Saturday, 23 May 2009


Although I am within a pontoon hand of my century, my family has sent me, a small, furry grenade, hurtling into the white technological heat of the twenty-first century.

For my eightieth birthday, a grandson, to whom I have shown nothing but kindness, signed me up as a Twitter, making me one with the loathsome Fry whose supercilious ubiquity nauseates. I have tried to join that merry throng but cannot think of a single tweet. The family clubbed together to buy me a Sony E-Book, with a collection of a hundred key books, thus making redundant the library of around two thousand books for which I built a garden library. It is having a terrible effect on me. It is getting so that I prefer Doctor Who to The Archers.

I feel as Richard Burton must have felt when Elizabeth Taylor bought him, one Christmas, the entire output of the Everyman Library housed in oaken bookshelves.

Though I am still frightened of it, the E-book has the fascination of a Black Mamba waiting to strike. I cannot believe that between its covers crowd Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Bronte, Homer, Machiavelli and a host of other classical authors who have escaped the bonds of copyright.

Apart from a voucher for a foot massage from an aroma therapist (who is going to enjoy a whole cornucopia of aromas when she explores my toes from which the twinkle has long gone), I relished the unchallenged joy of a bespoke hickory walking stick, lovingly crafted by Smith's of New Oxford Street, the Saville Row of stick-makers. Such a stick. A stick that could go out on its own and not an eyebrow would be lifted. A stick with magical powers that confers dignity on that which it supports. A swagger stick, a stick that will never be in the mud. A stick of consequence who will stick at nothing. Notice the 'who'. No 'which' describes this stick. This is no dry stick. This is a stick through which noble blood courses. This stick could walk unaided along any given boulevard with an independent air. A stick capable of breaking any available bank at Monte Carlo. A stick one would not dare to shake a stick at.

It was of just such sticks that Mr Jogglebury Crowdey dreamed. It is inconceivable that there can be anyone who has not heard of Mr Crowdey, the comic creation of the Geordie squire R. S Surtees whose unsurpassed comic novels, “Mr Facey Romford's Hounds”, “Mr Sponge's Sporting Tours” and “Mr Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities”, were the inspiration of a young reporter called Charles Dickens.

Mr Crowdey was, said Surtees, “a long headed, short necked, large girthed, dumpling legged little fellow who like most fat men made himself dangerous by compressing a most unreasonable stomach into a circumscribed coat, each particular button of which looked as if it was ready to burst off and knock out the eye of anyone who had the temerity to ride besides him. He was a pouffy, wheezy, sententious little fellow, who accompanied his parable with a snort into a finely pleated shirt-frill, reaching nearly up to his nose.”

Sounds oddly familiar.

His hobby was carving and collecting “curious handled walking sticks, of which he had accumulated a vast quantity. The garret of his house was quite full, while the rafters in the kitchen and cellars and outhouses were crowded with others...and as he cut and pouffed and wheezed he chuckled and thought how well the sticks, which he valued at thousands, would provide for his family.”

How nice to find oneself in such congenial company.

If I hear one more sanctimonious MP confess how right the public were to despise the House of Parliament, in a patronising tone, completely disassociating themselves from the fraud, I swear I will shake my stick at them, the ultimate sanction.It was the Slum House as a whole which voted itself the perks; the Disorderly House itself which voted AGAINST ending the shameful practice. The same House of Ill Fame that voted itself self- employed and eagerly joined the new Union of the Self Employed when being self-employed seemed to hold advantage. When the advantage subsequently moved to the employed, it was this House of Ill Repute that not only voted to be employed, but wrote to the fledgling, cash-strapped Self Employed Union demanding their joining fees back. A plague on all their Houses. The answer is simple. When I was making “Archives “ for R4, as the successor to John Ebdon, the BBC put me up in a family hotel in which they had reserved bookings for visiting broadcasters. It was comfortable without being lavish. The Part-time Work House should do the same having come to a financial arrangement with the hotelier. If the accommodation offered is not grand enough he the MPs should be free to make their own arrangements. It should be a job requirement for the MP to live in his constituency at his own expense.They would no doubt argue that they can be kicked out of parliament at ever election. I worked on weekly contracts with the BBC for thirty years