A Summer (and Early Autumn) Of Love
“Free At Last!”
- Title of Tony Benn’s Diaries 1991-2001, which cover the death of his wife
In the aftermath of my disastrous campaign to stand for London Mayor, during the course of which my wife had died and my staff had all left me, I found myself at something of a turning point. But everything was not as black as it was painted, as I found that rather than having lost a wife, I’d gained a lot of free time.
At times like this many people turn to family for comfort. I can only assume that those people are not related to my family. That said, at this point my father and I became very close, sometimes even being in the same county.
The mistresses at Una’s boarding school were most understanding, and they agreed that telling her her mother had died could only upset her. To save her from the grief and anguish that the news wold obviously cause, we instead constructed an elaborate cover-story about how her mother didn’t love her, and never wanted to communicate with her again. It seemed like the best way to soften the blow, and to this day I photoshop Brenda into photographs of myself on holiday before sending them to Una. She bore the news of a distant, uncommunicative mother well, and seems to be following in her footsteps. Brenda would have been so proud, if pride was one of the emotions she was capable of feeling.
It’s times like these when you discover who your real friends are. In my case, this was a relatively quick process, and the resultant knowledge that I was devoid of real friends was a rock of knowledge in an otherwise turbulent sea of emotion.
So I threw myself into my work. Not my constituency work, nor even my nugatory parliamentary duties, but any other work I could find. I became what they call a “blogger” for MSN. This turned out to stand for Microsoft Networks, rather than - as I had assumed - being an abbreviation of “The Masons”. Still, I can’t help but assume that, as I stood in their offices with my trousers around my ankles, my shirtsleeve rolled up, proferring an intensely complicated handshake, they must have felt rather foolish.
It was a long, drizzly summer full of excitement. We had the Olympic Games, the Jubilee, and that lady who did the monkey Jesus painting in Spain. Commenting on these events for a major web news outlet helped me regain my confidence, earn up to £150 per 500 words, and find - and then lose - love…
Thursday, May 31st, 2012
A bit down. Feels like the house is full of ghosts. Well, one ghost.
Went for a walk in town. I got a lot of stick during the campaign for not knowing much about London, but I think it’s raised my profile. People seem to know my constituency’s in Kent, because everywhere I go now I hear people behind me shouting: “Kent! Kent! You’re such an awful Kent!”
Went to St Paul’s because it’s a place of great spiritual comfort, and you can sit out of the rain for free for a bit.
Walking around the outside I was stunned to realise that it’s not even been six months since they bulldozed the Occupy Camp here. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be able to walk around the building without being pestered by hairy weirdoes who want me to share everything. Bishops, I think they’re called.
Had a think about possible hobbies I could take up: canoeing, jive dancing, hate preaching, astronautics, sudoku, nude sudoku (nudoku?), hill walking, hill wanking, writing sexy novels set in Parliament, consultancy at a company that deals with extruded plastic containers, ham.
Friday, June 1st, 2012
It was Brenda’s funeral today. Everyone said it was a lovely service. Can’t help but think that I really should have been invited.
After the ceremony Simon came round to ask when I’d have all of my stuff out of the house. I accused him of trying to get his hands on Brenda’s things before her body was even cold. He (rightly) pointed out that her body had been cold ever since a botched depilatory operation in 1992.
I said that Brenda’s will said the house was to be held in trust until Una comes of age. He said he wouldn’t trust me to wipe my own arse without smearing shit all over the walls. I said that should make him feel right at home. He said he couldn’t wait to feel at home here, because this was actually his home. I curled into a defensive ball until he got tired of shouting and left.
Sunday, June 3rd, 2012
Today was the Thames Jubilee Pageant, which paid tribute to this country’s traditions by being put on in neverending, torrential rain.
Lots of people found it quite an inspiring spectacle, but I detected a more sinister note. I found it quite chilling when the camera zoomed in and I realised that one faulty lifeboat was all that stood between Princess Eugenie and the crown.
The pageantry was quite, quite marvellous. The Royals looked splendid. Prince Harry was there, in his dress uniform, kitted out in all his finery. It made you proud. Just a shame his father couldn’t be there to see it, too.
Then came the flotilla of the Dunkirk Light Ships, sailing after the Royal Barge. It was very moving, because, of course, last time we saw the Dunkirk Light Ships they were sailing away from fascists.
Monday, June 4th, 2012
I did fear that I was beginning to get Jubilee fatigue, but the concert at Buckingham Palace soon sorted that out. It had everything: palaces, crowds of people chanting in unison, and Rolf Harris. Truly the best of Britain.
Thursday, June 7th, 2012
Back in Belmsford for my constituency surgery today. It’s never easy. Today we had shouting, chair throwing, and a man in tears. Still, once I’d calmed down we managed to get a lot done.
Saturday, June 9th, 2012
The house seems very empty without Brenda around. Without her silent looming and delightful, constant glowering the place seems desolate and unfriendly, whereas before that was her job. I’ve taken to leaving myself little notes on Post-Its around the house to cheer myself up. Mainly they just say: CHEER UP. Sometimes I write them with my left hand so that it looks like an illiterate or a Frenchman wrote them.
Sunday, June 10th, 2012
The note-writing is going very well, and is hugely inspiring.. Yesterday I found a couple that I didn’t remember writing, like GET OUT and RUN WHILE YOU CAN. I think I may have been encouraging myself to GET OUT and meet some people to get over Brenda’s death, and to RUN in even more electoral contests WHILE I CAN and not to be put off by the results of the mayoral election.
Monday, June 11th, 2012
The notes must be getting more effective, because I remember writing them less and less. This morning I found that I’d given up on Post-Its and had written directly onto the ceiling above my bed, and instead of biro I’d used some sort of bioluminescent mucus. The message was simply: LOOK TO YOUR SOUL. HE COMES.
On 15th June, 2012, I wrote the first of a series of columns for MSN. For the sake of completeness, and word count, they are included in an appendix. The first concerned a little girl somewhere in Scotland who had been taking pictures of her school meals and sharing them on their blog. It all seemed very important back then, but now we just spend all day shouting the word “Brexit” at each other.
I had expected, of course, that such a trenchant broadside against the Health & Safety Ceaucescus would propel me into the front rank of the right-wing commentariat. I had, however, reckoned without the tenacity and naked violence of Nick Ferrari, who, shortly after this, shoulder-barged me into a finger buffet at the Evening Standard’s Blovi8 Awards.
Tuesday, June 18th, 2012
Awoke to find every surface of the bedroom covered in the word DEATH scribbled repeatedly in what smells like fox-blood across every surface, including my own face and abdomen. Maybe I should have a holiday.
Wrote a poem instead:
O Michael Gove! O Michael Gove!
Your clothes from the rent hair of teachers are wove.
Into your limpid eyes I dove
Like the crystal waters of a seaside cove.
Your cheeks are red. Your lips are mauve.
Your thighs are firm. Your hooves are clove.
Michael, Michael, Michael, Michael,
You look like part of a frog’s life cycle.
And every man on a car or bike’ll
Kneel at the name of Gove comma Michael
My relationship with Michael Gove is complicated, and, some would say, unrequited. He has overcome a tremendous amount to get to where he is today: his adoption, his Scottishness, the fact that his face looks like something that’s just bobbed up out of the bottom of a bowl full of gumbo. We are lucky to have him.
After my column about him was published the editor suggested that I might take a little break or at least have a lie down, and so I went away for a holiday.
When I was a child, we didn’t holiday abroad. We had a caravan.
So nowadays I delight in taking the opportunity to travel and to see those parts of the world that are accessible by car. There are many, problems, of course, with Europeans. Europeans are either swarthy or greasy or lecherous or Scandinavian. They’re either too lazy, like the Greeks, or too hard-working, like the Poles.
Still, there’s something quite inspiring about Tuscany, watching the sun set over the vineyards. You can picture a Roman legion crossing the fields below, or a band of Venetian mercenaries, or a squad of black-shirted fascists. It’s a very inspiring place.
Say what you want about Chianti, though, it isn’t English wine. English wine is hugely versatile: it can be used for drinking or for clearing a barn of vermin. As we prepare to leave the EU, I look forward to the day when we can all have a glass of good, old English brown with a meal. European wines lack body because they insist on making it using nothing but grapes, whereas the English climate lends itself well to including more daring ingredients like bark, antifreeze, and mice.
Although I had hoped that the holiday would mean a break from the cryptic messages I seemed to be leaving myself, it was not to be. On arrival at Firenze-Peretola Airport I collected my luggage from the carousel, only to find that instead of neatly-packed corduroy shorts, it was full of translucent maggots that all seemed to be whispering the word “doom”. Every night at exactly 4:05am I was woken by what sounded like the unending screeching of souls in torment, but which was probably just the passage of some semi-digested ribollita through my long colon.
I returned to England in late July, having greatly enjoyed my time away. From the first glass of wine to the last villager who turned their back on me because I had “the evil upon me”, it left me recharged for what was to come.
Friday, 27th July, 2012
Back in Blighty, but terribly jet-lagged. The time difference is only an hour, but for the last four nights I have been tormented by a spectral vision of a grey dog with my wife’s face eating its own innards and screaming as it does so. I might try St John’s Wort.
Woke up in time to see the Olympic opening ceremony, which was all lots of fun. Most of it was devoted to fantasy figures and fictional characters like Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, and the NHS.
Hope we do well. Let’s show the world just how great Great Britain is.
Monday, 30th July, 2012
Maybe we should change our name to Mediocre Britain.
However, from that day on, the medals came thick and fast. It was truly a magical time to be a wealthy, white, British man in your mid-40s.
Team GB’s success led to some sniping, obviously. I spent part of August at the Edinburgh festival, which was awash with red-faced Caledonians, telling everyone that if Scotland had been an independent country it would have have got more medals than any other nation in the UK. I responded by pointing out that had Britain’s public schools been their own separate country they would have got more medals than the rest of the UK combined. God bless rowing.
Sunday, August 19th 2012
Another great day at the world’s foremost festival of art and culture. I visited no fewer than twelve bars today. Ended up in the Gilded Balloon chatting to Alan Davies well into the night. He’s a very knowledgeable man. He showed me how, with the correct tooth-grip you could get a tramp’s ear completely off, so it’s been educational.
Monday, August 20th 2012
I’ve met the most enchanting girl!
As she looked out among the massed faces of the Royal Mile, from red-faced Americans to yellow-faced Scotsmen in need of new livers, she chose me! From all of humanity she picked me! I was the one she singled out to give a flyer to.
Tuesday, August 21st 2012
Another great day with the enchanting girl. She’s a real woman of mystery. I don’t even know her name.
What I do know is that she has brown hair, a selection of at least two different T-shirts, and a show at the Voodoo Rooms at 12:30 from Tuesdays to Sundays. I also know that peripheral vision isn’t her strong suit as I was able to watch her from behind a dance troupe for the best part of an hour. I now have seven flyers for her show. It’s a retelling of last summer’s riots through the media of puppetry and mime. I’ll go tomorrow. I wonder if I’ll like mime.
Wednesday, August 22nd 2012
Well, at least I know now how I feel about mime.
Thursday, August 23rd 2012
She spoke to me today. And not just a cursory polite sentence. A proper long chat. At some volume. In the middle of the Royal Mile.
“What?” she said, her blue eyes flashing with desire, “What do you want? You’ve been following me around for days!”
“It’s all right,” I said, “It’s all all right. My wife’s dead!”
“Will you please leave me alone?”
Yes, I thought, as I watched her run into the distance. Yes, I should. If we are to properly play the classic love-game of cat-and-mouse she so desires, I must pursue her. I must prove myself worthy of her. Should I buy her a car? Or a hat?
Friday, August 24th 2012
Turns out some cider was enough. I saw that she was looking thirsty while flyering and brought her the kind of cider that I’d seen her drinking with some friends the other night, and the rash I got from crouching in that bush all became worthwhile. I brought her the cider, and she accepted it with grace and silence. She was transfixed by lust and the fact that she couldn’t leave without surrendering her spot to another flyerer.
After a few, short twenty-four minuteses of admiring silence, the conversation turned to the fact that I had VIP tickets to a big end-of-the-fringe party where there would be a lot of important industry people and did she want to come.
My heart was in my mouth as I waited for an answer.
She said yes! Suddenly, she felt liberated from social constraints and able to give in to her true passion: me!
Now all I need to do is find a way to get us into that party.
Saturday, August 25th 2012
Another great day with Michelle. I heard someone else call her that, when she let me flyer for her for a couple of hours.
There are some ways in which being a flyerer is quite similar to being a politician. It requires verbal skill and charm to convince people to take a flyer, as well as persistence, ingenuity, and not being afraid of some good, honest, hard work. So, in that way, it’s completely different, but they do both involve standing up and waving papers every now and again.
Michelle seemed quite pleased with the flyering and we had a long, romantic walk to the kerb, where she told me she couldn’t wait to go to the party, and did I think there would be any big agents there. I told her there definitely would. Her hand briefly brushed against mine, the erotic charge of which was so great that she promptly had to leave.
Had a quick word with Alan Davies about whether he could get me tickets to the party. The quick word was, specifically: “no”.
Sunday, August 26th, 2012
Another magical day. She was as happy as I’ve ever seen her. We talked for hours about who was going to be at the party, whether there was going to be a free bar at the party, whether or not she should take copies of her CV to the party, and the fact that she doesn’t feel as if we should consummate our relationship physically in any way until after the party.
Davies is still being an arsehole about it.
Monday, August 27th 2012
6PM - I think I’ve solved it. I bumped into Gyles Brandreth and he offered to sneak us in through the toilets. Just about to leave. I think, it’s all going to be all right…
Tuesday, August 28th 2012
4AM - Well. That was a revelation.
Turned out Brandreth had said he’d sneak everyone in through the toilets. There was a queue that snaked from Polly Toynbee to Will Self. Michelle didn’t seem impressed.
Still, after an hour or two in the rain, we heard the whine of an arc welder. Within moments sparks were flying, the back door of the portaloo was off, and there was Brandreth, in all his glory, naked as the day he was born, brandishing some sort of circular saw and howling at the moon. Self started shoving, and soon we were swept up in the surge and carried into the party, as Brandreth danced in a sink muttering some sort of incantation.
Once we were inside, Michelle was really in her element. She was laughing with Alan Davies and exchanging quips with Alan Davies and going to the toilets with Alan Davies. It was all a lot of fun for Alan Davies. Then Alan Davies introduced her to Emma Bunton and then he made some suggestion I couldn’t quite hear about what everyone should do together. Whatever it was, Emma seemed up for it, but Michelle started shouting and then security came and grabbed her and I wiped the tears from my eyes and I grabbed the security guard and then suddenly we were outside on the pavement, in the cold, Edinburgh night.
At last we were all alone. Except for Andrew Neil, who was lying on a bench, watching us, making kissy noises.
Michelle started crying, and I told her that things would be all right, and comforted her as you might do a child. By standing in embarrassed silence until she stopped crying.
“And at least you got to meet Alan Davies!”
And with that, she burst into tears again.
We’re back in my hotel room now. She’s asleep on the bed, a little bit of sick and what might be some drugs in her hair.
I think I’m in love.
Friday, August 31st 2012
Back in London, catching up with some Parliamentary sleep.
Things with Michelle are going incredibly well. The morning after the party, we just talked for hours and hours and hours. Her about how much she hates Tories and public schools and the establishment, me mainly about foods that I like.
We have so much in common. She was raised on an estate, as was I. Her father is a remote, inaccessible figure who disapproves of her relationships with older men, much like mine. She taught me how to ruin a fox hunt intentionally. I taught her how to keep her tax-deductible receipts. She’s even offered to pierce my navel.
She’s coming over to the house tonight. I’m going to get us a takeaway, and then she’s going to spend the night.
Who says grief is difficult? Like everything in life, if you keep yourself busy and refuse to accept that it’s happening, there’s nothing you can’t do. Even find true happiness.
Memo to self: remove all pictures of Brenda from the house before Michelle arrives.
Saturday, September 1st 2012
What can I say?
The evening started well. Michelle arrived and liked the Brenda-less house very much. We chatted about this and that. I put some finishing touches on the squirrel cassoulet in the oven and we settled down with a bottle of Dubonnet each.
That was when the moaning started. I tried to pass it off as water running through the old pipes, but, as Michelle pointed out, water running through pipes very rarely has the sound of a stuck gramophone in the background, and almost never shouts the words “Get that bitch out of my fucking house.”
I was determined not to let Brenda ruin this evening, as she had already had her opportunity to ruin many of my evenings, and had availed herself of it thoroughly over our countless years of marriage.
It was at that point that blood began running down the windows and snakes began to emerge from under the antimacassars.
I have to give it to Michelle. She proved surprisingly resilient. She didn’t quail when she was confronted with a flock of actual quail who burst from inside a grandfather clock, spreading feathers and foul-smelling faecal matter everywhere. She was not put off by the cobweb-shrouded figure that stood in the corner of the room, pointing at her.
No, it was the fly corpses that did it. When we sat at the table, and I lifted the lid of the tureen, thousands of fly corpses tumbles out, across the table, into her lap.
And she fled. Quite rightly I think. On balance the evening hadn’t gone to plan. But fly corpses never put me off my dinner at school. They weren’t going to now. And so I ate. Alone.
And now have gone to bed.
Sunday, September 2nd 2012
When I had grabbed one of our cooking rifles and confronted him he came clean. All of the mysterious happenings in the house had been him, in an attempt to get me to leave. He had crept in and filled the house with notes and fox blood and put maggots in my luggage and followed me on holiday, and spent a not-inconsiderable amount of money on livestock, special effects and actors to convince me the house was haunted by the unquiet spirit of my dead wife.
I laughed in his face, and told him that I definitely already knew that. Although, in retrospect, it made more sense than my theory, which was attic-goblins.
Anyway, he could see now the game was up, but he would console himself with the fact that he had destroyed any chance I might have had at finding happiness.
I laughed in his face again. The joke was on him. I’ve been unable to feel happiness since my first term at prep school.
He leaned over and pointed right into my face, saying that Michelle would never come back here, and that I would have to choose between the house and her.
He’s right, of course, I will. I will have to choose.
Monday, September 3rd 2012
What is worse: losing a wife, or losing a house?
Losing a house, obviously. You can’t live in a wife unless you hollow out her abdomen and put in an RSJ.
I spent most of the evening clearing up quail-droppings and wiping down the more fluid-y surfaces. I thought about texting Michelle. We appear to have lost all the animals.
But that’s the thing about an old house. There are lots of nooks and crannies for things to hide in and fester and breed.
And when they try and re-emerge the best thing to do is just to put down some traps and retreat to the upstairs for a while.
On your own.
Still. Life goes on.
At least the house doesn’t feel so empty any more. Most of the sideboards are full of snakes.
 Few things are, apart from prison gates, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s heart, and a terrifically-racist money box I received for my eighth birthday.
 I have always found friendship to be overrated. People who claim to be “friends” tend to be after something: affection, reciprocal admiration, or the chance to steal the key to your tuck locker.
 As a wealthy, white, public-school-educated man, losing one’s confidence is about the worst thing that can happen to you. Literally.
 My wife, Brenda, had accidentally shot herself completely in the face a few weeks earlier. Although here I think I was referring to Mr Claypole.
 Simon Marchmont-Hughes, Brenda’s brother, and massive wanker.
 The red one, not the one he wore to that fancy dress party.
 The exact volume of my abdomen has become a subject of much debate in the more sordid corners of the Internet. Suffice it to say, it could hold a reasonable goose.
 Calling it a ‘caravan’ may be generous. We had a load of Arabs and nowhere to put them.
 Oliver Letwin actually suggested this at a meeting of the 1922 Comittee once. He felt that it would help to encourage foreign investment if we were better at “managing expectations”.
 Much like the athletes.
 This can actually be quite a dangerous condition. My great-uncle died from having a heart in his mouth. Choked to death. Admittedly, the heart wasn’t his and he received a stern, posthumous dressing down because “that’s not the way we conduct a Boer War”, but the point remains.
 He was wearing a jumper, a bow tie, and corduroy slacks.
 Although I was never allowed in the grounds without my keeper.
 Mainly which rooms you were allowed to wear shoes in.
 Brenda’s brother. Still a wanker.
 Quite literally. We have an abundance of rifles in the kitchen. I find them to be the most versatile implement there is, and they have almost completely replaced spoon, spatulas and garlic presses in my life.
 Except for Brenda. Who is dead.