Well, the title says it all, doesn’t it?
I have a friend who lives on his estate somewhere south of the Humber, whom I love like a brother, and who occasionally buys solid gold pens off me when I need some cash. We’re talking 18 carat gold, by the way; not a mingy 9 carats. These items are rare and they don’t come cheap … but they do create an impression, especially if one is dealing with Arabs, as my friend occasionally does.
And no, my friend is not an arms dealer. He is landed gentry of the most solid sort. His family has a long tradition of generosity towards their tenants and the local community. A generosity that has on several occasions been excessive, even – in my modest view – foolhardy. Anyhow, they are the best sort of people.
Finding himself somewhere in his mid-fifties and not quite as busy as he might wish, my friend decided to run for the job of councillor in the local elections, as his father did before him. He has numerous stories to tell about this, two of which I repeat here.
* * * * *
If you compete in local politics, you have to go round knocking on doors; and this is not for the faint-hearted. Unlike so many others I can think of, my friend does not pretend not to belong to the upper classes. He looks and dresses like what he is, and he is proud of it. Just as a miner is rightly proud of being a miner.
So here we have him visiting someone in his constituency, in search of votes. He is known in the area, as is his family, and if there were any justice in the world he would receive a polite welcome at the least. But no. The door of a bungalow is opened by a fat bald man in a shellsuit, who promptly informs my friend that he is a “money-grubbing toff” and a “lying scumbag”. Trading one insult for another, my friend calls him a “churlish peasant” and advises him to cool his heels … tho’ with regard to the cooling of heels, the precise words used were, I believe, of a more demotic character.
Outraged by the fact that his aggression and general awfulness had for once met with resistance, the peasant in question lodged a formal complaint with the local Tory party boss, who ordered my friend to apologise.
“Apologise? What for?” said Harry (let us call him that).
“You insulted a member of the public,” said the Tory chap.
“Well yes. But it was tit for tat. Fair enough.”
“Nevertheless, yours was a class-based insult. You have to issue a formal apology.”
“Not only will I not apologise,” said Harry, “but if you issue an ‘apology’ on my behalf, I won’t endorse it in any way.”
Which leads me to the second half of this little story … in which we see my friend’s father, several years previously, addressing an assembly of voters for another local election.
This family, as I say, is well-known for its generosity and public-spiritedness. They have given away God-knows how much land to deserving recipients; they have funded any number of good causes; they deserve respect. However, at the said assembly an angry prole stood up and accused Harry’s father of a series of crimes revolving around the systematic exploitation of the populus.
Regardless of the absurdity of the accusations and the all-too-evident ghastliness of the accuser, the immediate reaction of most modern politicians would have been to grovel and ‘apologise’. But my friend’s father had – and still has – more guts than that.
“Take yer hands out of yer pockets when you’re talkin’ to me, man!” he growled.
Oh, and his son Harry was duly elected as councillor. Without having ‘apologised’ …