Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lord Bonkers' new diary

His lordship's contribution to Liberator 313. Many readers will have collected their copy from our stall at Brighton. It will be with other subscribers shortly.

You can find an archive of earlier diaries on the old boy's website.

Finding myself staying overnight in the Principality, I go to Welshpool International Airport to catch the morning flight back to Rutland. My curiosity is aroused when I see the name "Air Lembit" on the side of the Government Surplus Sopwith Camel and, sure enough, I find a familiar figure at the controls when I board. As we weave in and out of the Stiperstones, narrowly avoid the Long Mynd and give Brown Clee a wide birth (despite my suggestion of a sharpener at the Boyne Arms), the MP for Montgomery describes his plans for his airline. The in-flight catering is limited – poor Öpik has trouble keeping a steady course whilst buttering the bread for the sandwiches – and neither is there a moving picture to enjoy. (My pilot offers to play his mouth organ, but I tell him that will not be necessary.) It happens that we pass over the Bonkers Hall Estate on the approach to Oakham, so I save him the trouble of landing by parachuting out. When I alight, Meadowcroft takes me for a German paratrooper and pursues me with his pitchfork; the misunderstanding is soon sorted out.

The recommendation of a friend ("You knew Trueman, didn’t you? There’s a film about him that you really should see") sends me to the cinema, but I am sorely disappointed. For some unaccountable reason the actor playing the great fast bowler – one "Philip Seymour Hoffman", if you please – has chosen to give him an absurd, high-pitched, lisping American accent. Now, I am the first to agree that Fred could be a bit of a joker (particularly at the Scarborough Festival), but I never knew him to speak like that. Not since Meryl Streep starred in Silverwood have I been so disappointed by the portrayal of a Yorkshire and England opening bowler.

People sometimes ask me whether, from my long experience of public life, campaigning ever changes the Government’s mind. Does the dreary round of petitions, letters to one’s MP and press releases actually achieve anything? I always reply that there can be no guarantee that it will, but one does meet the most interesting people in the process. A case in point is my attempt to help the inhabitants of Pluto over the summer. When first they heard that their world was no longer to be a planet within the meaning of the Act they were naturally concerned – not least because this would mean that they would cease to qualify for generous grants from the European Union. So the Plutonians (or Plutocrats or whatever the fellows call themselves) contacted me for advice, and I told them to write to all the newspapers and arranged a meeting with the minister: I still treasure the memory of them sitting in Central Lobby, waving their tentacles and laughing at the quaint dress of the Commons staff. As everyone now knows, their campaign failed, but at least I was able to introduce them to Lembit Öpik before they went home.

Inspired by my friends from Pluto, I spend the evening in my observatory. The telescope is not powerful enough for me to see their distant home but, as I believe I have remarked before, on a clear night tonight you can see Uranus. There are those who say that observing the heavens puts our Earthly troubles in perspective, but I beg to differ. One sees billions of stars, many of which will have their attendant planets; some of those planets will have life, and if that life has been around long enough it will have invented Liberalism and be engaged in democratic battles with its enemies. Thus, when I observe the night sky I see an infinite number of closely fought by-elections – it is enough to overwhelm even our own Lord Rennard.

I notice from the Manchester Guardian that when Fidel Castro fell ill his brother Raul stepped in as President of Cuba. Mention of these two reminds me of my own days in Hollywood when I attempted to promote the Castro Brothers as comedians, somewhat along the lines of the Marx Brothers. (We did achieve some success with their first picture – A Night in Havana – but generally it was Rather Hard Work.) Whilst there were similarities between Fidel Castro and Groucho Marx – the facial hair, the taste for fine cigars – there were also differences, which became all too apparent as Fidel’s career developed. In particular, whilst Groucho specialised in witty retorts, Fidel’s talents lay more in the direction of seven-hour denunciations of American imperialism and the iniquities of the capitalist system; these were a challenge to incorporate into a madcap comedy and as a result the Castro Brothers soon faded. Ironically, the biggest success amongst them was not really a Castro at all: "Harpo Castro" was in reality a doctor by the name of Guevara, yet the poster of him with his harp and ridiculous wig of blonde curls can be found on students’ bedroom walls to this day.

It is hard not to sympathise with the New Party’s MPs: Blair has clearly gone barking mad – his public protestations of love for a chimpanzee, all those foreign wars, his plans to send children to the Jack Straw Memorial Reform School, Dungeness, before they are born – but their constitution makes it impossible to get rid of him. We Liberal Democrats recently had leadership problems of our own, but Kennedy’s fondness for drink never put the country in peril. Yes, he might fall asleep in meetings, sing raucous Highland ballads or try to kiss Alan Beith, but life was still more restful than under his predecessor, Paddy Ashplant, and – dash it all – I am rather fond of old Beith myself. A word of advice to the New Party: if you do succeed in tipping Blair out of the window, don’t replace him with that dour Brown fellow. Try someone younger and fresher like Tony Benn’s charming daughter Hilary or one of the Millipede brothers.

A hectic weekend has seen one of my meadows quite turned upside down by the Time Team of moving television fame. It all went Terribly Well: they found a Roman villa, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, the grave of a junior minister in Baldwin’s Government (that took some explaining, I can tell you) and, best of all, the keys to my Bentley which I dropped when walking my setters there last summer. Between ourselves, gentle reader, I was rather hoping they would turn up.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

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