THOSE familiar - and who are not? - with
Shakespeare’s Richard III will recall the Duke of Buckingham’s
spin-doctoring address to the mayor, aldermen and citizens of London in
his bid to get Richard, Duke of Gloucester, onto England’s throne. "This
prince is not an Edward. He is not lolling on a lewd-day bed, but on his
knees at meditation. Not dallying with a brace of courtesans but
meditating with two deep divines. Not sleeping to engross his idle body
but praying to enrich his watchful soul."
That was nearly how I and millions of others saw nice John Major,
skipping, of course, the "deep divines" bit and substituting "Tory
grandees" as the nearest spiritual equivalents. He was, for us, the
epitome of decent Englishness, a lover of warm beer, the sight of
elderly arthritics cycling to Evensong, the traditional, tried and
trusted British Rail bun, main courses of meat and two veg, probably
smothered in HP Sauce, a purchaser of Marks & Spencer’s gents’
underpants which he wore, as a man of the people, outside his shirt and
a passionate follower of cricket at which, it was said, he was adept at
bowling a maiden over.
In the global warming and tectonic plate upheavals, undoubtedly
caused partially by seismic and volcanic sexual activity among
eco-reckless Homo sapiens, John Major stood out like a grey, craggy
outcrop of uncrumbling morality against which, we supposed, waves of
half-crazed women would lash themselves in vain. Not for him the louche
libertarianism of the Norrises, Mellors and Clintons of this prurient
planet but a life, as clean in thought, word and deed as a Boy Scout
with his woggle.
There were times when the strain of resolute rectitude appeared
to show on his finely-chiselled features which then resembled those of a
suffering saint, like Sebastian on receipt of the seventh arrow, and
once, in an unguarded moment, he pronounced pejoratively on the parental
legitimacy of some of his Cabinet colleagues, but here was one who
maintained impeccable moral standards in a country fast falling to
illicit sexual pieces.
His uprightness downfall, as dramatically revealed by the
drawing-aside of the Currie curtain, will undoubtedly make many of us
not only question old ethical certainties and wonder who in this reeling
realm we can trust but also cast a new eye on the moral foundation of
literary landmarks that made many of us the law-abiding, down-to-earth,
upstanding citizens we are now.
Take the Biggles’ stories by Captain WE Johns, once favourites
for normal, healthy British boys with patriotic leanings and a natural,
and well-founded, suspicion of foreigners. Here were three men living
together - Biggles, Algy and Ginger - and no sign of a woman’s touch
anywhere, except at housekeeper level.
Certainly, they were gainfully employed in foiling sly and silken
or bullet-headed and sabre-scarred enemies of the empire, or preventing
devilishly-ingenious Orientals from conquering the world with electronic
scorpions but, nowadays, such a curious domestic arrangement would
probably cause upraised eyebrows, low whistles and adverse comment among
narrow-minded citizens and even the better class of crook.
Then there was, for literary puritans, the now questionable
relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Watson. All fair and above
board, I expect, and none of our business, but, nowadays, in this
climate of suspicion, we can’t help wondering.
I hardly like to mention it but, as far as the Swallows and
Amazons’ stories by Arthur Ransome are concerned, I have often
speculated about the extra-nautical activities of Commander Ted Walker,
RN, father of the children crewing the sailing boat, Swallow, who was
seldom around when his offspring were adventuring in some rural idyll
and who, on the China station, was, I suspect, adventuring himself with
ardent spirits at Fat Chan’s Saloon Bar, Swatow.
Fairy stories? A farrago of ageism, sexism, sado-maso-chism and
cannibalism; I wouldn’t leave Rumpelstiltskin with the under-16s. What
really went on in midnight dormitories of Angela Brazil’s school
stories? What is the subplot of Dimpsie Pulls It Off? Certainly, the
story of romps in the seven dwarfs’ cottage with Snow White when Sexy,
the missing dwarf, arrived has yet to be told.
Nothing, it seems, is as it seems. Who and what can we trust? I
put my faith in nice Mr Blair to keep Britain safe and prosperous.
That’s how desperate I am.