Friday, January 26, 2007

On My Exile

What Ho Proles

My self-imposed exile from the world of blogging has been working wonders for my productivity. I’m churning out veritable tombs of moderately coherent ramblings which I’m trusting My Man to bash into chapter shape. He’s good enough as a butler, chauffeur, lackey, and trained assassin, but never better than when he’s given the chance to run with some material worthy of his pedantic mind. He might have no ability as a writer of original prose, but I think he does damn well when it comes to editing. He’s a credit to the comprehensive school system and acts as a constant reminder than no country in the world can have claim to have so many people bally well suited to the menial work necessary to support those of us in the ruling elite.

Now that I am having a momentary break from the memoirs, I might as well tell you of one notable event of the last couple of days.

As you can no doubt guess, Yours Truly spent the whole of yesterday in his study. It was mid afternoon and I was again bringing my mind to bear upon the terrible events of the last election. Just as I was cogitating over a suitable adverbial clause to describe The Hon. John Prescott, there was a terrifying scream from outside the house. Quill in hand and slippers on feet, I went dashing from my study only to hear more screams coming from the back of the Hall where the servant quarters are located.

The screams continued as I ran downstairs and they led me through to the kitchen and out through the back door. And that’s where I greeted a terrified Mrs. Priggs being carried rodeo-syle around the yard on the back of a large foul-tempered goat who clearly had an eye for rampage.

Without any hesitation I returned to the kitchen and rang for my man before returning to the yard where I watched for a couple of minutes as Mrs. Priggs flew past my teary eyes. When My Man finally arrived I told the slacker to help the poor woman and waste no time about it. I’m a man who doesn’t like to see a chap loiter when there’s a woman in peril.

Well, eventually, he did as he was told, bringing the goat to a rest, though not before making a rather unfortunate scene about a lump of flesh the goat’s horns had taken out of his thigh.

Mrs. Prigg’s looked quite flushed and once she’d finally stopped shaking, she told me that she’d been warned by estate manager that a goat had escaped from our small farm. She’d come outside to make sure all the doors and gates were closed when she came across the goat dining on her newest cotton bed sheets which she’d hung out to dry.

I’d like to say that he bravery didn’t go unrewarded but to my eye eyes it seemed that the sheets were ruined. Not by the goat, you understand, but by my totally inconsiderate editor who had managed to bleed all over those lovely white cotton.

Still, it was a rather curious incident which I enjoyed enormously. It provided a nice bit of light relief in a day full of heavy political memoir writing.

And so the journey continues.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Proverbial Second Bus

What Ho Proles!

Don't they always say that buses arrive in pairs. Well, here's the second double decker to pass you way today. I'm back with a bounce, as they say, or if not a bounce, then as near to a perfect yorker as possible. Hot jiggedy damn, those gales were strong last week! We’ve had nothing but intermittent power to the Hall ever since, hence my short absence from the high realms of bloggerdom.

I’m glad to say that my time hasn’t been poorly spent. I had a proper chapter of Memoir to post and post it I did, thus being able to bring a rare moment to pass. This is every single word written so far of my memoirs. That’s every one of the 55,000 or so words I’ve written since this I began the task of writing my political memoirs in October. That means I’m now venturing into fresh territory. Oh, I know this means nothing to you but there’s a definite frisson of excitement in the Hall. To mark the occasion, Mrs. Priggs is now making one of her special rice puddings, so I dare say it will be a rare day in one other ways too: the new drains will finally get their first proper workout tonight.

I’ve not mentioned My Man for a few days, leading some to speculate that he’d left my employment. This obviously wishful thinking on some people’s behalf. I’ve not mentioned the oaf since he doesn’t warrant a mention. He’s been a little put out since my Memoirs are currently detailing a time when he contributed little to my campaign. When he gets his next moment of glory, I’m sure he’ll buck up but for the moment, he gives off an air of indifference when he hands me the freshly typed pages.

I should really see about having a word with him. I don’t like to see a man become indifferent. I think I’ll have to give him something to worry about.

Back soon,

34. Murgatroid: Bullfighter

What Ho Proles!

There was a brief fleeting moment as I watched the bulldozer advance, when I felt the Murgatroid genes bristle under the brush of historical precedent. Murgatroids through the ages have taken part in some of the great military charges. We have been at the receiving end of them too. In the days before holidays to Kenya came with every box of Cornflakes, ours was a family big in the world of elephant hunts. Many a Murgatroid muzzle has been pointed towards the charging tusk of a bull elephant. A few of us even survived long enough to have the ivory shipped over and turned into decorative umbrella stands.

Alas, we now live in less demonstrative times and we rarely consider the pros of keep damp brollies in sensible places against the cons of the odd dead tusk. Instead these are crazy insufferable days when good Englishmen are charged down by bright yellow bulldozers.

‘You will not get away with this,’ I warned Finch, turning to look into the man’s eyes. ‘Tony Blair might be up for re-election but I swear I will make this about you!’

He grinned his own line of yellowing tusks. ‘I look forward to putting the council’s case,’ he said, his lips set wide and wet with excitement. ‘You have prevented us from doing out legally mandated job of removing a possible environment threat. We have every right… Every right by European law which states that…’

And that was enough! Mere mention of the E word had me reverting to stereotype.
‘European laws state nothing!’ I shouted and brushed the man aside with the butt end of my shotgun.

Striding out into the middle of the field, I put myself where I could be sure to be on an intercept course with the dozer. Either it or I had to back down and we Murgatroids don’t know the meaning of the word retreat.

‘For God’s sake, Jacob!’ shouted Miss Spoon. ‘It’s not worth it!’

Poor thing. She was not to know that there are only so many things a man can take in his life, so many times he has to step down from the brink. Moments of petty disagreement usually involving parking in disabled zones. But this was a matter of family honour, of English conviction, of British pride in the kind of people we are.

I raised the shotgun to my shoulder and pointed it at the bulldozer.

The beast squeaked and rumbled towards me like an asthmatic bull set on stun.

‘Jacob!’ screamed Samantha.

The bull rumbled on.

My finger rested on the trigger. I had the beast in my sights. I let go with one barrel.

The noise brought that sweet deafness where the world came to a rest but for the sudden departure of crows from a nearby copse. Then my ears cleared and I could see the machine still lumbering forward.

That’s when I first began to think that it wasn’t for stopping. I would be crushed beneath its tracks and Mathew’s Field would become Jacob’s Field and suddenly, immortality in a patch of mud didn’t seem such a good idea.

I was about to leap out of the way when the dozer came to a juddering halt.

Above the bucket, a bright orange hard hat appeared followed by a face.

‘Hand over the keys!’ I shouted at the man and showed him my gun.

Finch leapt forward. ‘You’ll do no such thing, Mr. Wells!’ he ordered. ‘Mr. Murgatroid won’t dare shoot you. It would be cold blooded murder.’

Well, I don’t know where he got cold blooded from. My gander was certainly in the pan and on the boil.

The man looked between Finch, myself, and Bessie. I could have told them that she rarely loses any argument. The engine died and he threw the keys at my feet.

I retrieved them before Finch who made a half-decent job of trying to stamp his foot on them. He only caught my knuckles.

‘Give them to me this instant!’ screamed Finch, looming over me.

‘When you get off my land,’ I replied, staggering back.

But it was all polite dressing to the fact we were now in what’s known in police reports are a ‘public order offence’. The damn coward stamped on my foot and tried to knee him. Both of us missed and in the confusion, I dropped the gun which discharged its other shell harmlessly into Finch’s associates who began to scream and cry just because a little rock salt had got under their skin.

Not that I gave it that much notice. Not with Finch’s fingers around my throat.

This was the stuff of the adventure tales you read as a boy. A flurry of blows well timed, this was not. I struggled with the man, using his slight disadvantages of speed and dexterity against him, while he used his weight against me. One moment, he pressed me back but then I would twist and the balance was tipped.

A minute passed with this kind of slow deliberate ballet before I managed to get a hand free. My knuckles shot out and connected with something long, cold, and involving nostril.

My blow sent him tumbling over like a mighty oak in a protected forest while in my hand I had the keys to the bulldozer. I wouldn’t be happy until they were a place that Finch couldn’t get them.

It was why I began to run. Odd, I know. Confessions come out at the oddest of times. But, indeed, I ran. Not quite sure how to do it at first, I simply lifted one leg up a little more quickly than normal and it seemed to work a treat. I ran, if this was indeed running, like no Murgatroid has run before. Then I heard a gasping sound and when I looked over my shoulder, Finch was coming after me. The damn blighter knew how to run two! It was most unexpected.

I urged my knees into more rapid motion and I soon found myself at the bottom of the field where a shallow brook cuts across the land, dividing the last of the Murgatroid estate from that of my neighbouring landowner.

Here, in order to give myself a breather, I have to explain about the neighbouring estate. Before 1990 and the big dot com boom, the estate had fallen into ruin after the last of the Marley-Wood family died, leaving no will and no issue. Whatever distant part of the family inherited it, they clearly had finer things to do than come live in C--- N--- (hard to believe, I know) so they sold the estate off to some developers who did nothing with until they sold it on to Mr. Falk.

Falk made his millions speculating on good things on the internet and had the good sense to move his money into gold before people realised that what these things weren’t as good as everybody had up to that point thought. Good things made a mint.

Since that time, the estate has been spruced up and the stables had been given a new lease of life. Falk lives there with his wife and one daughter and more staff looking after his stables than most British motor companies employ these days.

And it was to these stables that I intended to head. I have been on good terms with Falk and I was sure he wouldn’t mind my cutting across his land.

I went lolloping across the field, literally gazelle-like as I bounced through the long grass. I might say I might have found it quite invigorating had Finch not carried on his pursuit into this green savannah. Looking a little less nimble than I, he was a shade of purple less than fuchsia but certainly more than anything you could describe as ‘a healthy glow’.

I arrived at the stables, barely able to breath, but with Finch only a minute or so behind me. It was obvious now that the damn blighter would catch me.

I gazed around the empty yard and at a single stall occupied by a single horse disinterested in the bag of oats had been hung next to its door. Fearing that Finch would appear at any moment, it was into this bag that I thrust the keys to the bulldozer.

‘Give them back to me this instant!’ cried the voice followed by Finch who lumbered around the corner just as I’d moved away from the stable door.

‘Never,’ I said, waving my fist. ‘You’ve had your moment, Finch, but now it is my turn. That bulldozer will stand on that land, a testament to your imbecility!’

‘How dare you!’

‘Your insufferable intolerance!’

‘You can’t ignore the law, Murgatroid! It’s the law!’

‘Your buffoonery, your chicanery, your corruption, and your ultimate failure, Finch! You will now be a hunted man for I’ll let the country know that it is men like you who destroy everything that’s right and honest about this country.’

‘I’m not listening to this,’ said Finch, pushing me back. ‘Those keys are council property.’

‘You have no right to be on my land!’

‘Haven’t I?’ he said, raising himself to his full height. ‘And if I don’t do it, who will save all the goats and chickens you intend to sacrifice to your pagan gods?’

I confess, when he put it like that, I was brought up quite short. I’ve never thought of myself as a pagan. I’m firmly C of E and only agree to the damn harvest festival because it seems to keep the locals content.

Such was my shock that I didn’t notice that having caught his second or third wind, Finch launched into me. I caught him in the chest and fell back, the sound of tearing herringbone getting through all the pain to bring a tear to my eye.

A punch came ratting in and bounced off my chin but I responded in kind and neatly began to tenderise his right eye. More punches caught air before I managed to lift one through his defences. The uppercut connected squarely with his jaw and I heard teeth rattle.

And then a sound I didn’t recognise.

It was rather like a swish of air followed by a crack, followed by a sound that I could only describe as ‘urgh’ and the sudden piling of weight on my chest.

I looked up into Finch’s closed eyes but as I pushed him from me, I found myself staring up and stared into the face of Catherine Falk, daughter of the landowner and commonly agreed to be one of the most terrifying examples of young womanhood in the district. In her hand she was holding a large shovel with which I could only assume she had biffed Finch across the cranium.

‘Hello Mr. Murgatroid,’ she said. ‘Thought you needed a spot of help.’ She poked Finch with the shovel and turned to me, her face positively riddled with excitement. ‘I do hope he’s dead.’

Now do you see what I meant about terrifying?

Friday, January 19, 2007

33. Into the Breach, Dear Friends

What Ho Proles!

The modern conservative is a big beast in a world of gadflies and other insignificant political insects. Trapped between the safety of the old night and the threat of a new morning, we move carefully forward through the vast political jungle but only at the risk of squashing our core Tory supporters under our rather large cumbersome feet. We Tories are meant for a sedentary lifestyle, rarely moving from the shade of common sense. Not for us the small minutiae of government record or that ticket clipping tedium of policy making. We are animals of broad features, outline, contrast, big ideas, and noble concept. We live for Liberty and her sister Freedom, we live for drives through the countryside in a Ford Anglia before dropping into some quaint village inn where real ale is quaffed by the yard and rosy, cheeked, buxom, and wench are the words of the day. We are, in short, an animal native to the blessed shores we call Albion.
To switch metaphors with my characteristic fleetness of foot, I tell you to yarn me no tales about social equality and the welfare state. They are mere decorative flanges on the great political crust we all share.

Yet when we Conservatives fail to move with the times, we are prone to mistakes.

Take as you example, this humble man, pen in hand and with only good intentions towards you, my dear reader. I marched off that day April 2005, armed only with two polished metal pipes rigged together with a wooden stock in walnut and a well greased trigger. If I was to call myself a truly modern Tory, I should have realised the ineffectiveness of a shotgun against the armoured tank which is the modern bulldozer. I should have packed a shoulder launched antitank weapon or at the very least armed myself with some mines to disable it in its tracks. As it was, I was armed with the every faithful Bessie of the double barrels, one anxious estate manager, a failed journalist from the BBC, and Samantha Spoon who was proving to be a bothersome bee in my ear.

‘I do not pay you to make policy decisions,’ I informed the woman who seemed to have decided that if she was going to chaperone Harry Lamb to the bottom field, she would also take this opportunity to remind me of the implications of defending my home against intruders.

‘But this is political suicide,’ she whispered as we turned the corner of the field and approached the style leading to the festival site. ‘What will Central Office say?’

‘You can’t tell me that David Davies has never been in a similar situation,’ I told her. ‘The man’s built for moments like this. And don’t worry about what people will think. Harry here can write it up as a glorious defence of the homestead.’

‘I could do that,’ Harry agreed licking the end of his pencil as though raring to get scribbling.

‘You’re playing with fire,’ she warned me again as I set myself to climbing up the style.
I was in no mood for debate.

‘You worry too much Miss Spoon,’ I assured her and threw my leg over the fence.
Something tickled me from below and I felt the crotch end of my trousers snag on a nail protruding from the gate.

‘Now here is a situation that does call for worry!’ I said I carefully set about unhooking myself and jumping clear. ‘Let that be a lesson to you, Miss Spoon!’ I said, fingering a small hole in my herringbone tweed. ‘Politics may be about detail but therein are the dangers. Be it a nail or a bulldozer, each is as likely to derail a political career unless they’re dealt with as soon as you feel their nefarious tug.’ And with that, I looked out across the field to where I was sure another nefarious tug awaited me.

Those of you who have hitched your caravan and trundled into C--- N--- may know that the Murgatroid lands stretch for miles in nearly every direction around the Hall. You are also likely to know that we intensely dislike caravaners and there is a local ordinance which gives us the right to put you in the village stocks should you dare erect a chemical toilet in the shire.

However, so long as you have a rudimentary idea of the geography, you’ll recognise the name of Mathew’s Field, as it is known, the site of the annual festival.

It is the smallest of all the Murgatroid boundaries, backing as it does onto the Marley-Wood estate. Mathews’ field, itself, takes its name from an old servant of a great uncle of mine, accidentally added to the day’s tally during a pheasant shoot in 1747. The event might not have gone into the popular mythology of the region had my great uncle’s shot not caught the man in the thigh. He might have lived too, if only the doctor had got too him before my great uncle, who had served in many military campaigns, decided to put the poor man out of his misery there and then. When you consider the field still bears the servant’s name, I’m sure you’d agree that it was a small price to pay for his immortality.

I rounded the path, leading to the field I took my first glimpse of the giant bonfire.

The wicker man towered more than fifty feet above the field; the product of three weeks work by Mr. Hawking and the C---- N---- Festival Committee, a loose affiliation of farmers, shopkeepers, local organisations, and sundry druids who ensure that the traditional elements of the festival are adhered to. The role of Chairman of the committee had been handed down through generations of Murgatroids and I’d carry it on by attending the annual general meeting, preferring to leave the day to day running to those who enjoyed such matters. At moments like this, I confess, I felt 100% chairman and so damn proud of that mighty pile.

‘You’ve done a wonderful job,’ I said to Hawking, my breath fairy taken by the magnificent sight.

‘An handsome sod, isn’t he sir?’ said Hawking.

I might have replied but just then a bitter wind swept up the valley and I heard the coughing splutter of a diesel engine.

Hawking turned to look towards the bottom edge of the field where a set of gates block the road. A group of cars were parked beyond, followed by the yellow shape of industrial plant-hire cloaked in the distinctive thick black smoke of trouble.

‘I just hate to see so much work go to waste,’ he said.

‘They won’t take this from us,’ I answered.

Hawking’s face darkened, his brows rumbling down the sharp incline of his brow to come to rest blocking access to his eyes.

‘Don’t they know that this has been a tradition in these parts for millennia? Not centuries, you hear, but thousands of years?’

I shrugged my shoulders and shifted the weight of the gun under my arm. I was certain it would have a say or two in matters before the day was out.

Our small group wandered down to the end of the field where a gate opens out onto a lane that stretches towards the village at one end and the estate of another local landowner in the other.
Jeremiah Finch was not alone but had brought a team of officials with him. Three of them men appeared to be identical clones of a fourth, though as to which one of them was the original I could not venture to say. They each stood a hand and fist above six feet and to walk around them would take a journey to make Michael Palin go cold.

‘Mr. Murgatroid,’ said Finch as he approached. He didn’t extend his hand but gave me the non-committal nod of quangodom. ‘We have the proper paperwork to enter this property and dismantle that monstrosity,’ he began, thrusting sheets of tightly types writing into my hands. I cast them to the breeze and looked at the man in his eye. It’s the only legal language men of honour need.

‘You should have read those papers, Mr. Murgatroid. You’d have seen we have the law on our side.’

‘My passport is the only document I need,’ I replied.

‘Can I quote you on that, J.P?’ Harry shouted from some way back.

‘So you intend to block us?’ asked Finch, barely giving Harry a glance.

‘Damn right he does,’ said Mr. Hawking.

Finch looked at me and a strange smile perched on his lips. He waved his arm and the bulldozer roared into life. I thought it all a show given that Hawking had organised quite a roadblock to cover the gates but my heart missed a beat as the large monster turned on the spot and came crashing through the hedgerow.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

33. Prequel To A Bulldozer Fight

What Ho Proles!

‘Hello, hello!’ burbled Harry. ‘Did somebody mention a bulldozer?’

Now, confess it: you’re impressed by the merry zip with which this member of the BBC’s crack team of journalists gave eyeball to the breaking news in the room. Rarely has the license fee been put to better use, or surely a better use than sending David Attenborough out to befriend pandas or the whatnot...

I also thought it a reassuring sign of the down payment Harry had put his new lease on life that he had reacted more quickly than other less astute bods in the room.

I, for instance: I had remained perfectly motionless, shoe leather content to remain intimate with rug as I contemplated the deep swelling sensation that had risen from the pit of my stomach and was now choking me with my own anger.

‘A bulldozer, indeed!’ I growled and felt my face turn tomato.

A frightened Mrs. Priggs took a few steps back from the door, clearly aware that even a man known for his able leg break and a fiendish googly has need of a good run-up on occasion.

‘Those… those… those damnable caddish swine!’ I cried and barged my way out of the room.

Harry followed at my heels, suddenly acting like a reporter on the scent of a scoop full of something deeply unpleasant.

‘This all sounds rather exciting,’ he observed if not actually pestered in that way of all dedicated newshounds. ‘I sense there’s trouble afoot.’

I was glad Samantha Spoon had followed us out. She has a proven record when it comes to handling a crisis.

‘It’s the C--- N---- harvest festival bonfire,’ she explained calmly as I stormed into my office and pulled my favourite piece of ironmongery from the rack.

‘A bonfire would look good on camera,’ agreed Harry as I emerged out onto the landing. ‘Traditional setting in the countryside… Festivities of the common folk… The caring landowner sharing a pint of golden cider with his loyal… What’s the shotgun for, J.P.?’

I broke Twin Barrel Bessie open and checked the fine old girl’s chambers.

‘I believe it is still an English landowner’s right to shoot trespassers who venture onto his land,’ I said, thinking that by stating it so simply I wouldn’t be asked any more damn foolish questions.

‘Now that is the sort of thing we’d be interested in filming!’ declared this voice of the liberal BBC. ‘Sounds just about perfect! A Tory on a shotgun rampage is much better than Oliver Letwin in a toga!’ He paused a moment to reconsider his last point. ‘Though I do suppose it depends on how short the toga.’

I pocketed the handful of cartridges I had picked up with old T. B. Bessie and it wasn’t until we reached the top of the flight of stairs leading to the hall that I spoke again.

‘I often wonder if we weren’t actually taken over by the Soviets during the seventies,’ I said. ‘I swear that this council of ours is run by communists of the reddest hue. They simply hate tradition like I have a hating of Russian literature. Give me a good old fashioned thumping yarn with proper British full every half dozen words.’

‘So the council have been giving you grief, have they?’

‘I’ve already had two meetings with this man Finch, the so-called official in charge of bonfires. He also happens to be the brother of my main political rival, this Granger woman. The whole thing has turned decidedly personal and heavily menaced with political undercurrent.’

‘What happened?’ asked Harry, scribbling all this down as we walked. ‘You’ve not already had a shoot out, have you, J.P?’

‘Jacob stole the poor fellow’s pipe,’ said Samantha.

‘So what if I did?’ I snapped. ‘And in future, when in my presence, please don’t refer to that man as a poor fellow. Damnable cad is closer to the mark.’

‘Well it was a bloody foolish thing to do!’ she replied. ‘Stealing a pipe! You were only going to rouse the poor… the poor damnable cad. If anybody made this personal, it was you, Jacob.’

‘Me?’ I protested, treading another step before digging in my heels and pausing half way down the flight of stairs. ‘I didn’t arrive in another fellow’s home and light up a pipe before quoting EU regulations on smoke pollution.’

‘Sounds most uncivilised,’ agreed Harry, though if I thought I was about to find the might of the BBC on my side, I was mistaken about the appeal in the flash of a pair of blonde eyes. ‘I mean, Jacob, wasn’t the man a guest? And don’t such things fall under the umbrella of hospitality?’

‘Being a guest doesn’t allow people to take liberties,’ I assured him and carried on down the second flight of stairs in the hope that Harry in his wisdom would consider my words as a warning as to his own behaviour.

It seemed to do the trick.

‘And now you’re going to fighting him on the fields and beaches?’ he cried, his voice snapping smartly to attention. ‘How splendid!’ He scribbled something down in his standard BBC issue notebook then a moment later as his pencil came to a halt. ‘So, what’s wrong with having a bonfire?’ he asked. ‘It sounds like a very rural thing to do.’

I heard Samantha whisper the words ‘animal sacrifices’ and Harry gurgled something of his unease. I wondered again if he hadn’t caught a bit of that animal rights zeal his wife had so pitifully expended on the plight of dolphins.

I doubted him even more as we reached ground level.

‘If you don’t mind my asking, J.P.,’ he began, slowly. ‘But don’t you think that in the course of this election you’ve killed more animals than is probably good for a chap? Even if you are a Tory.’

For once, I let that Tory crack go.

‘It’s a local tradition,’ I answered. ‘We can’t start changing local traditions because of the bad publicity. Can we Mr. Hawking?’

‘No we can’t, sir, Mr. Murgatroid, sir,’ replied Mr. Hawking who was stood waiting by the doors to the hall. Hawking had worked on the estate for the last ten years, his main claim to fame each year being his overseeing the construction of the wicker man.

‘Wouldn’t mind, squire,’ he said, twisting his hat in his hands, suggestive of his inner strife, ‘but he’s the best work we’ve ever done. We’ve got him standing a good five feet higher than last year and that’s nearly fifteen feet higher than the year before. It would be a marvellous site, sir, to see him go up in flames.’

I had to smile. I’ve always had a soft spot for Mr. Hawking. His features remind me of a hawk or a weasel. Stoat-like was another phrase that often came to mind but the point was his thin face ran out towards the tip of his long nose and a small mouth lay hidden in the shadow cast by two large thin nostrils sporting decades of unclipped growth. I always think an ungroomed nostril is what sets many of these rural types apart from the modern world where too much character has been trimmed away by the invention of nostril clippers.

‘This bulldozer,’ I asked, ‘where is it and how might we defeat it?’

‘I’ve got a couple of lads blocking the road,’ said Hawking, putting his hat on his head. ‘But that’s a big machine and they said they have the right to come on the field and do what they like.’

‘We’ll see about that,’ I said, pulling on my old deerstalker and stepping out into the fresh morning air.

The day had failed to warm up and remained crisp like freshly laid linen. The eggshell azure of the sky matched the fierce determination I could see in the faces around me. Even Harry Lamb’s eyes shone with an intense blue as he walked and scribbled notes.

I turned to find Samantha brushed her hair from her eyes as she tried to keep up.

‘Look, Jacob,’ she said. ‘You have to promise me that you won’t go doing anything silly.’

‘Silly?’ I played with the world like it was a mouth ulcer. ‘When have you ever seen me do anything silly?’

He eyes fell to the shotgun under my arm.

‘Oh, this?’ I laughed. ‘This is only meant as a deterrent. And it isn’t even loaded. Or of it is loaded, I wouldn’t shoot it towards another human begin.’

‘What about a council official?’ she asked.

‘Then you have me stuck a metaphysical crossroads, Miss Spoon,’ I said. ‘And we’ll just have to see what comes lumbering around the corner.’

In Which Murgatroid Falls Asleep at the Keyboard

What Ho Proles!

My Man has hounded me this evening about posting something about something. I’ve told him I’m out on my feet, what with work intruding on my pleasures this week. However, to pacify the chap - he is prone to some terrible sulks - I’m going to say something about rum coves who demand that a chap scribble a few wise words when gone to the world. They are exactly the sort of fellows who take not account of the fact that I’ve written another 1000 words of Memoir, which, impressive though they be, are not fit for publication. Still, it has been work and I'm exhausted to the shiny tips of my overworked fingers.

So, in the immortal words of my Uncle Arthur, resident poet to Cheltenham Garden Association:

When you press a petal
You do not get perfume,
So why press a person
And hope to find a saint?

Or, adds the Honourable Jacob P. Murgatroid, should you hope to find wisdom!

Until wiser times when I am awake.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


What Ho Proles!

Two days! Two days! Two damnably devilish and downright despicable days!

Forgive my outburst, dear readers, but I would just like you to guess how long it has taken me to sort out the latest disaster to befall the fair village of C--- N---. It is the reason for my regrettable silence of the last couple of days and why, on this Sunday morning so thick with strawberry jam, I have yet to discard my pyjamas and I dictate this from the folds of my four-poster.

As you know, we Murgatroids are built for action; ours is a manly sinew primed for trouble. Yet when the danger comes lurking by the name of Stanley and happens to be in the shape of a prize Duroc-Jersey pig, then I believe you’ll begin to understand why this disaster I speak of was not one of those light breezy affairs solved in a blink of an animal’s eye.

Stanley, you see, is magnificent specimen of his breed; heavy on the hoof or indeed trotter, and with a top speed to match anything or anyone. He escaped from Mr. Jarvis’ yard late on Thursday night and as the news spread around the village on Friday morning, the Hall soon became overwhelmed by refugee families fleeing in fear of marauding pork. Being a good-hearted sort of chap, I gave them permission to camp out on the lawn and I asked Mrs. Priggs to provide them with hot tea and coffee at a damned reasonable price. I then set about organising search parties armed to the dentures with axes, picks, shovels, knives, crossbows… In fact, anything that might have the stopping of a pig in full flight.

No doubt you think it all a bit over the top but you should know that Mr. Jarvis prides himself on breeding the biggest, vilest, and most villainous porkers in the country. He claims their ferocity makes their meat all the more tender on account of a pig that riles the quickest has higher levels of juice upon the bone. Whether this is true or not, I am not one to judge, but I do know that the last time one of Jarvis’ porkers went sniffing free, the local A&E had to set up a triage to deal with the wounded.

Anyway, being a man who enjoys rampaging through the countryside on the hunt for villainous grub, I decided that I too would lead one of the search parties. It would be comprised of one part Murgatroid, one part his man, and the final part made up of Mr. Sedgewick who, being the local butcher, had a large stake in the recovery of the pig and is handy with the large cleaver he carries with him on all occasions.

We left the Hall that Friday afternoon and headed towards the river on the advice of Butcher Sedgewick who informed us that all pigs are attracted to water. Soon we were strolling along the stream and did so for much of the afternoon with no success as far as pigs go but with plenty of success in terms of pleasant rambling. As evening fell, we found ourselves in an idle little corner of the county where gossamers sail with motes lit by the low winter sunlight. The sound of the burbling brook was really quite delightful and I suggested to my fellows that we push on for an hour or two more, knowing that these pigs are sly creatures that love nothing more than nosing around at night.

It was down where the river meets Alder Brook that we found the poor creature. The porker appeared to have slipped down the embankment and couldn’t climb his way back up. It was a situation that had only worked to rouse his considerable ire to the point that he was squealing quite terribly.

I was not for taking any chances. We worked our way down the darkened bank and being the shooter in the party, I took the lead. Nor was I in any mood for making it a fair fight. I stopped a few feet above Stanley and levelled my gun, aiming for the fair point between his eyes. Squeezing the trigger, I knew I had only one chance. I would let him have both barrels and I would have given him more if we’d had any spare.

The explosion knocked me off my feet.

It took me a moment or two before I realised what happened. The gun had exploded in my hands! I could feel my face stinging with gunpowder burns and I quickly counted off ten fingers on two hands and found to my delight that slight scorching was the only damage. I was less delighted when I looked up and discovered that I had rolled down the embankments. I counted the two red glaring eyes at me from one large boar’s face.

I knew I was done for. I began to thank my maker for making my end such a dignified one and I closed my eyes waiting for the monstrous pig to hit me.

When it came, it was not as I expected. I felt something pull at my shoulders and in a moment I was lifted to my feet. I open my eyes to discover that My Man and Butcher Sedgewick had come to my rescue. As My Man diverted the attention of Stanley by dancing along the river bank, Sedgewick bustled my dazed self onto the old flat bottomed canal boat that had been left down there by the riverbank these last ten summers.

My Man soon joined us and I congratulated him for his quick thinking before we set about discussing what to do about our predicament. Stanley was now patrolling the bank around the barge and did not appear to be for moving along. Things had reached a point of impasse until My Man noted that Stanley was nibbling at the barge’s mooring. Alas, it was too late. Before we had chance to respond, the creature had cut us loose and were soon adrift, sailing into the darkness of the gently flowing river.

This is pretty much how things remained until mid-afternoon on Saturday when a small pleasure craft discovered the three of us waving desperately from the barge which had run aground somewhere near Puddleswich, twenty three miles from C--- N---. Affairs were quickly set in order, a rescue made, and arrangements made to get us back to the Hall. We discovered that another search party had discovered Stanley the following morning.

That is, alas, the end of the story and I must now close this rather poor apology of a narrative. My breakfast is made and I hear My Man approach.

I’m to have two nicely fried eggs and three rather delicious rashers of Stanley.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

In Which The Hon. Murgatroid Gets Naked

What Ho Proles!

Mrs. Prendergast stands six feet and a single inch in her stockinged feet. I know this as a fact because the first thing she did when she came into the house was to kick off her shoes and throw them into the far corner of the room. She still stood an inch or two taller than My Man who, if I’m honest about it, appeared not a little afraid of the woman I'd ask him to bring up to Murgatroid Hall.

‘Come on, deary! Clothes off!’ she demanded in that fine Dorset accent of hers.

‘Shouldn’t we make small talk first?’ I asked, unhappy to be disrobing in front of staff.

My Man shrugged and disappeared out through the door to the snooker and billiards room where Mrs. Predergast had set up her equipment.

‘No need to be shy, Mr. Murgatroid,’ she said now we were alone and from her bag she proceeded to remove a series of bottles all of which contained oils of varying hues and viscosities. I knew I had no option and quickly disrobed before I clambered up on the bench that Mrs. Predergast had so thoughtfully brought with her.

I should explain, before I go any further, that Ms. Predergast is the closest thing we have to a masseuse in C--- N--- and by masseuse I don’t mean one of those ladies of irregular income and even less regular moralities. No, Mrs. Predergast claims to be a professional in the field of bone and sinew manipulation. I don’t doubt that she’s a professional; I just doubt the nature of her expertise.

After yesterdays’ unexpected jog, I woke up this morning unable to move. Muscles had turned to hardened lumps of gristle in the night. The first thing I thought of was the Momentary Academic’s suggestion that I should hire a masseuse. Without a moment’s delay, I despatched My Man off to town with a fifty pound note and the promise of another if a masseuse could get to me before ten o’clock.

‘Oh, I can feel it, deary,’ she said as soon as she put her huge hands on my back. ‘All that tension. Tsk... Have you been exercising?’

‘Only a little light sprinting for my life,’ I assured her. ‘I was being chased by a pack of hounds.’

‘You should have let them catch you,’ she answered as she began to pile punches into my lower lumbar region. ‘Easier to sort out a few dog bites than some of these lesions around your spine. We’re talking months of sessions here, deary. Won’t be cheap to sort you out.’ She again clicked her teeth, which I couldn’t be sure were real, and I had the distinct impression she was taking a look around the place. ‘Not that you clearly can’t afford it,’ she added, ‘only you shouldn’t let yourself get into this state in the first place. It’ll take me an hour just to get the tension out of your shoulders. You are a tense man, aren’t you Mr. Murgatroid?’

‘In the right circumstances,’ I replied as she ran her knuckles up and down my spine. A handful of billiard balls from the rack behind her couldn’t have been any harder.

‘Well, I better get to work,’ she said, as though what she’d already been doing was a mere limbering up. She then applied a hand to my upper right shoulder and quickly removed my arm from its socket. ‘Don’t worry,’ she tutted as I let out a scream. ‘I’ll put it back when I’m finished.’

I lay there, slowly being reduced to muscle groups and anatomical details, all fastidiously described to me as they were butchered under hands trained by Shaolin monks to break open boulders.

That was two hours ago. The sensation has finally returned to my fingertips and I find myself able to type and to report that I feel a little better. Limber isn’t quite the right word as it doesn’t covey the right degree of flexibility I now enjoy in every limb. Now I come to think about it, ‘enjoy’ isn’t the right word either. Mrs. Priggs tells me that when I walk, I now look like the scarecrow from 'The Wizard of Oz'.

I’m now going to sit in a draft as I go and continue to write my Memoirs. I hope to get some cold in my joints in the belief it might stiffen me up. We men of the English aristocracy are not meant to be so limber. It makes me feel positively Californian.

Again, dudes…

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Where Murgatroid Goes A-Jogging

What Ho Proles!

Dashed exhausted but at least I’m here in once piece. Been out jogging. Oh, I know what you’re thinking and I can’t believe it myself. Never been one to go in for that organised fitness lark. I once walked in on Mrs. Priggs wearing her yellow lycra leotard and it put me off the business of keep fit ever since. Yet to say an ‘organised run’ might be a bit misleading. There was nothing organised about it.

I was five minutes into a walk around the estate before I remembered that Mrs My Man said she would be letting the dogs out this afternoon in order to clean their kennels. One moment I was enjoying the nip of the January air and then next moment I was sprinting for my life fearing the nip of six ravenous Doberman dogs made mean by their tightly coiled rubber bands.

I shouldn’t imagine I covered the hundred meters in anything more than ten seconds which by my reckoning is World Record pace and better than anything in the world of UK athletics for the past couple of seasons.

Anyway, it got the blood pumping and as you can see, I’ve posted another chapter of Memoir. I’m not leaving these chapters sitting on the machine for very long as I want to press on and get to the end of this thing. Polishing can become such a terrible chore and only makes it harder to press on into new territory. I’ve got 50,000 words and I’ve no idea how many more are in me. I would hope to have an end at 75,000 word. As events turn more dramatic, I’m hoping to polish them off quicker than I have of late.

I must now dash, though less literally than before. I’ve had My Man run me a bath. My muscles are in need of a good soak. It was quite an ordeal, though I know it shouldn’t have been. I hear that the best way to defeat a dog in battle is to push a pencil, for want of a better description, an inch or so below its tail. I don’t know if it works and I had no chance to experiment. I only had my frightfully expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen in my pocket and, if I know nothing else, I know that their platinum nibs were never meant for that kind of terrain. Still, I feel better for the run.

And on that point, I better go bathe.

Speak to you anon.

32. A Restatement of Purpose

What Ho Proles!

I can’t begin to express how important the reassurance of Harry’s normality was to me in those dark days of April, 2005. The man was alpha and omega of my schemes. Harry was the key to my election success. It would be Harry and his dulcet BBC tones that would explain my policies to the world.

I left Harry to get settled in one of the guest bedrooms while I gathered the team together in the nursery. My plan was to get Harry up to speed over the weekend, feed him a few scripts for the week ahead, and generally construct a proper timetable of events that would show me off in the best light. If I could have Harry in my pocket before his camera crew arrived, then this plan of mine would work out quite magnificently.

My main concern so far, was that the campaign had been idling along in neutral with too much of the load being carried by a duck now lost to the turbines of Europe’s largest passenger plane. It was time for Harris, Jenkins, Spoon, Cropper, Henderson and the rest, to pull their weight. And before Harry got there, I decided to lay out my plan and instil in Team Murgatroid a new sense of purpose, if not that large baggy thing called ‘resolve’.

‘We must face the facts, people,’ I began, striding up and down before the fireplace. I realised I should have something in my hands to look more purposeful so I picked up the iron poker from the fireplace. ‘We’re doing poorly and I will not continue to tolerate it,’ I continued, swishing the poker through the air. ‘I hoped to see some of that British spirit that built the great ships, scaled Everest, and first whipped huskies to the North Pole.’

Colonel Cropper looked up from his hands. ‘The Titanic sank,’ he reminded me, ‘Hilary came from New Zealand, and I believe Captain Scott was beaten to the South Pole by Amundsen of Norway.’

As you know, I’m not a man who likes to be quoted detail.

‘Go play with your knobs and dials,’ I snapped and in my anger whipped the table with my poker thinking it a switch. Splinters flew even more readily than the gasps.
Embarrassed at the hole I’d made in the heirloom, I threw the poker back into the fireplace.

‘This simple truth is that we’re not doing well enough,’ I said, more soberly.

‘Speak for yourself,’ said Melvin Jenkins who had been so far been preoccupied by a drumstick and was now wiping his fingers on a napkin. ‘I’m doing quite fine. That was a lovely bit of chicken.’

I would have taken the man to task except I was reminded of the previous morning when I’d laid him out with my slipper. Besides, Melvin had come up with the plan to involve the BBC.

‘Irrespective of how we all feel,’ I continued, ‘I’m behind in the polls and people think worse of me now than when we began sixteen days ago. People see me as a man taken to throwing ducks to their death and the noises coming out of Central Office are no better. They’ve even threatened to conspire against me and vote Lib Dem.’

‘Dashed unfair of them,’ said Jenkins as he paused to wipe some chicken grease from his mouth.

‘Unfair perhaps but it also sounds eminently reasonable,’ I replied. ‘The only good news to come out of this constituency is that Mr. Mullins met a painless end. And let’s face it: that’s not much of a recommendation for voting Conservative.’

I turned to Samantha and Cyril, who were supposedly in charge of the local end of the campaign.

‘Cyril,’ I said with my finger wagging. ‘I hate to point fingers but where are the fetes I’m supposed to be opening? I’ve yet to kiss a child. Though I don’t relish the prospect, it is a job that simply needs to be done. And Samantha: where’s the campaign of leafleting going from door to door? I don’t mind wearing out shoe leather if it means we bring in the votes. Why has it not been arranged? Where is my high tempo campaign sure to leave the Lib Dems tailing in my considerable wake?’

Cyril leaned forward. ‘If we’re being honest, J.P., I decided that it was best to keep you away from the voters.’ He looked at the hole I’d made in the table. ‘I thought that what they don’t know can’t hurt us.’

‘You see!’ I said, sending a hand to ruff up my hair in astonishment at what I was hearing. ‘Can a man be victorious when surrounded by such flim flam? I want us to be bold. There are only twelve days left to turn this around.’

‘Then what do you suggest?’ asked Larry, who had been silent all along.

‘You’re my campaign manager,’ I challenged him. ‘What do you suggest?’

His eyes twinkled with mischief.

‘I would say make use of the friendly BBC chap you’ve got hidden away upstairs. We should challenge the status quo. Make the most of your positives. Stand in the face of the council and support the harvest festival. This is your land. You’ll do with it as you please and damn the consequences.’

‘Here here!’ cried Cyril.

‘That’s precisely my thinking,’ I agreed, at which point, a gentle knock on the door signalled the arrival of the gentleman from the press.

Harry came in looking just a little wary of the gathering.

‘No need to stand on show, Harry,’ I said, ushering him into my seat at the head of the table.

‘Meet my select squad of players. Cyril, Larry, Colonel Cropper, Melvin there with his chicken.’

‘Lovely chicken,’ Jenkins agreed.

‘And Samantha here will be your liaison with me throughout the campaign.’

‘Delighted,’ said Harry, raising himself slightly in his seat and flashing Samantha one of his I-work-for-the-BBC smiles.

I resumed my patrol of the fireside rug.

‘We’ve been just considering what I’d like to show you this week,’ I said. ‘After all, can’t have the BBC come down and not have a good story ready for you.’

‘Oh no need to worry yourself,’ he said, taking a notebook from his inside jacket pocket. ‘I’ve been told to follow you around and ask you plenty of leading questions.’

‘Have you now?’

‘I’m meant to lure you into saying something compromising or get you to dress in a toga. I understand they’ve got something nice going on with Oliver Letwin that department.’

‘A toga?’

‘I should imagine any odd ceremonial garb will do.’

My heart skipped a beat. It was the custom that during the annual harvest festival I wear my druid’s gown.

‘Don’t look so worried,’ Harry smiled. ‘You’re the chap giving me a second chance. I’m not about to let you down.’ He shrugged. ‘I just thought I’d mention it just in case you were thinking of doing anything you might not want the general public to see.’

I was about to explain my newest idea about holding a procession through the town when there was a knock on the door. Mrs Prigg’s head appeared around which was spread a scowl blacker than a coalman’s armpit.

‘Mrs Priggs?’ I said. ‘I thought I told you we weren’t to be disturbed. This is a high level meeting.’

Scowling a little towards Melvin who was waving another drumstick admiringly in her direction, she looked at me with one those damn impenetrable looks of hers. ‘It’s Mr. Hawking, sir,’ she said. ‘He’s come to see you on a matter of vital importance.’

‘Vital importance? What nonsense is this?’ I snapped. ‘I suppose he’s run out of firewood for that blasted wicker man? Can’t you just go and tell him to chop down another copse? We have more than plenty…’

She stepped into the room and held the door open for me.

'He’s most insistent that you see him,’ she said calmly. ‘It would appear that some men from the council have arrived with a bulldozer.’

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

31. A Bit More Lamb?

What Ho Proles!

Harry Lamb’s fly was firmly fastened when he arrived at the Hall the next morning. It was the only caution he displayed, arriving at the Hall in a mobile scrapyard cunningly fashioned into the shape of a dull green Ford station wagon with a broken tail light. More worrying than the vehicle’s bobbing lurch produced by a bent front axle was the sticker pasted onto the back window that demanded justice for South Atlantic dolphins.

As you might know, I don’t like to rush to make any rash judgements about a man, woman, or child if I can help it. But Harry had clearly pushed his final penny over a hill called ‘Bonkers’ at some undetermined point in the past. His ecological bent was a worrying characteristic I had singularly failed to observe during the Friday afternoon we’d spent together.

Though I went out that Saturday morning to greet him with a rather gracious bounce to my step, the sight of the sticker only caused me to worry that I’d invited one of those climate control freaks onto the estate. It would be, I hope you agree, a most worrying development.

‘You’re a big fan of the dolphins, are you then, Harry?’ I asked, getting to the essential nub of my concern whilst still trying to look and sound a touch nonchalant. Even as Harry began to potter around his car, I could feel that my calm was not for sticking and I had to push my hands deep into my trouser pockets and kick idly at the gravel in order to stop myself rushing inside for the shotgun.

He looked up from under the bonnet of his car where he had disappeared to apparently fiddle with the battery.

‘Oh that?’ he said, casting an eye to the sticker. ‘My ex-wife works for Greenpeace,’ he explained sombrely. ‘She got the house and the kids in the divorce settlement. I got the car and a year’s subscription to the World Wildlife Magazine.’

‘I never know you were divorced,’ I said, wanting to hear about marital problems about as much as I wanted to know more about bottle-nosed squid catchers. ‘I didn’t know you were even married.’

‘Oh, we’ve mutually agreed to terminate that most holy and blessed of states four years ago now. It was a difficult time but I think we’re both better people for it. At least I can leave the loo seat up whenever I like.’

‘A better person indeed,’ I said but feeling like I had to add something supportive asked: ‘So, what was it? Another man or separation on the grounds of mental cruelty vis-à-vis one woman’s obsession with sonically superior sub-aquatic mammals? Don’t tell me it was both, Harry. I couldn’t bear to think of you as one of those poor men cuckolded by the type of chap who wears Angora cardigans and takes rambling holidays in the Brecon Beacons.’

‘It was her tennis coach,’ he said as he ripped a yard of cable free from the engine. ‘Six feet two, strong backhand, and, according to Mary, a man with a more detailed knowledge of the geography of the Southern Atlantic than I ever could ever muster. I tried to make the marriage work. I even took out a subscription to National Geographic to see if it helped.’

‘And did it?’

‘In the long run, the backhand proved more attractive than my new found understanding of the Flecheiros tribe tribes of central Brazil.’

I did feel sorry for my old friend, forced to face his life’s one big mistake at every cruel turn of his life.

‘It usually is the tennis coach,’ I assured him. It was a conclusion I felt I could reach having spent years hearing about other men’s problems with their spouses. ‘It appears to me that it’s the growth sector for chaps with an athletic bent and an unethical interest in other men’s wives. I believe it’s something to do with the cut of tennis shorts which display a man’s hairy knees to their best advantage. The female of the species seem to get some odd ideas when they see hairy knees at their best advantage. In fact, not so much advantage as game, set, and match…’

I looked back to the car. ‘Still,’ I sniffed, ‘thought you would have had that sticker out of the back window. Not the sort of thing you’d want to be judged on, Harry... Not when hairy kneed tennis types have such a high going price.’

‘Don’t you think I’d have it out of there in an instant if I could? I was warned at my last MOT to leave it there since it’s actually performing a key structural job in holding the back window in place.’

Say what you want about Harry: you can’t fail to admire his bravery it not his flagrant disregard for his own life.

‘And now the battery’s gone dead?’ I remarked as he hefted it from the engine and dropped it on the floor. ‘You see now why I’ve never married? Marriage can be damn tricky business and there’s not much chance of getting a jump start once the battery’s gone dead.’

‘Nothing wrong with this battery,’ he said, tucking it under his arm before he picked up his overnight bag.

‘They why did you remove it?’

‘It’s the locks,’ he said as though it made the most obvious sense. ‘They don’t work. Can’t lock the car. I always take the battery out with me when I’m not going anywhere. Can’t steal a car when it hasn’t got a battery.’

‘You have a point,’ I said looking over the ruin. ‘So you think somebody might steal this little death-trap of yours?’

He kicked the front wheel as he turned to me. ‘I only worry that if somebody does steal it they will end up wrapped around a lamppost. In this compensation culture of ours, you know I’d be to blame.’

By now, you can see that Harry was now speaking my kind of lingo. All my doubts had receded, gone the way of Mrs. Prigg’s rice pudding of the night before.

‘So glad to hear you’ve not turned green on me, Harry,’ I said, slapping him on the back as we entered the Hall.

‘Green?’ he laughed and we both enjoyed the silence that usually accompanies such undiluted absurdity.

Monday, January 08, 2007

In Which Murgatroid Suffers The Blues

What Ho Proles!

I feel that my usual tank of good humour has finally drained, leading me to have what is commonly known as ‘a bad day’. I’m well used to having blank sheets of paper I doodle upon before casting them aside, but rarely do I have a day that fits the same purpose.

It’s not that I’ve had a day of things being spectacularly bad, you understand; it’s more in the air than that. The sky has not cleared since dawn and the day has been in perpetual gloom. To my mind, this is also the first day of the New Year given that I’m now unable to look back at holidays but find myself pushing on into the old pattern of business weeks devoid of celebration, decoration, and inebriation.

I also begin to wonder if My Man’s despair has spread, and that his failure to register in that damn drama competition has become contagious. I feel sorry for the poor chap. There must come a point when effort that goes unrewarded becomes unbearable. He tells me he wrote what he believed to be a comedy and I suppose that only doubles his depression. There’s nothing more unfulfilling than the silent response to a joke. And humour is such an underappreciated form of art. I've insisted that the next time he enters one of these competitions, he writes a tragedy full of middle-class angst. To be honest, I don't know what he was thinking...

Yet I also wonder how one goes about measuring spectacular failure except by comparing it to other people’s spectacular success? Which leads me to note, in passing, that Jeffery Archer is to publish his own version of Judas’s tale. One has to admire the chap’s ambition. But that’s the way of we Tories: we do not accept a ‘no’ from the world, irrespective of how mean are our talents.

As for myself, the Memoirs have come to a halt, though I did press myself to write a few hundred words today. There is a narrative mess going on in my mind and I can’t clear it. I find myself dwelling on words not paragraphs, sentences not narrative arcs. I must stick to the facts and describe those dark days of the last election. Forgive an old Tory if this is one of those odd posts when I don’t try to make sense of anything.

Yet in the spirit of trying to buck up, let me congratulate Momentary Academic who I see posts her 500th entry today. Blogging is such a strange sport, is it not? It is a race with no end, a poorly-defined middle, and, quite often, a half-hearted beginning. Nevertheless, as one who has yet to post anywhere near that number of posts, I tip my top hat towards the States. Here's to another 500 posts.

In the undoubted belief that I’ll be better tomorrow.

I remain, your humble servant.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Rat End

What Ho Proles!

The last few days have I’ve been in something of a holding pattern with regard to life, My Memoirs, my political career, and yes, even this blog. I blame the rats of course, but I’m also suffering the malaise from Christmas. Next week, I hope to be more focussed and return to my normal habits. Updating a blog is difficult while a man’s concerned by rats the size of… Well, better not go there. You probably wouldn’t believe you if I told you... Tractors! Ruddy big pink eared tractors!!!

However, there’s good news on that front. At approximately three o’clock yesterday morning, we were awoken by screams coming from the potting shed. I threw on my dressing gown and grabbed the shotgun. Once Mrs. My Man had given the guard dogs with rubber bands a tune on the old magic whistle, My Man and I proceeded to investigate.

‘You go first,’ I said to him as I shoved him with the barrel. I'm not one to avoid danger but he does enjoy blacking up his face with mud as his army training advises. I could barely stop him creeping on towards the shed and a slightly nauseating sound that resembled a man wearing two buckets of eels on his feet.

His disappeared into the darkness and was gone for all of sixty seconds before I heard another yell. Only this time, it came from My Man who came running towards me followed by a six foot creature covered in heaven knows what. I raised the shotgun and was about to fire when the creature mumbled the words ‘Daisy Dairy’.

Well, I hope you remember my mentioning yesterday that the milkman had gone missing. For this was he: newly emergent from the rats’ nest.

We bundled him to the kitchen where a few glasses of brandy brought the man around and he proceeded to tell us of his subterranean nightmare. Turns out that he’d seen the rats when delivering the milk the previous morning. He’d decided to follow the damn critters based on some odd fascination he’s had with wildlife since taking watching Bill Oddie give advice getting close to our garden friends. He explained how he’s slipped down the rat hole and been knocked unconscious.

Anyway, today, with the milkman’s description of the burrows to aid us, we ventured underground and found the home of the rats. I’ll forgo the description. Simply think of your Jules Verne and ‘Journey to the Centre of the Moon’. My Man soon had the den packed with high explosives and we made out of there as quickly as possible. The explosion was terrific and I believe bits of rat have been spotted nearly eleven miles away.

The bottom line is that the rats are no more and I can face the New Year with a proper degree of optimism. Many thanks for the support during this difficult time. I hope this also means I can get back to the memoirs and give the sonnets a rest.

As we were.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

More Rats

What Ho Proles!

I'm tired, miserable, not a little drunk, and I've had sonnets and rhymes up to my ears! So listen here when I say that we need to get one bally thing straight: this rat problem is not to be laughed off as one of my idle fancies! This is not a game. Nor is it trivial. We’re overrun by the beasts and some are as big as Irish wolfhounds. I know you scoff but we’ve had no milk today and I’m sure the two events are linked. The milkman’s cart was found at the gates at the foot of the drive and we followed large paw prints through the damp mud to a large hole in the ground. A smashed bottle of full cream was found by the opening and I now fear the worst for the poor chap.

This rat problem is beginning to seriously plague me, if you’ll excuse the deliberate pun. After the milkman’s disappearance, we had ourselves a little fun with some high explosives which My Man had managed to acquire via his contacts in the demolitions trade. It’s better not to ask too much. Our plan was to scare the little blighters from out of their dens and then blast them with the shotguns. I'd thought of setting the dogs on them and making a hunt out of the adventure but to be frank, I just wanted rid of the beasts.

It’s not much of a story to tell. Loud noises were made. Windows shattered. Foundations rocked. Not a sausage. Not a rat. Rodents A1. Shotguns unused. Seems the little tykes are immune to loud bangs. And that was the rather dull product of our day in the field. I'm planning a little thing with cheese tomorrow. We'll see if that works.

This evening, to calm my nerves, I set myself to trying to write another sonnet in the hope it would encourage My Man to come out of his sustained mood for having failed to figure in this here drama contest he’d hoped to win. I confess that I'm not finding these sonnet things easy to write and I refuse to be beaten by them. My only consolation is that My Man seems even less capable of mastering the form.

So, with apologies to both Momentary Academic and Eliza, below are our less than worthy attempts at sonneteering. I’m beginning to feel that rats provide less than the ideal subject for the metrical line.

The Hon. J. P. Murgatroid’s Sonnet for ElizaF
On Our Disagreement Over The Measurement of the Genus Rattus Norvegicus.

’Twas an inch she says, though a yard I meant
As the length of a single courtyard rat.
I know it’s true since it’s the measurement
Of the one we shot as it charged at the cat.
And how would you go and measure a rat?
I am so glad that you’ve finally asked!
Since from black tail to tip was a span that
Was the most repulsive job I’ve ever tasked.
But My Man’s really quite reliable
Though when it came to measuring the length
Of a tail that’s so ruddy pliable,
He failed to stretch it out with all his strength.
So an inch she meant, and a yard I say
And the truth is a thing for another day.

My Man’s Sonnet On Explosives

Kaboom! And two points on the Richter Scale
When wet earth trembled and the dry halls shook.
From My Master’s face, the colour did pale
And smoke cleared to the frightened scream of rooks.
Yet the giant rats had survived the blast:
Rodents immune to nitroglycerine,
Shotguns, poisons, and even hungry cats…
The toughest critters I have ever seen!
So now as we dwell on what has befell
All the instruments of Murgatroid might,
We gather together in living Hell
Preparing cheese to figure in the fight.
For though the rats do squeak their tiny cheer
Tomorrow’s the day cheddar goes nuclear!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Quick Sonnet

What Ho Proles!

Once the idea was in my head, I had to act. Our dear Momentary Academic has set us all a challenge to write a sonnet in less than an hour. My Man ran teary eyed from the room when I suggested he join in. Alas, I didn't have an hour, but here is my attempt. I confess that the scansion is less honest than the sentiment.

Sonnet On A Rat

Scallop jawed wanderling of underwood,
Knaw-faced being of these old panelled halls.
I would promise you much, if only you could
Stop nibbling your way through cables and walls.
Come into the light where my aim might find,
A hind quarter or a dark beady eye.
You think you’re lord and master of your kind,
But I say you are no more than a fly.
Come see me here, with my twin barrels locked
With shells of powder and sweet leaden grain.
Test me by running to yon grandfather clock
And see we Murgatroids are of steady aim.
In the end know this, my sewer dwelling friend:
We Tories will chase you to the World’s very end.

Until tomorrow when I promise you no more of my doggerel.


What Ho Proles!

New Year! And can the Good Love not save us from them?

The Hall has been gloomy for much of today, or at least, ever since earlier this afternoon when My Man received a rejection letter for his latest literary output. He fancies that he has a gift for play writing and this latest disappointment is sure to make him more surely than ever. I tell him to keep up his chin and not let the blighters get him down, but you know what these emotionally fraught artistic types are like. It’s all doom, gloom, and feelings of being unworthy. I fancy I’ll have to take him to task if it goes on for much longer. All I can do is try to keep the poor man busy and tell him that things aren’t that bad.

Between ourselves, I can say that things really are that bad. If My Man doesn’t achieve that breakthrough soon I believe he’ll give up on his ambitions and settle for something mundane. Won’t be a bad thing if he does. We are not all blessed with the literary gene and some men are more suited to more manual tasks, such a slaying rodents the size of Canadian lumberjacks, for example.

Which, by a sheer quirk of coincidence, brings me to the real reason for this post: the Hall has rats!

I don’t mean that it has never had rats before. I believe some statistic proves that we’re all living on average six feet away from one of the things. What I meant to say was: the Hall has rats that are the size of small dogs or large cats, depending on your preference. They turned up on New Year’s Eve and are getting more confident by the hour. Having been reading Camus’s ‘The Plague’, you can imagine how fretful I’ve become.

The pest control chap visited us today and turned white when he saw one of these critters go bounding gazelle-like across the drive. Says he’s never seen a larger rat in his life and wonders if he has the ammunition to knock them out. I tagged one today with the shotgun but I don’t believe it even slowed the animal down one bit.

Rest assured, this subject will keep me busy for the next few days but I hope to keep you abreast of the hunt. We’re heading down into the sewers tomorrow.

Until then and might I say that it’s damn good to be back, irrespective of My Man’s constant literary failure and any rodent problems. I also hope to have a sonnet written in response my dear Momentary Academic's excellent suggestion that we start the New Year with a bit of literary fun. I'd ask My Man to write one as well but I don't think he could handle any more criticism.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year, the whole bally lot of you!!!!

We've got a bit of a do going on here at the Hall, so if you're in the neighbourhood, pop your dressing gown on and pop in. Help yourself to the champers! Hey now! I bright spark has got a conga line going. Better get in their unless I'll be at the back!

I now declare that this year will be the year of the Murgatroid!!!