I have never been a political animal - I admit to having had a carefree, frivolous youth. Then came marriage and children, I was told I was wasting my vote by not voting for anyone - so I voted Liberal - simply because they were the smallest of the ‘Big Three‘ and I voted just to even things up a little. So one may well wonder how I managed to become secretary to my local Conservative Party lol! Yes - the V.I.P. at the meeting I was supposed to be attending when I decided to see Gene instead, was John Major! He wasn’t PM then, in fact he was merely running for election as our local MP, but a much admired and Very Important Person locally.
It all happened by accident. I’d just moved to this village and didn’t know anyone. I was walking down the High Street one Saturday when I noticed a sign at the gateway of a large house advertizing a Garden Party taking place that afternoon. A good place to meet the locals, I thought, my children were out with their friends, so I left a note telling them where I was going and to join me there later on. For some reason I drove there in my old banger - although it was only walking distance - my old Ford Estate was not a pretty sight - rust having taken over from most of the original blue paint, but it was very reliable :-/
As I turned into the parking area, I noticed a very smart navy blue Volvo Estate following me in, I was so hoping it wouldn’t park right next to mine - but it did - sigh......
The driver and I emerged from our cars at the same time - a tall, slim young man with large horn rimmed specs that really suited his round, pleasant face. He gave me a friendly smile, and I made a rueful remark about our two cars looking like the beauty and the beast. "Well, it goes, doesn’t it?" he asked cheerily. I agreed that it did indeed, and was extremely reliable. "That’s all you need, then" he responded. We walked across the car park together, and up the long path to the house, chatting and laughing as though we’d known each other for ages, and that is precisely the impression we were giving to those who came to greet us as we entered the garden. The owner of the house brought us both cups of tea, a chair was brought out - ostensibly for the male guest, but he offered it to me. We continued to make small talk, and someone came to offer us a plate of buttered scones. I thought how nice and friendly everyone was being, eventually he was coaxed away by the other ladies, who, understandably wanted some attention from this nice, and rather attractive, young man.
Others came to talk to me, only afterwards did I realise that they were trying to find out the connection between myself and the young man who they referred to as ?John?. I thought that they were simply being extra friendly to a newcomer to the village. There was fun and games to be had in the garden, one such game was knocking tin cans off a wall by throwing bean bags at them - the prize was a large, fresh chicken, for the highest score of the day. When I went to take my turn at this game, John stood at my shoulder encouraging me with gusto, he frowned comically when I failed to beat the current highest score - which turned out to be his. "Have another go" he pleaded "I need someone to beat my score - I?d feel guilty taking home someone?s Sunday lunch!" I paid my 5p and made another attempt to beat his score, but without success. John?s score remained the highest for most of the afternoon, when my children arrived, immediately John encouraged them to have a go at beating his score - maybe this attention to my kids also gave observers the impression that John was a family friend, when all he wanted was for someone to beat his score, lol. My daughter didn?t manage it, but to his obvious relief, my son did. I could almost taste that lovely plump roasted chicken - then, darn it, right at the last minute someone beat my son?s score :-(
Many people came to chat to me during the afternoon, but only one of them asked me the pertinent question - how did I know John? It had eventually dawned on me that ?John? was somebody special - he was the successor to our local MP Lord Renton, who was retiring, and this garden party was in aid of the Conservative Party funds. I told him honestly, that we had met in the car park......... I think my ?popularity? took a bit of a dive as soon as this information was circulated, but I had already been asked if I would like to join their next meeting, and, purely in the interest of taking part in the village community, I accepted.
During that meeting, I was elected onto the committee and assigned a job to help in the campaign to get John Major elected as our local MP. I have to admit that some of it was great fun, I got invited to some of the grandest houses in the village and took part in social events that I wouldn?t otherwise have done, also, I got to like John Major, and came to loathe with a vengeance all the horrible things that were said about him when he became Prime Minister - never was there a person who was LESS ?grey? than him. Perhaps he was just too nice, too ordinary - the press couldn?t find anything wrong with him so they had to make it up.
I can?t say that I enjoyed the committee meetings very much, I got the impression that there was very little ?love in the room? - plenty of spite though.........when the long serving secretary became ill, I found myself elected to the job - ha ha ha - I?d never taken minutes in my life, I didn?t know what sort of thing to write down. I was told that I should write everything down unless it was agreed by all that it was ?off the record?. It seems there had been some controversy in the past about what should and should not be written down, and was advised to read back through the book of minutes to find out what had gone before - it made for very interesting reading lol! As it turned out, John was elected by the biggest majority of any other MP in the Country and his rise up the ranks was meteoric!
John was not slow to show his gratitude and we all got personal letters of thanks from him. We were euphoric over the wonderful result, but, job done, I did not want to remain on the committee. Then I read in the local paper that a wonderful working forge in a nearby village was up for sale - the blacksmith was retiring, it was highly likely that a developer would buy it, demolish the forge and build on the land. A few locals decided that this wonderful landmark should be preserved - and I agreed, we set up an action group to try to raise the £20,000 that the Blacksmith was asking. He liked the idea of keeping the forge going and was happy to give the Group the first chance of purchase.
We met in each other homes to draw up a plan of action - which meant writing to anyone who we thought might be able to help. I wrote to Maggie Thatcher - no reply - but she did use something I said in my letter in one of her speeches - just coincidence of course ;-) also Prince Charles - his office responded with good advice, and John Major, who replied by return of post and promised to do all he could to help us in our cause and offered to become our President if we thought it might help. As members of our Group were of differing political persuasions, I wasn?t sure what the response might be - when I read out John?s letter, they almost jumped on me "I hope you?ve written back accepting" was the delighted response. I told them I hadn?t, as I wasn?t sure it was what they wanted. I was told to write back without delay - they thought having our local MP as our President was an enormous boost to our cause. So followed a flurry of letters and telephone calls - John was very supportive, and responded to every letter by return of post.
We arranged for him to visit the forge to publicise our cause, along came photographers and news reporters too. We had lots of photos taken with John and I had a ?blink and you?ll miss it? moment on local TV, pictured with John.
Despite our valiant attempt to save the forge - we could not raise enough money to buy it, and after a year, the Blacksmith was becoming anxious. There was a developer waiting to snap up the property and we could no longer expect the blacksmith to wait for his money. We did get the council to put certain provisos on the development ie - the forge must be developed and not demolished - hah! The developer simply put up impenetrable fencing all around the property so that no one could see that he was doing just what he liked. Consequently, there was nothing left of the original forge.
I just love local history, and the whole Group were deeply saddened to have lost our cause - I was even inspired to write a poem lol! Which perhaps may have done some good. Someone in New Zealand thought it summed up what was happening out there and asked if he could send it to the local newspaper to make his point.
Here it is:
Reach out and touch me before I am gone
I?m here all around you - in brick and in stone
I?m cobwebs in attics - dust on the stair
Friendships forgotten - but not beyond repair
I?m fine architecture - our heritage unique
Quaint cottage and forge - now empty and bleak
I?m rich threads once woven into a glorious tapestry
of people and places - lost in memory
Reach out - hold on fast
Don?t lose me forever
For I am your past