No 165 - 2001
Chapter 11: Eleven Pipers Piping
An extract from the novel ‘Ten Lords a Leaping’. The pilgrims plan to surprise the Priminister and President, who are spending the weekend at Chequers, and present them with a new manifesto to sign. This chapter tells you about P.M., who is the PM (among other things). The break-in itself occurs in chapter 12, to be published in Ambit 166.
‘Really hard,’ said Jonathan,
‘How could we possibly get at two world leaders and get them away from their minders long enough to get them to do or say anything. And they’d really chase us. I don’t fancy tangling with all those police and heavies either.’
‘We’ll have to get inside somewhere like Camp David when they’re up there having a quiet, restful weekend. Their wives too, they’re part of their success - they’d have to be part of the party.’
‘If they were away without aides. They’d be bound to be staying somewhere where there were housekeepers and butlers. Maybe we could suborn a butler but there’ll be a switch-board man and all the time policemen at the gates with the heavies. Would the heavies ever be out of the house?’
‘What about getting a newspaper article on Chequers? Tim could write it up for one of the Sunday Coloureds. Get inside with Gavin - photos - and talk to the resident staff and gardeners. Get some idea what we’re up against. All the staff will have security vetting you can bet on that.’
‘President coming to Europe September. Great friends. First bit of luck is if they decide to week-end at Chequers. What about in the article, if we can get in very quickly, floating the idea. ‘Will President stay at Chequers?’ and you could quote from him ‘saying he’d love to’. That might get us up running. The Press could add ‘Private Time Together’. We’ve got to pipe and we’ve got to drum.’
‘And what statement are they going to sign?’
‘I’ll write something,’ said Sarah, ‘I’ve some ideas.’ ‘Remember,’ said Max, ‘they are both of them more than 10 year-old games players and they won’t have undiscovered problems in their background and the wives of modern day politicians - they’ll be power players too - they’ll be part of the action not wanting the power play to end.’
Now the problem too was the mass of detail available on every aspect of their lives. No Pinkerton men required to find out where a prime minister was born - the pilgrims were into crusading pilgrimages at once. ‘This is the house where the P.M. was born and in the corner there is his cradle which includes in it a piece of wood brought from Bethlehem. You are now following the path he trod every day when he went to School. These are the gates he entered in and that classroom ahead - still in use - is where he learnt to read. And this is the church - note it is a Catholic church - where he went every Sunday. Here his first confession was heard...’ ‘What,’ asked Caroline, who had dutifully gone on a tour, ‘were his first sins?’ She was looked at askance by the rest of the group. ‘We don’t know,’ said the smooth voiced guide, ‘whether he sinned, but we do know he was shown how to make confession.’
You could go up the trail anyway, anywhere you liked, his school or his university: Oxford - as he went round Christ Church with you the guide would start telling you our most famous recent graduates, to go alongside all those greats from the past I was telling you about - our present P.M. now as a special extra. ‘Because the students have gone down - as we say - I am going to show you the actual room he lived in. Up these stairs and beyond there is the bathroom he used - sharing it with another student.’
‘What did he study, man?’ ‘He studied what we call P.P.E. Politics Philosophy and Economics. Yes he got a good degree. But it wasn’t only work you know, this is where he met that lovely lady his wife - Fleur - a friendly lovely girl. Flower by name and flower by nature. You can go down the High, cross the bridge and find St Hilda’s College. Yes we are proud of our sons - as I like to call them - who leave this college.’
On to where he added his further degree, got his Ph.D. in what? Some God-awful economic theory and then taught a bit and then his job in that think-tank. And then getting and winning that seat when he was only 33. (If Caroline had heard that remark she’d have added same age as Christ when he was crucified.)
You could take the same trail, had you the mind to, of Coeur de lion although his advancement from the cradle was even swifter. At 11 he was awarded the Duchy of Aquitaine and was actually installed in power and at 16 was rebelling against his father Henry II. He was forgiven this sin but life in his own possessions was one of constant intrigue and battle. Him against his father, his brothers and the French King Philip Augustus and of course he rowed with half the other Kings and Emperors of Europe when he met them. Yet Pope Gregory VIII had enjoined a seven year truce on all the Princes of Christendom. He ordained a fast on every Friday for five years to come and abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays while his own Kinsfolk and Cardinals would fast on Monday too. All this when they heard that Saladin had retaken Jerusalem after eighty years of rule which would be called Christian. So the Emperor Frederick Babarossa, the King of France and the King of England all signed up to a new Crusade; already King William of Sicily had sent three hundred ships to defend their hold on the coast which was what remained in Palestine for the Crusaders/pilgrims.
Why did the young Richard decide to go? He was a Lord of Men - a monster in many ways (which later tales will tell). He liked to rule, he liked to fight, he was a good general, it was said, and with those as his ambitions what did he really make of the Christian Mission. ‘Love thy enemies.’ St Francis of Assisi went out there believing (as Runciman neatly puts it): ‘as many other good and unwise persons before him have believed, that a peace mission can be about peace’. He saw Saladin who was charmed by him - it is reported that the moslem guards thought that anyone so simple, so gentle and so dirty must be mad and had probably indeed been touched by God. The Moslems, the Christians and the Jews, believing bizarrely enough when you think about it in the same God. Faith can make you sign up for lost causes but it still leaves you the same intriguing power-seeking guy you’ve always been and joining the crusade, and taking the vows, could be seen as an attempt to get God on your side.
P.M. when he got into the think-tank had decided that ‘left’ political parties (or was it ‘right’ political parties, I somehow forget) were where the power would lie and so he signed up hoping that their faith (in doing something for the human race) would be the banner which would lead him to the power he sought. He had faith in their philosophy (just as Richard had faith in Christianity but you bent and turned that faith to your own ends and said that was in the best interest of the faith. Killing all those Jews when they got into Jerusalem was in the best interest of the faith.)
A LONG NOTE BY THE PILGRIMS
We are reminded of another man who had faith and whose philosopher Carl Schmitt used the term Ernstfall avowing openly that foreign policy has not achieved its object until the stop of actual hostilities is reached. All is based on the friend-foe principle. This principle is the basis for all real relations between nations and states. Any other group is simply your friend or enemy. The enemy is not a rival or an adversary. He is merely in your way and is to be made away with. This in the end was the belief of the Crusaders. Civilization is supposed to have carried us beyond this age. Schmitt was the philosopher of his leader, a man called Hitler who regarded Jews as people who should be made away with. We owe this note to Huizinga who writes ‘I know of no sadder or deeper fall from human reason than Schmitt’s barbarous and pathetic delusion about the friend-foe relationship. Will mankind ever enter into the dignity of man’s state?’ These comments written in 1938.
The Pope’s legate Adhemar was dead before the Crusaders took Jerusalem and the Pope in the West was at the least shocked by the murder of the Jews in Jerusalem and said so. A later Pope - some eight hundred and forty or fifty years later - maintained a silence when a more considerable number of Jews were murdered. These are serious considerations. We do not know if they crossed Richard’s mind or the mind of P.M. but they cross our minds and we look for emblems other than a crucifix to wear which don’t represent a faith but simply, we hope, a humanity.
When he got the job in the think-tank there was a task to do. It was... well it’s hard to remember now but it was to develop policy. It could have been it was costing public transport development, or maybe it was looking at future strategy within health service administration, or it could have been something to do with how to restrain farmers from breeding too many sheep. At any event it was planks in the electoral policy which was what was going to get them elected. But also there were tactical meetings to actually plan the election. How to select the right people to be members of parliament: detailed, seat by seat analysis of likely winners, and population trends, planning of media campaigns: who would speak well on television. By muscling in or volunteering to be on these groups it was possible for P.M. to work out what sort of person was being looked for in what sort of seat. So it was possible eventually to say about that seat old Jarvis was retiring from (always been quite decrepit) on rather a thin majority with an electoral boundary change going against them... we need a young candidate who doesn’t look too left (or right) and who is good in public but looks stable should have wife and young kids largely urban area only a small immigrant vote to consider but a bit light on the work side (employment). Somebody with same economic background who might be able to persuade them that we are actually going to push more jobs their way. A really good speech on employment which he might have written (well he had actually - but always for someone else), that might well fix it.
So the day when he went to the party offices and said to the superman actually planning the election, I wonder if you would think I was premature in applying for a seat. ‘Mm, have you got a seat in mind?’ Well yes I’d been thinking of Wockley. Taps on his P.C. and up come the specs. ‘Yes, yes, yes, well I would support your nomination but go and look around locally. Agent was replaced I see two years ago and known to be very impatient with old Jarvis - you might do all right. Have a crawl around and see if you like it.’ He had crawled and he did.
The agent was a doddle. Old party man, James Parke ten years older than P.M. and loved the party club and the drinking but fed up with old Jarvis, dead keen on a younger man and also fed up with the party being in opposition. So easy to sell the line have to go slowly, slowly with the old party image if we want to to get in. Got to have a new image, we don’t want, of course, to be centrist but we want to look that way to the electorate: We don’t want to be seen as two faced and we’ve got to bring the old guard with us because we need them to do all the work of getting people out to vote: P.M. quickly saw the agent was a man who liked to be flattered. I’m going to need a lot of your help and your experience. The agent also liked good food and beers. He wasn’t paid very much so there had to be kick backs; you had to be very careful about those because of all the watching on election expenses. But P.M. had seen the need for money and now he had a direct grant for his own work and these initial visits to the constituency were all research visits understanding how constituencies were run. Also beginning to be a lecturer giving talks on the political process and one very profitable summer month at a Harvard summer School.
Fleur had done the right thing too. She’d had the necessary babies but maintained her job in the city - she had actually started out in a stock-brokers but then thought that might be a bit politically vulnerable so now she was a financial consultant advising pension funds the best places to put their money - a positive way to use city-learnt skills and, on the way, she had picked up for them a nice and growing portfolio. Pensions were politically important and advising about them was politically correct. She had a face that seemed always to be about to give a friendly smile. Hard as nails, said her old college friends. Funny thing she actually takes that religious bit seriously - she’s a catholic and she’s insisting on catholic schools and the kids all have to go to the mass poor little bastards.
P.M. thought all religions were important, liked to go to church with his wife but he suddenly became very mindful of the religious mix there was in the U.K. Mindful that in the constituency for which he had now been selected, and was nursing, there was after all an important little immigrant community. He had been seen visiting the Hindu temple in North London, somehow arriving at the same time as the well known Hindi poet Srivastava paid it a visit. What a warm headline ‘Poet and Politician make friends’. It was actually only a handshake but Satyendra’s warm bubbly personality was very apparent and P.M.’s smile was well trained. His handshake never less than warm. Satyendra sent him a copy of his book ‘Teaching Sanskrit to Falling Leaves’.
We do not know whether he ever read it. Any rate he won his first election.
And then, rather suddenly, there he is
Standing up, an astonished victor
Gliding over the good glib waters
Of the social harbour to set foot
On its welcoming shore where at last
Recognition surrounds his days with
Her felicitous light. He likes that;
He fairly blooms; his fever almost
Relaxes its hold. He learns to speak
Soft and slower, not to seem so eager
His body acquires the blander motions
Of the approved state. His positive glow
Of fiscal health affects that unseen
Just judge, that Generalized Other
To whom he thinks and is understood by
Who grows less gruff as if gravely impressed
By his evident air of having now
Really arrived bereaved of every
Thank God those vegetarian anti-hunting permanent do-gooders, who dressed untidily but were cousins of Fleur’s, had suddenly followed their son out to Australia. Pray God they never come back.
Here were the twins nearly two and there was talk of them going to some preschool provision and there was Sarah telling Jonathan that she thought she would like another baby. She had thought he might not want another child but she was stupid about that; he adored her she would suddenly remember, a glow of light into her already full life, as he smiled at her and said, ‘Easy to do something about that old thing. I think it may mean we should spend a little extra time in bed every night.’ She hit him in a friendly way. ‘Do you think we should start before the pilgrims have managed this political thing?’ ‘That is a consideration,’ she agreed, ‘We may all be in prison by then and I don’t particularly want to be pregnant in prison. We could have a really sensational fuck the night we pull it off,’ said Sarah. ‘In public,’ said Jonathan, ‘With all the pilgrims standing round and two subdued politicians...’ ‘How are we going to subdue P.M. and T.P. - I haven’t even begun to draft what they’re to sign.’ But at that point a squawk from the next room reminded them that the twins got on well together much of the time but not all of the time. Sarah jumped up, ‘They are getting so independent.’
Planning to get in was occupying too much of the pilgrims’ time, said Sarah. What are we to do when we are in? Getting thirty people into a heavily guarded house. There were video cameras all round the place but at least it seemed the security men once they delivered their precious packets to the house were outside in the Lodge. There was a patrol tower on the back wall of the estate which was manned day and night and both the Lodge and the tower video watched the walls of the grounds and the walls and windows of the house.
The staff looked rather better. The housekeeper, cook, two maids, all went home round nine at night and apparently Sunday morning the butler helped them get their own breakfasts, staff not turning up until eleven o’clock or so to get the Sunday lunch. The butler lived in. Thank God they weren’t like royalty - who still actually travelled with maids and bloody valets - if you could believe it.
And Caroline thought the butler was seducible in both senses of the word. He was separated from his wife these five years: she had been the chef but when they started rowing she had gone off to work in a restaurant 50 miles away leaving him in the live-in flat and taking their children to a small house. They were a bit strapped for cash but the pilgrims were not into financial bribery. Should they fly in Sally to solace James’ sexual loneliness? Caroline thought he wanted someone more quiet and seemingly respectable like Sarah: ‘Fuck off Caroline,’ said Jonathan. ‘She is not available.’ ‘You sure?’ said Sarah, ‘you don’t own me.’ ‘Quit rowing,’ said Caroline, ‘he likes me, although he won’t go all the way with me because I think he thinks I’m too young for him, we’re having a drink with Celestine tomorrow. He’ll like her, she’s older and Max isn’t as jealous as Jonathan.’ Max growled, Celestine smiled.
But what about him politically? Ah well that’s good he’s not very well informed but he’s seen both sides and the middle and he thinks that most of them are real shits - only in it because they like power. So he’s half a pilgrim already. He won’t do any wild stuff and I think I can keep him quiet for the twenty four hours. And the communications centre, that’s good. It’s in the lodge - goes straight through of course to telephones all over the house but Tim thinks we can interrupt them. Their mobiles and pagers? There are no video cameras inside. They’re supposed to be having a very quiet weekend together with their wives - not to be disturbed. Deputy prime-minister on duty for emergencies.
‘Getting in?’ asks Max.
‘Well we’re cracking it. Peter (the old water board man) has been a great help but it’s going to be a long crawl. There’s a ring water main a mile away and it’s got an inspection trap beside it and so you’re underground. Any rate the electricity board produced these machines called moles that will burrow for you so you don’t have to dig down. We’re going with four of them together and then we’re using plastic water main to line what we build and so we’re going to have a tunnel - it’s going to be about four foot in diameter, we can light it. We are going in 10 foot down and we can run a plant into it for fresh air but basically it’s going to be crawling a mile. Then we’ll be under the cellar. They think we can have a little room, the water mains people make these little underground inspection chambers but it’s going to be quite a hike thirty or forty of us crawling that far and we don’t quite know what the cellar is like. Stephen is there already and he’s putting a fibre-optic probe up, between two bricks tomorrow to have a look. But we’re going to have to be careful getting there. We think half the team will have to go to ground the night before but maybe we’ll find an unused cellar. We may need to get out fast with F.B.I. on our tails. Stephen thinks he can get blocking devices so that when we are getting out the tunnel will close behind us. We want a really good thunderstorm but we’ll have the cars ringed around in the parking lots of about four pubs so that we don’t attract too much attention.
‘We’re going to have the F.B.I. and M.I.5. looking for any suspicious activity but we’re having a dinner ten miles away for pilgrim fathers to celebrate the President’s visit and we’re going to have our Pinkerton man as the speaker and all the American pilgrims are going to be around. When we finish we can really have a party at this pub.’
‘What about the Landlord?’ ‘He’s ours. Sarah’s father has just been persuaded to invest in an English Inn (and it’ll make him a profit). We’ve got a nice Landlord and he’s pleased - says he can can do well with the place. We are thinking of changing the name of the pub and calling it Vezelay. It’s going to specialize in Provençal cooking. Now it’s a question of caste and getting the the message right. Anyone want to look at the photos of the inside of the house?’
A scholarly old scoundrel
Whose fortune was founded on the follies of others
Built it for his young bride
She died in childbirth; he died on the gallows;
The property passed to the crown
The facade has a lifeless look
For no one uses the enormous ballroom;
But in a book lined room at the back
Committees meet, and many strange
Decisions are taken.
High up in the East Tower,
A pale faced widow looks pensively down
At the terrace outside where the snow
Flutters and flurries round the formal heads
Of statues that stare at the park
And the guards at the front gate
Change with the seasons: in cheerful spring
Now enjoying the glances; but now
Morose in Fall: ruined kitchen maids
Blubber behind the bushes.
Sarah: We’re going to be there in the fall. I hope not to end up as a blubbering kitchen maid.
Rosetta: The significant note is nature’s cry of long-divided love.
There he was, an M.P. at 33, so what was next? Well clearly he had to get into a ministerial position - something junior at first. A lot of the other good souls who had arrived in parliament had no contact with the hierarchy: but, of course, there his time in the think-tank came in. He was known to some, thought to be bright and there he was available to be a junior minister in a really dross department - the ministry of Overseas Development. In opposition of course the party had made the promise that they would really enforce the U.N. suggested rule of a percentage of Gross National Product that should be spent on helping 3rd World Development. The trick therefore was to say that you were fulfilling this promise but knowing that the treasury had no interest in these follies. It was P.M. who told his nice minister - a long serving benign senior member who was important for his influence on the wider party, where he was admired for his integrity and honesty - what should be done. There was a twin approach. It was easy to get environmentalists to call into question the programs that the previous government had supported. Since they had made their decisions, dams, which had been in, were out and the government had money going into Turkey, India and Indonesia to vast projects that now people thought were environmentally (and hence politically) incorrect. So you pulled the plug on all those. Some problems on that because the big U.K. construction companies were heavily involved and had capital laid out. Money to the companies but not money abroad (some of the projects might be propped up by the world bank - their problem). And also to a disappointed company: you know they are going to build that sub-way extension in London, and I hope you will bid for that... and careful contact with the Department of Environment to see that company’s bid got looked at very kindly. ‘They have been very helpful to us over this shambles we’ve needed to pull out of in Turkey.’
‘So you need a very careful approach to where money is going. We are not going to waste money, as our predecessors did, on ill thought-out schemes aimed at bolstering companies in this country rather than providing help to where it is really needed in parts of Africa, Asia and South America. All our programs are being reviewed. Did you know we’ve been sending Asians, whose first language is not English, volumes of poetry through the British Council? Is that how we want to spend money for our Friends in the third World? I think not. A huge row with every poet in the country complaining, completely obfuscating the real issue. So what do you do? A survey of overseas spending takes a year. Long term projects to be assessed; these medical programs are difficult to implement. Educational programs upset religious sensitivities of the recipient country. Progress slow, money not spent. But always speaking about programs and visiting (very tiring for his elderly minister) ten countries in Africa in as many days. His minister (not a travelling man) telling the Prime Minister he has been really extremely helpful, very thoughtful, has put our policy across very ably. And, notes Prime Minister and his chancellor, kept demands from that ministry really low. Looks like the right sort, why not shuffle him into your Minister of State position at the Treasury?’
P.M. loved that job. It was so easy. First of all, of course, you had working for you these bright able civil servants but you were their master so they might have projects that they favoured. But you called the tune, called the shots. His task was to vet new major capital spending and, of course, try and stop the service departments pushing up their budgets. Your job to hold onto the money in treasury. And again you would say: ‘no the treasury is not holding back investment - we know our infrastructures are under capitalized and we are keen to spend money but equally we are not here to waste the tax payers’ money.’ So what you did was this: the department of health would turn up with a scheme for some vast new hospital complex in say - West London or Birmingham or Glasgow. You would receive your colleagues - a junior like you from the consumer department with his team of supporting civil servants - and you would listen most sympathetically to the proposal. Two or three of his own team sitting round with them. My team will want to have a look at the costing but we’ll be back in touch very soon.
So then you got into action, a few calls to find out the opposition to the scheme; easy to find and you say sorry we’re not concerned with the rightness or wrongness of the scheme we’re just interested in their costing. ‘Well, of course, they’ve got their figures completely wrong. They’ve grossly underestimated the costs of maintaining services on two sites while they’re rebuilding on this third site and they haven’t realized the costs implicit in that new site - ground unbuildable on.’
Well, the department of health’s civil servants had been all through these arguments but your civil servants re-shaped, added in an extra query here, a contended decision there and the weary Health Department Officials were struggling over the age old arguments again. And then if they got beyond that stage and accepted the scheme (eventually) the whole of the costing and estimates and quotes had to be reviewed. Fresh tenders to sort and so you could report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer they’re not going to get started on that scheme until the year after the year after next, nothing in next year’s budgets. The real joy was dealing with the department of transport - roads, objections had already lasted for years but once his officials got how he wanted to work they got extremely adroit at passing that buck back.
The next move was up to cabinet rank and into a spending department. Minister of Education - you could say and he would say he did some good there because essentially he had to do the opposite of his last job. The simple schemes that had nothing to go wrong with them he would put up. All schools needed computers for every pupil and there were unquestionably good schemes out there which had been tried and tested. Jump quickly on his replacement at the treasury and jump on his old civil servants and get some spending money out. But don’t tackle difficult problems - like differentials in teachers pay - keep prevaricating, looking at that. Get the local education department embroiled in school buildings and encourage but - make them go straight to the treasury.
He’s in the cabinet now and taking part in major decisions when the prime minister lets him. And how does he make his judgments?
The pilgrims wonder how far their picture of him is a caricature - well sure it is - there are more sides than one to a man or a woman; a crusader will slay a Jew but give arms to a blind begger from the Christian population of Jerusalem. And P.M. will make some judgments straight. He is clever and he is aware. He will back the Prime Minister, is one with him on use of force in foreign affairs, and really would like to see new schools built - so like all heros and heroines he has virtues and vices. But what we are concerned with is the main thrust of his activities - what is his aim? His aim is power, his aim is to be Prime Minister himself - that comes before all and if he is benign and ever friendly when you meet, don’t forget what he’s out there for. He’s out there because he wants to be top - that ambition to be top.
Sarah wondered how you got to that position when you wanted to be top. Jonathan kept being offered chairs in genetics and he had just in the end taken one. But he kept complaining to Sarah and indeed to all the pilgrims. ’They say I have leadership qualities. I want things done. I want to find out things. I want people to do things and like doing them. I want to have good times. I want them to have loves like you and me.’ ‘Ok Ok,’ said Max ‘but keep sorting those genes out for us.’
O clear Princess
Learn from your hero his love of play
Cherish his childishness, choose in him
Your task and toy, your betrayer also
And you bright Prince
Invent your steps, go variously about
Her pleasant places, disposed to joy.
Sarah liked being a clear Princess and wished Jonathan to go variously about her pleasant places. A digression, a deliberate one but what we are watching here is not all aspects of P.M.’s life but the prime one; the urge to succeed and the top.
He could produce reasons why he wanted to be there but you have to be aware of process. And process was what P.M. was about. Here he was young and in the cabinet when the Prime Minister older would go. How would P.M. be placed? He looked round the table at the younger ministers; the chancellor older than the Prime Minister out of the game. But there were about four or five of them, Keith, Gordon, Robin, Tony and of course that woman Harriet, who were probably all in the park, still chasing the main prize, to be ‘best man’ and to win.
And so what were tasks now? Ideas and policies had nothing to do with it. It was all how you slid and slithered round those other personalities. First to collect a little caucus round you. M.P.s who were never going to acquire ministerial rank - a bunch of them needed cultivating - ones near your constituency; they knew you and if they came to you with difficult cases from their surgeries of citizens who had been wronged - pay particular care. And then onto cabinet ministers, which ones were you going to pluck out and draw into your nest. People who’d been to your University, who you’d met a time ago or more recently at dinner parties, flirting discretely but openly with their wives, and saying to Jeremy you are lucky or wise to be married to her. Jeremy got the praise for Jenny’s good looks - it was as if you were jealous - he felt flattered. And at those dinner parties, Ok often set up to thrash out some problems in education or whatever but also by the end of the evening the endless chat about people in the party. How you rated Keith against Gordon and that was where the poker skills come in - a straight face as you made an assessment. Never condemn them, recognize all their qualities. A lot of good qualities has our Gordon. Yes, yes... you didn’t say but. Someone else at the table said but. But well he’s so untidy or his voice grates. I don’t think he is that great an economist. Yes yes you would say not agreeing just saying yes yes because you were just seeing that you carried more weight at that dinner party than Gordon did.
Not surprising as he was not there - and all the time in your head, working out how many points you would score or party votes when it came to an election. And when you felt certain that of the five you were possibly No 2 or 3, you had to cut out some of the others. You didn’t go for number five - he would disappear anyway - you went for number four. You suddenly wanted a lot of Robin’s advice. You were dining regularly. And now it was Fleur who had to play a hand. She told Robin’s wife that she really found the others so hard to get on with. Of course she wasn’t a politician herself they all seemed so hard: I admire she said to Emily your composure under all the pressures. And then the weekend together. They had this friend with a Provençal house easy to borrow fly to Nice pick up a car you’re there in an hour.
So over the dinner table, lovely restaurant, lovely wine, Fleur says to Robin well of course you’ll be prime minister one day and Robin says Oh no no P.M. will be it long before I ever would be and P.M. says do you think people would consider me? ‘You’ve got supporters.’ ‘Yes I know only a loose group of us who agree. Would you support me?’ And Robin caught out and what can he say but ‘yes’ and the drink was flowing so quickly, tie it up. If I was prime minister what ministry would you want and Robin has to say Chancellor or Foreign Office because he’s excluded himself from the race to be prime minister.
RICHARD IN SICILY
Richard’s diplomacy was not subtle like P.M. but then he had his sword to strengthen him, but he was capable of diplomacy when he felt like it. In Sicily he offended the aged Abbot of Corazzo, who was called Joachim, by being flippant about the Apocalypse. It turns out that the Apocalypse in this version is a seven headed monster. The heads belonging to Herod, Nero, Constantius, Mahomet, Melsemuth (hard to say who he was), Saladin, and the Antichrist. The last a formidable enemy alive in Rome already and due to become Pope.
In Sicily he first half patched up his quarrel with the French King Philip getting him to agree to set aside Richard’s planned marriage to King Philip’s sister Alice. This was a tricky one because Alice had been at the English court for some years and it was stated that Richard’s Father Henry II had been intimate with her. So who would have her if not Richard - sort that one first then sort out the Sicilians.
Richard sacked Messina and burnt their fleet in the harbour but agreed a truce with Tancred king of Sicily who signed a treaty with Richard to his advantage leaving poor Philip of France without allies. Richard had an heiress to marry who arrived - Berengaria a Princess of Navarre. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother, escorting her. All the cards then were in Richard’s hands as he sailed from Messina on April 10th 1191. He had a stop in Rhodes and then went out to Cyprus which he proceeded to conquer and where he married Berengaria. On June 8th he arrived in Palestine at Acre.
P.M. has got it half in the bag. He’s got all Robin’s smaller band of supporters and he’s got his own. In one move he’s jumped to the top of the listing. He is the leaping Lord and the question now is whether he tries to cut out Gordon who he considers the clear number three with Gordon boxing and coxing too. Leaping about. But if he could haul in Tony (No 5) and let Tony like Robin suddenly find himself P.M.’s supporter with a promise of Foreign Office Chancellorship. P.M. is home and dry and Gordon will falter at the very first jump. Timing is all and our P.M. is masterly and that is how Peter (Maybe) became Peter (Must be) Marshall. The glad day comes when he’s on the world stage and the major play he wants there is not to worry about all those Europeans but to see he really is a friend of T.P. (the President) who he has met by now and who is just going to be elected for his second term. It is important that their wives get on.
Martin Bax is author of 6 novels, including The Hospital Ship (Picador). First drafts of this chapter were written at Yaddo, to ‘whom’ the author gives thanks. Martin Bax is a Consultant Paediatrician and medical editor, as well as running Ambit.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The