help him?’ I’d run the name across the card index in my brain and drawn only a partial match. ‘I don’t think I know he fellow, unless he’s related to a Mrs. Mullins who used to breed horses for the Queen... By any chance, his first name’s not Daniel?’

The man bounced with a wheezing laugh. ‘Mr. Mullins isn’t married!’ Mr. Bridlington replied, tugging at the dog lead again. ‘And it’s just Mr. Mullins.’

‘So he’s a bachelor,’ I surmised. ‘Then who is this bachelor Mullins that goes without a Christian name?’ I couldn’t deny that by this point, I’d been quite taken in by this odd fellow and his problem.

He bent down and fumbled around his feet. For an awful moment, I had a horrible premonition that he was going to ask me to kiss his dog.

‘This is Mr. Mullins,’ said Mr. Bridlington, reappearing at my toes. His arms came level with the barrow but they carried on to thrust something large, soft, and white into my arms.

‘And that, sir, is the finest five pounds of duck flesh you’ll find in the country of C---- N----.’

I don’t know about it being the finest, but I was quite sure that it was indeed a duck. A duck on a dog lead.

The duck gave an unnaturally loud quack and the crowd began to roar with laughter.

I didn’t know what to do. I was mortified to find myself holding a duck.

Did I mention it was a large white duck.

A duck!

‘It’s a duck?’ I repeated a little too loud for some of the know-it-alls in the crowd who began to make quaking noises of their own. Then Mr. Mullins, the insolent fellow, gave another loud quack and pecked me softly on the nose.

‘He’s been a bother to me since my wife left me, sir,’ said Mr. Bridlington, busy zipping up his anorak. ‘I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I should do with him. But when I saw you up there, talking so much sense, I knew then. I knew as soon as you started to speak, sir. You can have him and may he bring you plenty of good luck, sir.’

And with that, Mr. John Arthur Alexander Bridlington turned around and melted back into the crowd.

I looked toward Larry ‘Bomber’ Harris who seemed to break out of some kind of spell. He stepped up to take the bird from me, but as soon as his hands touched the duck, Mr. Mullins pecked him viciously on the hand.

Larry gave a loud yelp like only a true classicist can yelp. I believe it was in Latin. He retreated, the damn coward, as yet more applause rang around the crowd which seemed to have doubled in size with every one of Mr. Mullin’s quacks.

I sometimes fail to understand people. A few moments earlier, they couldn’t even ask me a single question to save their rotten necks, yet now they were crowding around the barrow just to see a bundle of duck called Mullins.

I didn’t know what to do.

‘Any more questions?’ I asked, slightly too desperately.

‘Yes,’ shouted a shopper. ‘What you gonna do with y’duck?’

I didn’t appreciate the laughter. It says so much about a poor spirit that has infected the British people since the nineteen sixties. It explains the hesitancy of my reply.

‘Er...’ I said, hopelessly looking to my team for a cue. Mrs. Priggs only looked stern. Harris was rubbing his hand. My Man was still busy with the hecklers and the rest of them couldn’t be seen. In the end, I had to think on my loafers.

‘I’ll do what any other man would do with a duck,’ I decided to assure them in the noble tradition of political ambiguity.

‘You going to eat it, then?’ shouted another voice.

‘Perhaps that’s not a bad idea...’ I said with a grin.

At that the crowd turned ugly and when the ‘boos’ started to come my way, I was forced into a strategic reverse, disguised by a neat bit of verbal footwork.

‘Oh yes,’ I cried. ‘Perhaps my keeping it isn’t a bad idea at all...’ I said, trying to appear unaffected by the change in the crowd’s mood. ‘I’ve always wanted a duck of my very own.’

There is no way to explain people. No sooner had these words left my mouth than they began to cheer me. But as my father says: when you see an opportunity, bag it with both barrels.

‘Yes, I’m keeping it!’ I declared to yet another loud cheer. ‘Never let is be said that there’s no room in the Tory Party for a duck.’

‘I’d vote for a duck,’ shouted a wit at the back of the crowd. This too got a roar of approval.

‘Vote for the duck!’ shouted another.

Then another: ‘Viva Mr. Mullins!’

‘Viva indeed,’ I cried, holding Mullins up so everybody could quite literally have a gander. I accept any pun I’d hoped to employ here doesn’t work on account of lexical differences applied to branches of the family Anatidae. A ‘gander’ being a male goose. But this said, the crowd whooped it up for the damn bird.

‘This here is a Tory duck!’ I proclaimed. ‘And we’d be proud to have your vote.’

Ten minutes later, I climbed down from the vegetable barrow and into the arms of my mightily relieved campaign manager.

‘You did well,’ Larry whispered, ‘but thank God for that duck.’

‘Now can you take this damn creature off me?’ I asked, desperate to offload Mr. Mullins to somebody who might be more appreciative of his qualities.

‘Certainly not!’ replied Larry, stepping back and rubbing the back of his hand. ‘That duck’s your ticket to success. You carry him. Let people see the fine brute!’

He led me through the crowd and I had to climb into the back of the Bentley with the duck still in my arms.

As we drove off, the animal even had the temerity to stick its head out of the window.

It raised the biggest cheer of the day.

Sometimes, one must really wonder about the wits of the common man.

An Update and A Note on Gordon Brown's Fuel Plans

What Ho Proles!

Well it’s a new week and time to earn another pound or two. The Memoirs have come on apace over the weekend. After deciding to take a rest on Saturday, I still found myself chattering away into the tape recorder and My Man tells me this morning that another 4000 words have been added to the draft manuscript.

I’ve decided to hold back from posting the next two chapters this morning because I’ve made a new resolution regarding this blog. In addition to the chapters of memoir, which I know you’re all so eager to read, I’m going to increase my postings on everyday matters that are in the news. Each day, I hope to post a little bit of Murgatroid wisdom in the belief that it will make you look with clear all-seeing eyes on the muddle that is the daily news.

I also want to encourage new readers to the site, who may be put off by long posts. I see it as my chance to get in touch with a new electorate ahead of the next general election. As you will have realised if you’ve been following the ongoing draft of my memoirs from the 2005 election, mistakes were made. They are mistakes I don’t intend to make in the future. So, today, I wanted to start of with a paragraph full of wisdom about this plan of Gordon Brown’s to help the poor pay their fuel bills.

Now, I’ve never heard such guff spoken about fuel since the last time we filled the Bentley and the chap serving us refused to give us the usual complimentary wipe of the car windows. Brown has got it all wrong by giving these people something for nothing. They’ll simply squander the money on cheap beer and cigarettes and still find it difficult to pay the electricity bill. This is why I have an alternative scheme, which has been in operation in these parts for decades. Each winter, I allow the poor to collect firewood from off the estate. So long as it doesn’t come from living trees, they’re welcome to any twigs or branches that have fallen to the ground. They seem to quite like the way we work. Some cold winter mornings, I can see the distant tree line awash with the poor as they go about laden down with twigs. And a whole lot of good it does them too… Rosy cheeked and puffing along: they seem to relish the opportunity to be out in the countryside and catching a bit of fresh air.

Gordon Brown should see the sense in this kind of scheme. A national twig gathering policy should be brought into effect before the winter really hits. It is the sensible way, the only way, and the Murgatroid way.