Simon's Blog - Life in a country castle
General Election May 2010
We are indeed living in uncertain times.
Last Thursday we voted for change. Change we’ve got but whether it is for the good or not only time will tell.
Uncannily, our fortunes at Augill have mirrored those of the wider economy over the past 13 years. We bought the castle in September 1997 just four and a half months after Tony Blair’s new government proclaimed that ‘Things Can Only Get Better’.
Like Tony, we had no real idea what we were getting ourselves into, other than that we had a vision; a passion to create something to challenge the banality of what had already gone before.
Unlike Tony, and latterly dear old Gordon, we succeeded.
But, rather scarily at times, like the labour government, we have had to borrow heavily for what we’ve now got.
Now, against the backdrop of a real time Greek Tragedy (liberally hammed up by the media) and a possible political stalemate, we have decided that our debt needs better managing.
Luckily, we’re not having to negotiate a coalition. Nick Clegg’s overtures to the Conservatives could be best compared with us offering to jump into bed with the Sultan of Brunei at The Dorchester and then demanding that we have permanent use of his penthouse suite.
And so it is that we begin talks about a package of Augill Austerity measures and other policies which will herald a strong and stable future for the castle.
Frantic negotiations have been going on behind the famous red door of the Coach House at Augill Castle. Wendy has come to the table with one over-riding demand that she must be allowed to continue drinking in line with her level of responsibility for customer care. in other words she is demanding proportional inebriation.
I suggest that a possible solution could be to hang out once-used teabags to dry ready for re-use. She explains that I have misunderstood, in her opinion purposefully and am talking about temperance reform rather than alcoholic reform, her long held manifesto pledge being that ‘a gin a day keeps the blues at bay’.
We agree that this may be necessary to keep the castle machine sufficiently oiled but both agree that the Friday Fizz tradition of a bottle of champagne to see in the weekend must go not least because the castle is now so well staffed that a single bottle is sufficient for no more than a sip each - that’s as much use as a 2.5% reduction in VAT. A referendum of the staff is ruled out on the grounds that, rather like the electorate at large, most of them either don’t know what they’re being asked or don’t care. I suggest Saturday Spumante as a defecit busting compromise and so the first measure is agreed (subject to a full inter-departmental inquiry).
Wendy now feels empowered to bring up the subject of clothing allowances. I take this as a thinly veiled attack on my famous penchant for designer shirts. I point out that as a point of principle all my shirts are manufactured within the Eurozone, mostly in Italy, thus making a valuable contribution towards staving off the contagion of sovereign debt. My position is further strengthened by evidence that most of my shoes are imported either from Spain or Portugal.
But Wendy, rather like Alastair Darling’s refusal on Sunday to be European when it comes to forking out for a costly Greek rescue package, insists that we should be supporting industries in former imperial colonies and that perfectly good Indian imports are available at Asda.
I refuse to be moved, insisting that there is already freedom of movement of shirts between European member states but that there must be a strict quota on immigrant shirts from the sub continent. We agree to differ although I concede that there should be an amnesty on some of the imported fashion that have been in Wendy’s wardrobe for more than ten years provided it is still earning it’s keep.
We do agree that a quota on non-EU garment immigration should not extend to those originating from Australia, New Zealand or Canada even if they have been in my wardrobe since I was 26 as it would simply be too costly to send them back and the shirts are all thoroughly inoffensive.
Eventually a compromise deal is struck whereby there should be no new clothes purchases for a year (because Asda simply isn’t a workable option).
There is, however, broad agreement that there should be no bar to immigration of guests from anywhere in the world provided they have sufficient cash (preferably not Euro) in their pockets.
An area of general consensus is the condemnation of the controversial ‘guest premium’ whereby guests from poorer backgrounds are given generous discounts to come and stay at the castle.
Wendy states this is not a prudent use of resources and that if people want to stay in nice places they can’t afford they must simply work harder. I agree, but generously add that guests who are not happy with the service they have received at Augill should be given the right to set up their own self-funded castle accommodation projects.
It is agreed that the policy should be further extended to exclude those seeking weddings on the cheap with a recommendation that they be referred to Gretna Green which, being in Scotland, essentially devolves further responsibility.
As talks break up for the night there is a feeling that much has been discussed and that the dialogue has been positive and constructive.
Next morning, much like Nick Clegg and David Cameron drawing up in their ministerial Jags, Wendy pulls up to the castle in the vintage MG while I trundle across the lawn to meet her on the John Deere garden tractor. Can savings be made on transport? Both parties are keen to build a greener future at the castle and to that end we have already collaborated on a visionary green agenda which makes the castle fit for the twenty-first century.
There is much common ground to explore, especially when we realise that neither of us actually believes that the case for man-made climate change is proven. However, we do agree that notwithstanding that, there is an imperative to reduce the use of finite energy resources, reduce waste and pollution and work to create a local economy that can be sustained for future generations.
We agree that a range of measures to save on electricity, solid fuel and gas will make a large contribution to reducing the deficit. I suggest that further potential savings can be made by generating our own energy. There is general agreement that as a family we could be self sufficient in gas production but there’s less agreement on how to collect and store it. Wind power could prove an alternative.
A new public funded initiative to pay back people more for the renewable electricity they produce than it cost them in the first place seems a throughly unsustainable way to encourage sustainability. But the Government funded Carbon Trust says it may make solar panels a viable option.
The idea seems to ignore the elephant in the room: solar panels need sun and quite a lot of it. Not to be deterred we agree to investigate further. Then a cloud of volcanic ash blocks out the sun.
After forty eight hours of intense bargaining we formulate a way forward.
To secure the long term stability of the castle’s finances we have agreed on a set of principles:
Less alcohol, no new clothes and no heating (unless the ash cloud blows away).
As Fagin said in Oliver: “I’m reviewing the situation... I think I’d better think it out again’.