Tuesday 1 July 2008

Rather an insult to pigs

13st 12lb; zero alcohol yesterday; 1,314; Newcastle upon Tyne.

Decision day has arrived at last, and I have seen the answer in blue and white. The village postmaster drew it to my attention as soon as I walked through his door to buy my daily newspapers, and there was the official proclamation spread out, poster-sized, on the counter: “branch proposed to remain open”. His gloom was palpable. He had been so looking forward to collecting his redundancy cheque and closing the doors of his hereditary retail undertaking for the last time, perhaps pausing just long enough to lob a series of V-signs at the demented elderly residents who are his mainstay, before jetting off to spend the rest of his life sitting on a beach drinking something long and cool with a plastic umbrella on the top. As it is, thanks to those bastards at the Post Office, he fears that he is going to be stuck there for years watching octogenarians painstakingly counting out their small change to buy a pint of milk or the Northumberland Gazette. I commiserated to the best of my ability, pointing out that the European Union would almost certainly demand another review of facilities within another year or two, as part of their obsessive drive to abolish national postal services (or indeed anything else defined by the adjective “national”).

I then drove to Newcastle for lunch with the editor of the region’s leading daily newspaper and the Conservative prospective Parliamentary candidate for my own constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is a mystery to many how one of the most reactionary parts of Britain comes to be represented by a Liberal Democrat, who has held the constituency since a by-election in 1973. That arose when Lord Lambton (Con) famously resigned the seat after a “three in a bed” sex scandal, gleefully reported in the News of the World. Though in fact it seemed only to have enhanced his standing with all the constituents I have ever discussed it with. Apart perhaps for a handful who were mildly troubled by the fact that one of the two prostitutes concerned was a bit foreign looking.

The seat has remained in Liberal Democrat hands thanks to a squeeze on the natural Labour vote in the rather less appealing, southern part of the constituency; and the inevitable chameleon behaviour of any Liberal Democrat candidate or MP, making this Methodist lay preacher an unlikely but keen supporter of the hunting fraternity, to give but one shining example. He is also a master of PR, quick to take credit for anything good that happens in the constituency (though admittedly that is a pretty infrequent event). He has a phenomenal memory for faces and cases (unlike me) and is, most importantly of all, a very, very nice man. In fact he would make the perfect AA patrolman, so long as you just wanted one to turn up and suck through his teeth and commiserate with you about what a nuisance it is breaking down, rather than rolling his sleeves up and getting your bloody car fixed and back on the road.

“Nice but ineffectual”. That will be his epitaph. Which is, at least, a damn sight kinder than anything that is likely to appear on my own gravestone. And the challenge to the Conservatives has been further increased by the appearance of the sitting MP in the recent Birthday Honours List, so that he is now Sir Alan. Vastly enhancing his appeal to all the shallow folk like me who are only really happy when they are voting for someone with a title. Why do you think Lord Lambton got elected in the first place?

It has been said by someone that a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine, or a whore without a fanny, or something like that. At any rate, I was more than a bit disappointed to find myself in the company of a man who was glowing fresh from the gym, de-toxing after three days of carousing in the corporate hospitality tent at the Northumberland Plate race meeting; and a woman who was taking a highly responsible approach to her afternoon drive to the other end of County Durham. Thank God at least I was paying for lunch, so was able to order some booze for myself rather than feeling obliged to smile sweetly and say, “No, that’s quite all right, water’s fine for me, too.”

It would be a hideous breach of confidence to reveal anything of the discussion over our meal, but when the subject of the paper’s political balance came up, I did point out that there was one surviving Tory columnist.

“Who’s that, then?” the candidate asked.

“Well, me.” I replied,

Oh dear me, no. Indeed no no no no no, as Mrs Thatcher might well have said. Apparently my brand of Tory anarchism is well beyond the pale in the New Conservative Party led by “Dave”. I think the words actually used about me were “to the right of Genghis Khan”. It’s all because I haven’t met “Dave”, it would seem, and don’t appreciate how fantastic he is. I didn’t like to point out that most of the people I know well who have met him are financial journalists who felt that they had been legged over by him during his fairly brief stint handling corporate communications for Carlton Communications. I asked one frightfully polite lady hack why she hated him so much, and she replied, succinctly, “because he is a lying c***.” I had never heard her swear before, and I don’t think I have heard her do so since, if it comes to that. So I concluded that whatever he did must have been pretty bad. It’s one of the reasons why I did not vote for him in the Tory leadership election. But then the bloke I did vote for has just thrown everything up to fight a by-election against Miss Great Britain and a man who thinks the world is run by disguised lizards, so what do I know?

Lunch in what is supposed to be one of Newcastle’s better restaurants left me feeling hungry and unsatisfied all day, a bit like one of “Dave”’s speeches. It’s always a mistake to go food shopping when one has an appetite, and I called in at Marks & Spencer on the way home because I had a batch of their reward vouchers from my credit card that were just crying out to be spent. This was a mistake on several levels.

First, I had forgotten to bring my own shopping bag with me and was accordingly invited to make my contribution to “saving the planet” by paying either 5p per disposable plastic bag, or 10p per “bag for life”. A quick value for money calculation led me to go for two of the latter, but they were not actually big enough to accommodate all my shopping. As a result, when I got home, I wasted some time searching the car as I tried to work out why I only had two 49p pink grapefruit, when my receipt clearly showed that I had paid for three.

Secondly, and more importantly, despite this minor setback I succeeded in conveying home rather a lot of things I did not really need, and using them to make a bit of a pig of myself in the course of the evening.

Except, now I come to think of it, that that is probably rather an insult to pigs, and could well lead to legal action by a porcine support group with the aim of having this blog closed down for good.

Ah well, every cloud …

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