One of the mysteries that Malcolm will now never be able to solve is his own father’s politics.
Malcolm’s father’s father, Tommy, was a Yorkshire miner. He named his last daughter “Minima” because she was born in 1912, while the miners were on strike for a “minimum wage”. The outrageous demand was 12/6 a week (spell it out: fifty-two and a half pence). Meanwhile, the coal-owners and landlords were making millions a year.
On his own death-bed, Malcolm’s father (let’s call him “Jack”, for that was his only forename) harked back to when he was thirteen years old, and the end of an intelligent man’s education:
“I came home from school. The house was quiet, so I knew my Dad was dead. Next day I went to work.”
Then it was called miner’s lung: the fancy name is pneumoconiosis. Either way, it’s a killer.
Yet, throughout his life, Jack diligently read the Daily Express, invariably starting from the back. To be fair, that was the Beaverbrook rag edited by the great Arthur Christiansen, and his immediate successors. Jack’s death came soon after the pornographer Desmond bought the title.
So Jack was a Tory? Which would neatly give a Freudian explanation of Malcolm’s swing to the left? No: it wasn’t that simple.
Jack was anti-authoritarian, a suppressed renegade . It’s in the genes: the family was represented in 1792 on the fourth Fleet to Australia, and later among the rebels at Pentrich. So Jack superficially disapproved, but curiously condoned his son’s political deviance. In later life, as a junior civil-servant in the Ministry of Defence, Jack may have found Malcolm a trial:
“What were you up to last week-end?”
“What business is that of yours?”
“You were on a demonstration, right?
“OK, OK. I was on the CND demo at Holy Loch.”
“I knew it! I knew it!”
“How could you?”
“I had another security check done on me on Tuesday. So you owe me the next pint.”
The fisting of Lamont
Jack’s last election was 2001. By then he had switched any voting allegiance to Phil Willis in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
Malcolm recalls the 1997 arrival of the postal vote:
“I can’t stand that Lamont.”
“Well, it’s your choice.”
“You think I should vote for your Labour man, don’t you. Hasn’t got a hope. I’m not going to vote.”
“No. That Willis chap seems OK. What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s the Liberal, yes?” [Jack never quite got the notion of the LibDems.]
“Yeah. Are you coming up to the Club for a pint?”
And so a vote was canvassed and counter-signed. And Norman Lamont went down, badly.
It’s not “on topic” here, but the Tory campaign in that election, at least in Harrogate, was a disaster. Malcolm spent an hour of one Saturday mid-day in a pub a couple of hundred yards from the Tory Club, watching Norman Lamont (14 years a Minister, a former Chancellor) sitting alone during a “campaign” for what ought (then) to be a Tory seat. The Tory show of strength amounted to fly-posting (using an anonymous purple and a very passing mention of party allegiance).
So, what brings all this to mind, Malcolm?
Sometime in the early hours, Malcolm felt restless, stirred and rose. Came downstairs, make a cup of tea. Sat and read a couple of pages of the Times Literary Supplement. Then he became involved in the Christmas acrostic puzzle.
It was Christmas Day in the workhouse,
That season of good cheer,
The paupers hearts were merry,
Their bellies full of beer . . .
Which would, inevitably, be the moment when the maternal voice would intervene:
“Jack! That’s more than enough!”