Saturday, 19 March 2011


They are serving after hours again in the Humiliation Arms. It is bitter dregs all round. One is not even safe in one's dreams.

There I was riding to the rescue of the Divine Miss Middleton. Teeth bared in a savage war cry, eyes blazing with love. My proud horse's hooves drumming on the hard baked steppe, I bore down on the marauding band of Daily Mail snipers and cellulose spotters who held her hostage.

The moment came. In my ears a thousand spectral Templar Knights cried, as Lord Tennyson prepared a fresh Idyll: “Draw sabres.....................”
And I had forgotten my sword.

I could swear I packed it in my sabretache with my housewife and button stick. But no. There I sat with an empty scabbard while all around me Daily Mail rogue leader writers jeered.

The eyes of the Divine Miss Middleton swam with derision and disbelief as she scanned the sky searching for The Holyrood Helicopter. I blame Lemsip. I am addicted to the stuff, despite the fact it induces dreams in 3D.

Not only that. They come with a monarchist motif. I have danced a reel with the late Queen Mary, naked save for her velvet toque hat. Once, to hide my nudity, I borrowed a suit from King George VI, which is ridiculous. I have got a watch chain that weighs more than he did. My lips are permanently sealed in the matter of Princess Margaret, the bucket of G and T and the Courgette. I can only say the makers of Lemsip should be ashamed of themselves and Constance Spry would be appalled.

What is most distressing is that the nightmares I ride under the influence of Lemsip also carry with them a strong whiff of Opera Bouffe.
I am also addicted to Operas Bouffes, which is musical Lemsip. I particularly relish the memory of a production years ago of “The Huron", which is based on a story by Voltaire of a self-righteous Red Indian who shows off like mad in a French village.

It was turned into a not-so-comic opera by a citizen called Marmontel and had its premiere in Paris in 1768. It says a lot for the taste of the music loving public that it hadn't been performed since. But every Buxton Festival had its operatic joke and one year Huron was the choice of that wizard of a Festival Director and long-time friend, Anthony Hose. Tongue-in-cheek, he translated it; his fellow sorcerer producer Jamie Hayes set it in pre-1914 Chatsworth and made the Duke of Devonshire of the day one of the clowns in a very funny production.

Voltaire would have loved it; the present Duke was delighted and the audience adored it. Buxton Opera House rocked with their helpless laughter and recurring ovations.

Predictably, the critics hated it. They emerged shell-shocked and horrified at the blasphemy.

The Observer critic gave it the ultimate critical put down. "The audience loved it," he wrote in proof of how bad it was.

Can one take opera seriously? Enjoyable, yes. Seriously? I doubt it, We are talking about an art form where people who are languishing in dungeons or dying of consumption, or who are about to be gored by a bull or turned into a stone statue, spend their last moments singing. I saw a production of a deeply serious opera where the heroine emerged from what looked like a pink cement souffle, a lady so vast that when she and the equally round hero embraced they had to do it at arms' length.

It was nevertheless hugely enjoyable, greatly moving and the music by Haydn unforgettable. It is never a bad thing when the audience enjoys something, though often it is when the critics do.

I prefer to forget a production of Il Seraglio set round a giant rose penis, but is it not curious that Voltaire is a stranger to the heady brew of Lemsip?

I was saddened to hear that the BBC has added a fresh dimension of horror to the Japanese earthquake by sending James Naughtie to drown it afresh in a tsunami of words. I wish he had paused in his generous pouring of platitudes to ask who authorised the building of four nuclear power stations above a fault in the earth's crust. It was not to be.
Instead we were treated to Naughtie and a reporter in Tokyo asking a diplomat on London for the casualty figures.

For some reason, I was reminded of the incident in his book, “Arabia Deserta”, in which the Arabist James Doughty told of an English traveller on a camel who was distressed to see another traveller on a camel travelling in his direction. Being puzzled what to say to him, he decided on: “You will no doubt be interested to hear the figures of the plague in Cairo,” before they passed like ships in the night.

Naughtie felt it necessary to alert us to photos taken by their sound engineers but on the whole I prefer to watch it on TV because this was one instance of the pictures NOT being better on radio.

Naughtie is the verbal equivalent of an old fried Arthur Brooks who wrote extensively. His description of Todmorden in the snow as the white hell of Stalingrad is treasured in the wallets of his many friends. I can just hear Naughtie repeating the words of Arthur to a more controlled colleague: “You supply the facts and I will do the word artistry.“

Better news on TV later in the week when archaeologist Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou disclosed evidence that God had a wife, a pagan goddess Ashera, whom He married under the name of Jahweh, one supposes to avoid gossip. Such a relief that He is not after all an adulterer. Joseph will be pleased.

The BBC is sending its staff on a course that it is hoped will "acclimatise" them to life in Manchester. Staff who have to move up north will be given a day's training on how to use transport in Manchester such as the tram link to Salford. The training is called "Transport to MediaCityUK Briefing Day". No news yet on whether staff will be taught how to wear flat caps, drink Boddingtons or race pigeons. - Daily Telegraph,


I am a bit miffed in a matter of personal artistry. I have two grand- daughters working among the Mighty Host which is the Ministry of Defence. Has either of them offered to pay me £150,000 to pulp any one of the four books I am currently writing in a lull in the onset of senility? The answer is a resounding “No”.


Ken Ashton, my man in Wales writes:

A Welsh councillor has been ordered to pay what is believed to be the first libel damages to a political rival as a result of comments posted to Twitter.
Caerphilly county councillor Colin Elsbury was ordered to pay £3,000 damages, plus costs, after using the social network to wrongly claim Eddie Talbot had been removed from a polling station by police during a by-election in 2009.
Cardiff Crown Court made the order against the Plaid Cymru politician on Friday. He will tweet an apology and faces a costs bill of around £50,000 after acknowledging that he defamed Talbot.
One cannot be too careful.

When Pc Phil Richardson found out Doddington residents were too afraid to identify the culprits, he sent a letter out to hundreds of homes.
(Doddington is a village in Cambridgeshire just up the road from us.)
He told them: “I can turn the tables, the people causing the nuisances and carrying out the criminal damage can spend some quality time in my cells.
“I will see if I can get them some time at court where they can explain themselves to a magistrate.
“I will work with partner agencies such as housing associations to see if we can end tenancies and get families moved away.
“We can apply for anti-social behaviour orders against offenders – these are publicised so YOU know who they are and what they are doing. The community can then keep an eye on them and let us know if they step out of line.”
His direct approach comes after a number of anti-social incidents in the village targeted against people who cannot defend themselves. Incidents have also included damage to gardens and repeated vandalism to the scout hall.
Pc Richardson told residents: “I want to disrupt and put a stop to as much of this anti-social behaviour as possible.
“I do not care who is causing the problems or what families they come from. YOU, the residents of Doddington, DO NOT have to suffer persecution from people who do not have the social skills to interact within their community.
“No one should fear reprisals other than the people who for so long have felt they rule the roost – they don’t, the residents do.”
Pc Richardson has promised villagers that anything they report will be treated in confidence.