I find myself increasingly fascinated by politics as the years go by. By politics I mean the sharp end, the game of chess at the top, the intricacies of gaining and holding power rather than the trudging of streets, the knocking on doors, the envelope-stuffing, placard-wielding or vote-counting in borrowed halls.
I tune in to The Papers every night on the BBC’s 24 hour News channel and try to get some inkling of what goes on at Westminster, paying attention to the various journalists’ analysis of selected newspaper headlines for the coming day. What I thirst for the story behind the façade. Exactly why did the ghastly Gove dispose of Boris? Exactly how did a single, rather pedestrian comment from this odd little man suffice to end a glittering career? What games of bluff and double-bluff are they and their colleagues playing even as I write? Do they hunch over mugs of cocoa and tumblers of whiskey at the end of the day and plan it all out? If he does this, I shall do that. If he doesn’t do this, I shall do that…
Ex collected a whole range of things – strange things such as faded 1940s Christmas decorations and those metal inn-signs once given away (I think) in cigarette packets; obscure blues albums; clockwork toys and the sort of stuff that falls under the general heading of Railwayana – enamel station signs, signalling lamps, station-masters’ hats and so forth. This last was the greatest of his obsessions and it was in the pursuit of enamel signs and signalling lamps that he came up against his nemesis, a collector of exactly the same stuff but on a vaster and more ruthless scale. I shall call him the Agronomist.
I have to say I rather liked the Agronomist, possibly because was like a saner and richer version of Ex – well, richer. Ex made every effort to look as if he liked the Agronomist, and I suspect he actually did – or would have done if the blighter hadn’t repeatedly swooped in at the last minute to buy up the very item or items he’d wanted for his own collection. The Agronomist possessed a cool head and an apparently bottomless budget and, unlike Ex, was good with people. He had a knack of appearing to be listening with interest to your every word; deeply interested in you even if he wasn’t really. Whenever the two arch-rivals met you could feel them metaphysically circling one another whilst appearing to be engaged in harmless manly chats.
I rambled off there because that I remembered something about the Agronomist. He made handwritten charts which he called his Critical Path Analyses. These charts – which he must have used in his agronomical work as well – charted his collecting career-path. He was a driven man: by the time he reached forty he would have collected so many of these, obtained this, and this, and that. It was all so brilliant, so neat, so detailed – and so not to be. The poor man started getting vile headaches that painkillers wouldn’t touch. He learned he had a brain tumour, and fairly soon afterwards he died. We used to drive backwards and forwards to London to visit him in the hospital, taking his wife, who couldn’t drive, up with us.
I suppose I am drawn to this ruthless streak in people because I was born without it – one of a whole range of items that were not in my suitcase when I landed. I would so like to have mastered it, the smiling deception, the manoeuvring, the subtle playing of the long game. This same blank area in my brain made me hopeless at office politics. I was continually blundering in on conversations I didn’t understand and blurting out all the wrong things to the wrong people. People hurt and upset me, constantly. I made wrong decisions; I let myself be fooled, over and over again; I fell into one job after another, unable to plot a career, just taking whatever came up. I could no more have designed a Critical Path Analysis than I could have taken flight.
I’ve never been able see my nose in front of my face as far as my life or my future are concerned but strangely, nowadays, I can often work out what the politicians are up to. Or what I’d be up to, if I was them. In my mind’s eye they become little players on a distant stage or characters in a novel I’m creating. How would I have disposed of the inconvenient Boris, if I’d been the ghastly Gove? And if I was the inconvenient Boris, how would I plan to revenge myself upon said Gove? Would I bide my time, lurking in carpeted corridors, a dagger concealed in my sleeve? Or would I swallow my hatred, smile that sunny smile – c’est la vie, old bean, all’s fair in love and politics – until, one day…
I may have been a Borgia in another life, or a Machiavelli, keeping my friends close and my enemies closer. That must be it. Echoes of another existence, the past casting its long shadow.