I got an offer I could not refuse for the other night. A ticket to a fundraising ball at a local castle for Conservatism and cancer. Who thought up that combination? Not one Central Office spin doctors would rejoice over. This is real politics out in the real world. Forget the obvious dangers of associating the party with a nasty disease that might kill you, let’s just get on with it and raise some money. Quite right too. Conservatism. Cancer. There is a difference.
I was so determined to go along, I caught a lift with my fellow London exile who lives in the big house along the way. Unfortunately, I had also asked another friend and her farmer husband for a lift. They arrived at my door about 20 minutes after I had left. I blame sleep deprivation for every brainless thing I do. The children have a rota going as to who will wake me up at night. Monday night it was all of them. Tuesday night, they let me sleep through to give me a false sense of security. Wednesday, the four-year-old woke up at 1 in the morning, sat up in bed, called for me and when I stumbled in, told me: “It’s dark. I can’t find the bed.” I said: “You are sitting on the bed.” Then he insisted on coming in with me and lying awake for an hour and a half, occasionally stroking my face with infinite tenderness which meant I could not even shout at him. Thursday, 3.10am, the baby girl started screaming: “Wata. Wata. Wata” as if I had her on a salt diet. Friday, 2.20am the baby wailed madly and collapsed back into sleep just as I got to her; about 45 minutes later, the four-year-old woke me again because he said he was having a nightmare. Then, on Saturday morning, my six-year-old complained he had also called for me during the night and I had not come. I said: “I didn’t hear you. What was wrong?” He said: “I couldn’t find the duvet.” I said: “Well, where was it?” He said: “The bottom of the bed.” I said: “Your duvet was at the bottom of the bed and you tried to wake me up in the middle of the night to get it for you?” “Yes – and you didn’t come. Where were you?” The consequence of this extreme sleep deprivation is low brain function, a distinct lack of amiability and acute, occasional stupidity such as arranging for a variety of lifts for the same occasion.
Anyway, I was running late due to the fact I had meant to lay everything out for the ball the day before, but had not had the time. I also had to go with my hair half done because my hairdryer decided to cut out and not start again right in the middle of blow drying my hair. I contemplated sticking my head in the Aga to finish the job but decided it might traumatise the children if they saw me. I do not want them telling me in 20 years time that their earliest memory is me laying on the kitchen floor with my head in the oven. Which is electric. When I left the house, it was without jewellery, gloves or the right handbag because I could not find any of them. Luckily, I found my long frock which I was convinced had gone to the textile bank or the charity shop when we moved house the last time. The girl who helps me with the children has been away but she babysat for me that night. As I walked out the door, I told her: “Don’t let any of the children in the bathroom because when I tried to empty the bath, the chain came off the plug and I can’t get the plug out now.” She said: “OK.” I think she is getting used to the chaos. I walked up to my neighbour’s house where we were leaving from, trying to shake off the thought that a. my hair looked a mess and b. there was a slightly scummy pond in the bathroom and the baby might throw herself in it reaching for a rubber duck while I was out. There is always such an appetite to crucify a grieving mother; the headlines would read: “Champagne Charlie Ma Dances till Dawn with Tory Boys while Baby Drowns in Bathroom Pond. ‘I Did It For Cameron and Cancer,’ says Devastated Mother.”
It is always slightly disconcerting to be in a meeting of fellow travellers when you do not have the same map. At least though the tables had numbers and names. Each one called after a Tory frontbencher. Tory party leader, Cameron was 1; former Tory party leader Hague, 2; could-have-been Tory party leader, Davis, 3. never-to-be party leader Eric Pickles was 22. I was on Grayling. We had to Google him on my fellow London exile’s Blackberry. He turned out to be the Conservative spokesman who appears on Channel 4 News and makes you think: "Who is that bloke? I have never seen him before in my life."You think the same thing every time he is on. Which was worse I wondered, to be on Eric Pickles or to have to Google your own table? I thought Pickles.
The Tories may be the traditional party of low taxation but this does not hold true for fundraisers. We had no sooner sat down than demands for money started in the form of strange party games and £20 for a raffle ticket to win a week for 10 in a ski chalet. The programme of events promised a speaker whose “talent for mimicry is legendary”; this immediately makes you feel as if you will need to be very drunk to hear him. There was also a “Grand” auction and a silent auction. I find auctions very stress inducing. Only that afternoon, I had been involved in an auction for sweet peas and parsnips at a local village fete. I had lost my bids for everything but a Victoria sponge. Admitting a desire in public can be hell I decided as I dropped out of the bidding, left the cricket pavilion and walked away from the pom pom dahlias I had wanted so badly. Conservatives angst less. I watched with admiration as the bids went in for the lots including tickets at Lords, fishing on the Tweed and “two guns on a 100 bird day” in North Yorkshire.
I preferred the silent auction where you wrote in your name and the amount you were willing to pay underneath the particular lot you were interested in; later on, as excitement built and the auction was about to close, you told a girl and they wrote it on a board for you. The lots included a 1994 Subaru Legacy Turbo 4WD Estate (it fetched £810)- the funds for this were to be shared with the campaign to stop wind turbines on a local farm. (They are very political these people.) I think Cameron would have preferred to see a bicycle in the silent auction rather than something that boasted “wide boy spotlights on the front”. You could also bid for a “a day’s hunting for two” with two different hunts, a hacking jacket and a gundog workshop for four handlers and dogs and a carriage driving lesson. I was tempted by the gundog workshop, presumably you throw a gun in the air and the dog is taught to fetch it; I decided instead to bid for a day’s stalking on an estate in the south of the county. With just a minute or so to go, a bid for £275 came in over my head for the stalking and the girl started writing in the new name, I turned to complain. I said: “You just beat my bid.” I did not add: “You Tory bastard.” I thought that would be unsporting. I was glad I did not. He was very charming. He said I could go stalking with them and to call. I shall take him up on it. I am hoping we might see George Clooney.
I found myself looking round, saying to myself: “So this is what Conservatives look like.” Despite what Cameron may hope, they still wear dinner jackets and lurex. I do not think they do this when they are knocking on doors for votes, but I could be wrong. I hope they do. I met the local Conservative candidate, sparkling in Tory blue. A woman, obviously. Tories do not cross dress I am sure in Cameron’s conservative party. Not in public anyway. The candidate was clever, enthusiastic and a good communicator. She is fighting in a constituency where everybody votes for the Liberal Democrat MP, Alan Beith. Canvassing, people tell her they are Conservatives and she says: “Great”. Then they say: “But we vote for Alan Beith; he’s such a nice man.”
I had hoped when someone said the Tory candidate in the Berwick constituency was a woman, she was the blonde girl in the black corset with the most enormous pair of breasts you have ever seen. She was not carrying them. Like a handbag. They were attached. Mesmerising. The skirt of the dress was scooped up the front on either side to reveal legs but no one was looking at her legs which I am sure were shapely or her face which I am sure was lovely. Where ever this girl went, her fellow Tories turned to stare at the passing and fabulous breasts. Cameron should scrap the oak tree and get a big boob logo. Easy to design; easy to remember. “The Conservative Party – the breast choice.” “Conservatism – breasting ahead.” It could run for years. In fact the candidate should take this girl with her when she canvasses. Whenever a male voter told her he was Tory but voted Beith, she could pull the girl in to his line of vision and say: “But we have bigger breasts.” I think it might tip the balance.