Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 12 December 2014
Life in the country
If you have ever found yourself wondering what Berlusconi's 'Bunga Bunga' parties were like, then all you need do is watch the film, 'The Great Beauty' (Paolo Sorrentino) as H.I. and me did the other night. Right. That's the end of the film critique.
It's the season for works parties, and you cannot go into any bar or restaurant here at the moment without an office-full of people in paper hats or matching woollens, screaming at each other from a distance of 12 inches.
I opted out of a works party last night, partly because I am at home nursing man-flu, and partly because I don't think that the owners of the 'works' were going to be there, and I am a bit of a snob when it comes to things like that. Also, the party was held in a gigantic storage warehouse some distance from the main house, and about 12 miles from the middle of Bath.
Although busses and taxis were being provided, I always want to be able to escape within 5 minutes of deciding that I don't want to be somewhere, and the only thing that would make me get into a car and drive when drunk is alcohol. If I got caught with only one milligram more booze in my veins than legally acceptable, then all my carefully-hatched plans for the next ten years would be destroyed, and I would never get a second shot at it.
Many years ago, I lived in a tiny hamlet about 8 miles from Bath, and my next-door neighbour was Chris Patten, who later became the last Governor of Hong Kong. My best friend ran a wine bar in town at the time, and almost every night I would drive home having visited him for a couple of drinks - not rat-arsed, but certainly over the limit.
Chris (yes, I was on first-name terms) was being punished for refusing to remove a part of a speech he had written for Margaret Thatcher which she disapproved of, and this punishment came in the form of being appointed Junior Minister for Northern Ireland, a post from which Mrs T. probably hoped he would not survive.
The narrow lanes around this little hamlet were always teeming with police, both in uniform and without, but they had all long since carried out extensive searches into my background, and all knew the number-plate of my car very well. One invaluable, positive spin-off from this intrusion into my privacy was that they would never stop me for any reason when driving around the area - they had bigger fish to catch.
The biggest draw-back to having Chris Patten as a next-door neighbour was constantly having to knock on his door to get him and Jonathan Dimbleby (my spell-checker suggests 'Dumbbells') to move their cars so I could leave my own house. He and Mr Dumbbell played tennis at every opportunity, then went back to the cottage for refreshments afterwards. Chris would be driven back from London in a ministerial car, then decant himself into an old Morris Traveller to visit his constituents.
At this time, I regularly baby-sat for my wine-bar-owning friend by looking after his huge Deerhound/Greyhound Lurcher, Bill, as Bill loved staying with me in the country. Chris (Lavender and the kids, as he wrote on a Christmas card to me once) had a very old and very blind little mutt which used to wander around near my garden, bumping into walls and constantly growling for no apparent reason.
Bill was the most gentle and playful dog - until another dog growled at him, whereupon he would turn into a murderer in about a quarter of a second.
Our cottages were - and still are - set at the bottom of a precipitously steep hill, and the lane going down it was lined either side by a handful of houses containing our nearest neighbours. Chris's cottage was - ironically - once the temporary headquarters for Oliver Cromwell, and his troops left the famous spring (by which the hamlet was named) untouched for the sake of Cromwell. All other springs in the locale were poisoned. The photo above is of my cottage, taken about 100 years before I moved in.
One Sunday afternoon, I was cooking lunch for friends when I heard the familiar growling of the Pattens' dog as it stumbled around near my front lawn, and I thought nothing of it - until I remembered that I also had Bill as a guest.
I looked at the open door, then I looked at the empty sofa, but before I had a chance to react, I heard the unmistakable sound of Bill trying to kill something outside.
I ran through the door and found the mutt lying on its back with Bill's jaws wrapped tight around its neck as he tried to bite through the spinal cord of the Patten's family dog. The noise was ghastly, and brought people out of their houses, including Chris.
As I was wrenching Bill off the blind mutt, our neighbour directly above - who was an ardent and unreconstructed Socialist - leant over and shouted, "Let your dog kill the bloody thing! It should have been put down years ago!"
Luckily for 'the kids' I managed to get Bill off and lunchtime was saved - as well as a minor diplomatic incident.