The Twelfth Man: Westminster satire

By Matthew Richardson

So summer is here at last. Bar the extra day of debate, the red-box of office can be safely stowed away in the attic and the sandal-wearing, drink-in-hand joy of summer in the constituency can begin at last. Joy to the world, and all that.

Oh, if only, mon amigos. If only. For I fear you know not Scrumpledom. To say the small town has pretensions, catfights and general hair-greying traumas that make Westminster look like a Barbados beach, would be the understatement of the century. As ever, when other lucky colleagues get to live it up in Islington, Chelsea or some peacefully undiscovered nook in our beloved isle, yours truly has to face the prospect of months marooned among the batty, the dotty and the reason-phobic members of the community.

For one thing, the council never fails to use the summer recess with their usual foxy cunning. Endless emails, personal drop-in meetings, brassy summons to meetings with the suits. They goad their supporters into writing letters to the Scrumpledom Times, throw the odd fiver into the path of the official photographer along with a cadged copy of my constituency diary so they can get that all-important front page shot: local MP yawning in shorts and flowery shirting, along with some weepy story about an old-age pensioner having problems with her parasol. Last year I had to spend an entire afternoon erecting garden chairs for the Scrumpledom Amateur Singers. The photo chap clicked away, but the editor conveniently mislaid the do-gooder snaps somewhere between the office and the printers. The fact that I even bothered feigning indignation tells you something.

But more than that it is the fund-raisers. A prospect to reduce any grown man to tears, I assure you. And they all happen to be in the summer, of course. As soon as Helios so much as turns up for work, out come all the bring-and-buy sales, the charity galas, the tables wallpapered with formica, the sickening crunch of the plastic cups and frayed bunting with its dolorous sway in the stifling fug of July. I have little choice, it must be said. Scrumpledom is a ‘community friendly’ sort of place. One’s parliamentary representative is expected to roll up his/her sleeves, sip the lukewarm lemonade and be a sport when it comes to fun runs, egg-and-spoon races and other make-an-MP-look-an-idiot activities.

And then there are the ‘characters’ of the community. If ever a euphemism papers over the hideous reality beneath, it is the ho-ho-ho, aren’t-they-a-hoot word ‘characters’. From now on I propose a replacement: ‘nightmares’. I have one retired colonel who keeps coming to surgery in full regimental dress and giving me a kit inspection on tap. Another lady believes herself to be a reincarnation of the Queen of Sheba and professes disbelief that the state refuses to grant her royal status. She asks every month what I attempt to do about it, while promising to make me a Duke and a Knight of the Garter once the paperwork is all in order. Finally, there is Gerald ‘Guitar Man’ Elbow, an ex-rock star, with serious poverty of skill, who latched on to one unfortunate faux-hipster comment I made in an interview in the Scrumpledom Times.

In my defence, I had given my self-respect a sabbatical as I trawled for votes from any and all. Nevertheless, my ill-judged profession of fandom for Deep Purple has meant Scrumpledom’s resident guitarist is often to be found in the constituency office serenading me with his latest tin-eared attempt at composition. I’ve still never quite recovered from his four-album-long version of a Greatest Hits.

So there you have it. The joys of the ‘break’. The only break I fear will occur is between myself and sanity. Thus I hope you will lenient and practice charity if my weekly outpourings dry up in a futile attempt to keep the essentials together through the summertime. Indeed, I never thought I’d utter such words: but how calm and peaceful the thought of dear old Westminster now seems.

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