BANKSY’S WEEK: My pal the Prime Minister…Acting ze goat…Chillingham, political capital of the UK…Pish ‘n’ putt team stranded!

Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, home to Dominic Cummings' in-laws. and new political gossip capital of UK

IS DRAUGHTY CHILLINGHAM CASTLE in north Northumberland once again the UK’s unlikely epicentre of political intrigue?

I ask because the scuttlebutt down at my local insists that Dominic Cummings, husband of Mary Wakefield whose parents own the 13th-century Grade I-listed pile, is back in residence, convalescing from recent surgery.

Whether his supposed stay can be any more restful than his last visit – when he broke lockdown to drive his wife and child 264 miles from London, leading to calls for his dismissal – remains to be seen, given that his father-in-law, Sir Humphry Wakefield, has set a hare running with his indiscreet claim to a visitor that Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to stand down in six months’ time.

The claim, reported in The Times and immediately and strenuously denied by the PM as “absolute nonsense”, didn’t stop there. Apparently, 84-year-old Sir Humphry explained to his guest that Johnson was still “struggling badly” after his bout of coronavirus.

Wakefield, a lifelong horse rider, is said to have likened the virus to ‘being gone’ in the fetlock, a horse’s joint. “If you put a horse back to work when it’s injured it will never recover,” he reportedly said.

Wherever would he hear such information about the Prime Minister’s health and retirement plans? Not from a stable lad, that’s for sure. Intelligent but nosey news hacks might conclude that the source must be closer to home.

Which might have led to a lot of joyless dinners and bad-tempered breakfasts if ‘our Mary’s fellah’ Dominic HAS been hiding out in the Wakefield household this week!

Act-ING! If the cap
Fritz, wear it!
My son-in-law is a rather talented make-up and effects artist currently grounded by the Coronavirus freeze on the film and TV industry; his wife, my daughter, is newly pregnant, so taking advantage of her week’s holiday they came to stay with mum and dad.

When they first met, both were wannabe actors struggling to find paid work where they could. As Alistair tells it, he was phoned one day by his agent with news of an audition for a part in a Sky Sports commercial.

What was the role, he asked. “It doesn’t say much, just that you need to be a Germanic football fan,” she said.

Alistair is nothing but conscientious: he spent hours learning to count from ‘ein to zehn’ and practising his clipped, faux-German accent. He even considered wearing lederhosen before deciding that bare legs might be a touch off-putting. Anyway, come the day of decision he presented himself with a cheery “Guten Morgen!”

The crew director looked at Alistair as if he were crazy. “Let’s just get on with, shall we?” he said sharply.

The audition proceeded smoothly enough; Ali was well-satisfied, making announcements like a stormtrooper on schnapps: ‘All ze best sportz on ze television!’ The director was less impressed.

“Why the German accent?” he asked as he informed Alistair that, regretfully, he hadn’t won the role.

“My agent said you wanted a Germanic football fan,” said Ali. “I’ve been practising being German for the past week. . .”

At last the director understood. “Not GERMANIC!” he laughed, producing a copy of the email sent to agents. “I wrote GENERIC!”

“Auf wiedersehen,” said Ali as he left. And goodbye to the job. . .

Tales of Prime
Ministers I have known. . .

Double act: Abbott & Boris

There is a story doing the rounds with, at its heart, a Prime Ministerial connection to both the north-east and to Yours Truly.

Former Australian leader Tony Abbott has been tipped for a leading role advising the British government on trade deals.

The Sun – supported by The Times – reported that Mr Abbott will be made joint president of the new Board of Trade, tasked with helping to negotiate worldwide trade deals. And that lit the Labour Opposition’s blue touchpaper!

Tony (I’ll tell you in a moment why I’m on first-name terms with Australia’s least popular Prime Minister) ‘has form’ in the area of controversial comments.

Climate change? Global warming “is probably doing good”, he told a conference in 2017, adding that liberal environmental policies were “like primitive people killing goats to appease the volcano gods”.

Donald Trump? His presidency has been “quite a success” and his methods were “crude but effective”, the 62-year-old Aussie told delegates at the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington early this year.

And his views on women? Don’t get me started. Suffice to say that the one-time would-be priest (he trained at a seminary) once asked whether “men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command”  and he is constantly  accused of misogyny and of being sexist.

His unpopularity within the Liberal Party (that’s what Australians call their Conservatives) cost him the premiership after two years and when his  electorate turned against him he lost his Sydney seat last year. So he needs this job from his old friend Boris.

But enough of this old guff; how come I can call him Tony?

Well, we worked together in Sydney when I was deputy editor of The Australian and he was the chief leader writer. We weren’t particularly close colleagues but friendly enough for me to know that he was born in London (Lambeth) and emigrated with his Newcastle-born father (the second north-east connection!) and Aussie mum when he was just two years old. Abbott is so pro-British that he led the  raving royalists to victory during Australia’s last unsuccessful ‘Dump the Queen’ referendum.

Me, I’d have voted for a republic if I had been an Aussie, which probably best illustrates our differences when it came to politics; he was a decent enough fellow, despite his strange, right-wing views (which suited the newspaper more than mine). He was also as fat as I was, back then, and now is as thin as a lath. Something odd about that, his even-fatter friend thinks. A pity: it was about all we had in common.

So it’s hard to be in my old colleague’s camp, especially when The Times began what might become his political epitaph with the fateful words, “His appointment was praised by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage”!

’Nuff said?

The boys are
back in town!
It was touch and go for Coldstream’s crazy golfers: having booked a ‘pish and putt’ trip to the low-virus isle of Arran in their Covid-19 ‘bubble’ they weren’t sure until the last minute that their ‘staycation’ could go ahead.

When it did, they were almost blown away after a west coast gale howled in and left them stranded, their ferry to the mainland ordered into lockdown by the raging seas.

It might have been sleep-on-the-beach time for my pals The Undertaker and Klondike the Wind Farmer, were it not for the fact that, while they couldn’t sail home, no one else could sail in.

So they kept their hotel beds.


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