Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Major has a problem

Saturday, 2nd January, 2010, Middlyng Grange:

Major Sir Arthur Muddlyng-Threw sat on the gun-room settle, cleaning his grandfather's, the fourteenth baronet's, old Purdy.

Sir Arthur had been out at dawn with "young" Mellors (now only a bit shy of retirement age), his nephew's game-keeper, for a bit of rough pigeon-shooting.

In the old days, Sir Arthur would have been a regular at the Earl's shoots: that's how it worked when Arthur, not yet inherited, came back from military service; and set about courting the old Earl's youngest daughter. Nowadays, though, the Estate was run on business lines: the pheasants were reserved for paying customers. With luck, aided by the once-yearly guns failing to deplete the coverts, Sir Arthur would have an invitation to stand in the end of the season shoot.

Sir Arthur had a soft spot for Mellors: as a schoolboy he had been inducted into the mysteries of poaching by "old Mellors". Eventually, the Earl had tired of handing Mellors down fifteen-shilling fines, with costs. Then there were the seigneurial obligations: Mellors had served in the County regiment and had a decent war. So the Old Earl recruited "young Mellors" as an under-keeper. That was how old-fashioned country wit and wisdom worked. The Estate gained a fine and expert recruit: the Earl added insurance for his own preserves, for the father could not endanger the son's new livelihood. If the pheasants on the neighbouring estates went missing, that was hardly the Earl's problem.

Double-locking the Purdy away, Sir Arthur reckoned some similar ruse might now be required of himself.

New Year's Eve, 2009

Closing his books for the year, Sir Arthur, had one of those difficult mornings with Moneypenny, his accountant. It wasn't that the Muddlyng-Threws were on the rocks: Moneypenny had more tricks than a circus pony. The sale of that third-rate Stubbs at the height of the market had been a coup. Those damned oil shares went up-and-down like a doxy's unmentionables .... Down, boy! laughed the Major's younger conscience. As if, sneered the reality of the elder rival lobe of reality.

The problem, then, lay elsewhere.

Moneypenny had another role, committee-man of the Loamshire North Conservative Association, of which the Major was hereditary and perpetual life president. By several allusions, circumlocutions and hesitations, Moneypenny had implied that a presidential visit to the Association might be in order.

Saturday, 2nd January, 2010: Loamshire North Constitutional Club
"How wonderful to see you, Sir Arthur!"
The Major had telephoned through to arrange lunch: it would be no more than a cold buffet, but quite adequate. He wasn't here for the food.

He spent an hour in the bar:
"Just a pint of Riproarer, if you'd be so kind."
His GP was insistent that was his daily ration, before switching to burgundy (which was not on the banned list). The Major didn't need to circulate: one by one the officers, evidently warned that the Old Man was attending, came and paid court to him. What transpired was not a happy story.

The Member was conspicuously a non-attender. There was nothing unusual about that. Apart from required appearances, and a fortnightly surgery, he was generally an absentee, preferring to spend his time with ... someone ... on the Dorset coast. The someone had been a previous problem, particularly when a pressman started asking. The Major felt the Association had skated over that one quite nicely: the Whips dispatched the Member on a series of overseas jollies; the wife had taken a cruise; a divorce went through quietly. None of that messy business they'd had in Bedfordshire.

Then there were the blasted bird-baths. The Member ...
"That Bloody Fool!"
... had been gilding the lily, the lily presumably being the someone, through a series of extras added on his Commons mess account. The alabaster bird-baths illustrated column one, front page of the Telegraph (though fortunately the link to the someone wasn't made).

It had been generally agreed that things could not continue: the Member's license had cancelled his licence. He had to go.

The Member had havered. His retirement had been assumed as early as last October. Pressure was brought to bear through November. Tempers were short by December. It was confidently expected that, finally, in the quiet of the Christmas period, a formal announcement could be slipped out.

Now the roof had fallen in.

The Member had taken revenge. By delaying this long, the Association had been effectively disfranchised. London could now impose a short-list of three.

So the choice would be three Central Office clones, three metropolitan suits parachuted in. A media personality or a mucky novelist, a yes-man, somebody's bag-carrier ... It could even be an all-woman short-list. The Grimeborough suburbs would have to be convinced. The countryside assuaged. The Association had to be enthused to work for an outsider.
"And let's not mention that "Turnip Taliban" thing!" confided the Vice-Chairwomen, patting the Major's hand.
The Major sighed deeply. His trigger finger itched: shooting
was too good for the fellow.

Loamshire North Conservatives would not have an easy election.
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