Friday, 12 March 2010


I was not surprised that Sir Ian Kennedy's s proposal that MPs should only be allowed to travel first class in "exceptional circumstances" – such as a journey of more than two and a half hours – met with particularly strong opposition from parliamentarians.
Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, accused him of being guided by media "spite" rather than value to the taxpayer, and pointed out she had written two books while travelling first class.
She said: "If I travel first class, I can plug in my computer, not a facility that is universally available in second class. I can therefore work throughout the journey.”
(The argument for 1st class travel is that MPs work on the train. What is Miss Widdecombe doing writing books when she should be working?)
She goes on: "The 'at seat' service means that I do not have to interrupt the work to go and queue in the train's buffet bar. Second class being more of a thoroughfare, interruption and engagement in conversation is a great deal more frequent."
Those nasty constituents should know their place.
Tom Levitt, the Labour backbencher for High Peak, said: "I invariably work on the train, something I can only do in a first class carriage for three reasons: that I have a table, space and privacy to work there; that I have a seat (as the standard class carriages between Manchester and London are often standing room only); and that (as I am over six feet tall) I have the leg room for comfort."
Three excellent reasons for BUYING a first class seat.
MPs are currently worrying over the possibility that few of us will be bothering to vote. They should look no further than their own demands.


A Welsh extremist website once honoured me with the title of Traitor of the Week. I shared it rather puzzlingly with Ryan Griggs, S4C, Radio Cymru, The Welsh Language Society, The Welsh Language Board and a very nice man called Jonesy who was a Radio Cymru presenter.

Nationalism is a road which ends at the gates of Auschwitz and we have had a lot of trouble with it in our family. My Auntie Jeannie was the widow of Uncle Tommy, a Scottish Nationalist so incandescent that ten years after his death she was still afraid to visit England.

Her son-in-law, Jackie, who looked after the boats of a sheik in Kuwait, invited Auntie Jeannie to visit.

"It's no in England, is it?" she inquired fearfully.

In the event, she had a great time, including supper with the Sheik in his palace. She was not impressed.

"Does he aye get his dinner on tin plates?" she asked Jackie.

"They're no tin," whispered Jackie, "they're real gold."

"Maks nae difference," said my Auntie Jeannie. "Puir man,ye cannae keep food hot on tin plates."

The day she got home she went to an Edinburgh market and bought the Emir a six-piece china dinner service. Alas, we have lost the charming letter of thanks the Emir sent.

My Auntie Jeannie was the Great Imperturbable.

The nearest thing we had in our family to a tradition was the Hogmanay Fight. My father emigrated to Manchester but always returned home to Edinburgh on 30 December. He went a day early
to get in training for the whisky drinking marathon which was the family New Year.

By tea time on Old Year's Night, whisky had washed away any seasonal goodwill. By 9 pm, naked hostility had replaced it. My father invariably ignited things by taking out a provocative cigar.

"Bloody Englishman," growled Uncle Tommy, socialist principles inflamed at the sight of such a capitalist accessory.

"That makes bliddy two of us," my father would reply every year.

Uncle Tommy's darkest secret was that he, the most passionately Scottish of the family, had been born during a brief visit by his mother to Lancashire.

Blows were exchanged. Three step-brothers, Jimmy, Matty and Alec, who tried to join the row were rebuffed by Uncle Tommy on the grounds they weren't family. This made Jimmy, Matty and Alec madder than anyone.

Whilst five brothers fought in the middle of the room, the wives moved their chairs to the wall and continued their conversation.

Auntie Jeannie served tea.

At 11.45 pm she would say, "Tommy, have you seen the time?" The fight ended at once and quarter of an hour later the brothers had their arms round each other and were singing Auld Lang Syne.

They don't make Hogmanays like that any more. Or Auntie Jeannies.


The perfect Yorkshire Pudding is that made by the chefs of Simpson's in the Strand. This is their recipe.

The fat must be smoky hot when the batter is poured in. The batter is made from 1 egg, 4 oz plain flour and half a pint of milk. Once it is made, it is electrically whisked at full speed whilst a splash of hot water is added. The batter must be left in the fridge for at least an hour but no longer than 12 hours.

Beef dripping is then heated in individual moulds. When it shows a haze and sizzles, the batter is poured in and it is returned to the oven for about 30 minutes or until the puddings are well risen or golden brown. It can be eaten BEFORE the main course. Its original purpose was to diminish the appetite for the beef which followed, a Yorkshire precaution. In Lancashire it was traditionally sprinkled with sugar and served as a final course.


....for the perfect British sausage experience, choose a banger with a fair proportion of fat to meat, and a few breadcrumbs too. Do not prod. Leave it intact, and fry it ever so gently in a pan for 40 minutes while you go off and do something else, like walking the bulldog, enjoying an cask-conditioned ale or visiting a red telephone box.

Oh, and roast partridge stuffed with a pear or a peach is ambrosial.