John - Early sixties
10 - 12 Minutes
It’s Monday 22 September 2025 and I’m in Bradford for the UK Peatlands Regeneration Conference. The rain is set in for the day. I’m there as Deputy Chairman of the Cross-Party Peatland Group and even get a card with my name on the seat on the front row, stage right. But I wouldn’t say it’s the most sought-after gig. A pin-stripe suit is now speaking. God, he could bore for England. But every face around me looks dutifully attentive.
I never made ministerial office. I was PPS to the Europe Minister once, but that doesn’t count. You see, I could never toe the line. When the Government committed to regenerating 35,000 hectares of UK peatlands by 2025 I pointed out that that was just one per cent of the total. Tokenistic. Pathetic. We should aim for fifty per cent, I said: 1.75 million hectares. Well, after the 2021 floods and Climate Emergency so many people were crying out for the regeneration of moorland to sequester carbon and prevent flooding in the north that the government caved in. But although I did all the groundwork others got the credit. I should have been more selfish. But it’s too late to change. I’m going through the motions now.
As ripples of polite applause flow through the hall I’m flicking through my speech and wondering if I can catch that earlier train.
And then I hear her voice again. Kate's mulberry silk voice.
“Five years ago 80% of peatlands in the UK - two million hectares – “
Drop-dead gorgeous in sprayed-on jeans and high heels. The same long raven hair. The same emerald earrings. My brown hair is now white. I've let myself go.
“ - potentially storing over three billion tonnes of carbon, had been damaged by forestry, extraction, burning and over-grazing.”
My heart is pounding. I can hardly breathe. I’m back in 1985, at the Grizzly Bear in Covent Garden. On the juke box Ah-Ha are singing ‘Take on Me’. Everyone is having a great time. Except I'm dying inside.
JACK - Thirties to fifties
The present or the recent past (e.g. 2015)
10 - 15 minutes
stage is bare apart from a simple, small round pub table with two unused beer
mats and two drained pint glasses standing on two circles of spilt beer. Two unmatching
chairs stand untidily around the table. We hear the typical early
evening sounds of a busy English pub, and the sound system might play "Have
Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sung by Judy Garland. JACK enters, holding a
glass of beer, and walks over to the table. He places the glass carefully on a
beer mat, moves both glasses to the other side of the table, takes out a tissue,
wipes the beer from the table, moves a chair to the right position, wipes the
seat with another tissue, takes off his jacket, hangs it over the chair back, drops
the tissues into an empty glass, and sits down. He takes a sip of beer. If the
song is used, JACK speaks after “From now on, our troubles will be out of sight”. This comes at
around 00:45. When he speaks the sounds fade out.
Sometimes in life you can really make a difference. Unless the system crushes you first.
“I’ve got something you might be interested in,” the agency tell me. “Working for local council. Educational Consultant in a Virtual School. Checking the progress of children in care. The commute looks straightforward.”
So I go along to an oppressive, grey office block by the river and meet Vickie, the Virtual Head. She’s pleased to get me on board as redundancies have bitten hard and there are over 400 children. I monitor secondary, Izzie primary, and Vickie monitors “sensitive” cases. We don’t just make sure they have a school place, a Personal Education Plan, called a PEP, and at least 95% attendance. We try to resolve problems at school and help them to realise their potential. Many have complex special educational needs and most are achieving below their peers. And the situation is serious. Under 20% of them achieve 5 good GCSE passes, compared with the national average of over 60%. And only 7% go to university, against 40%.
Friday comes and there are lots of professionals at the meeting. Lynne and Harriet are alpha females. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Harriet says waiting times for educational psychologists are long because of the cut-backs. Perhaps for now James could attend the Maths Club. Lynne isn’t happy: “I asked for an assessment over three months ago. Why is there such a long delay?” she bristles. Harriet stands up as though she’s going to take out a gun, but she fires verbal bullets instead. She’s not taking any abuse. She announces that the meeting is finished. She walks out. A secretary comes in and tells us all to leave the premises immediately.
In the street everyone is put out and promising to make a complaint. I write a report for Vickie and Alex. I say there was no abuse. Harriet let James down badly by curtailing the meeting. She insulted everyone and wasted their time. I let Lynne know but she demands to see my report. I say I can’t do that because it contains highly sensitive information. She says she’ll use the freedom of information act to read it. I’m like all the others. God. This is a nightmare. I’ve been given a poison chalice.
TREVOR - Late
22:25, Friday 23 July 1993: Waterloo Station. A bench. A split-flat departure board flaps. TREVOR peers up at the departure board. He might wear a lightweight suit with a white cotton shirt and royal blue silk tie, black Oxford shoes, and hold the handle of a cabin-sized wheeled suitcase. Suddenly the flapping stops. Note: The constituency of Southampton Northam is fictitious.
He turns around, walks to the bench and sits down.
John Major played a blinder today. He finally passed the Maastricht Bill by linking it to a vote of confidence. He knew the rebels were going to cave in, with Labour eighteen points ahead in the polls. Even they valued their MP’s salary and pension over their opposition to Maastricht. But when they see the European single market boosting our economy they’ll surely change their tune. You see, we’ll make sure it works for us, as old Major craftily negotiated opt-outs for a single currency and common social policies, effectively throwing away the chance for the UK to become fully involved in the EU. You might call it ‘pick and mix’. With any luck the rancour over Europe has been settled for good and we can all fight Labour instead.
upon a time I would have been gutted about the opt outs, particularly the
social chapter. You see, I grew up as a fully paid up Europhile. It was mainly
down to Mum and Dad, of course, but growing up I really liked and admired Ted
Heath. He came to our school once and conducted The Twelve Days of Christmas.
He got us to us sing a really complicated bit at Five Gold Rings. It was great
fun. With a baton in his hand he could had the miners singing to his tune. But
without it he just lacked the magic touch. He was doomed to lose two elections
in 1974 and the leadership to Margaret Thatcher in 1975.
But at least he managed to sign the Treaty of Accession. Dad and I stood on the White Cliffs early in the morning of 1st January 1973 when we joined the Common Market. We looked across the English Channel and I shouted out “Vive l’entente cordiale!” I think I embarrassed Dad and frightened off the rest of my meagre audience: a pair of adonis blue butterflies and a prowling peregrine falcon.
course the local association in Southampton Northam would detest all that. At their
genteel garden parties they still see us as a Great Power hand in hand with the
USA. “We only joined a common market,” they say. “We didn’t vote to give up our
sovereignty or bring in socialism by the back door.”
rubbish, but I nod and smile all the same. And then the chairman taps his glass
of Hunter Valley chardonnay and makes a speech. I force myself not to laugh as
he winds up. “But the great thing is that in Trevor we’re lucky to have a such
a loyal M.P. He agrees that we should be in Europe, but not ruled
they raise their glasses to toast my name, and I stand there with a painted grin. After all, I’m on-message. I’m a whip. An enforcer. You see, in politics the party always comes first, as I tell rebels.
Sometimes we need to be – well, persuasive.
say: “You were elected on a Conservative manifesto. Not for your
ideals. OK, we all came into politics to
make the world a better place. But that’s harder if you lose the whip. Impossible
if you get de-selected. Or if Fleet Street finds about that certain something.”
That sort of thing. Yes, it stinks and I hate myself for it. It wasn’t supposed
to be like that.
As dawn broke on 3rd
May 1979 I had just been elected as the new M.P. for Southampton Northam. I
thought I was going to change the world.
Twenty-four. Just married. House
beside the River Itchen. Fired up to help Margaret put the Great back in
Britain. To bring back individual freedom, prosperity and better opportunities
for all and revitalize our relationship with the EEC.
Oh, yes. How easy it was to
parrot the manifesto in my acceptance speech. “We will restore Britain's
influence in Europe by committing to play a leading and constructive role in
tackling the Community’s problems.” Deep down I knew what this really
meant. Europe was the substitute Empire, which we would lead and
transform. Yet I thought we Europhiles could help to make us good Europeans.
By Summer 1980 we were
alarmed by the government’s hard-line policies, such as higher interest rates
and slashing public spending. But Margaret tore into us. We were
"wets", she said. (Imitating her.) “Too soft and too willing
to compromise with the unions. And with the EEC. We have not rolled back the
frontiers of the state, only for a European super-state to re-impose them from
Brussels. You turn if you want to: the lady's not for turning!'”
And I did turn. I decided to
conform. Become “dry”. Be faithful lobby fodder. After all, principles couldn’t
pay the bills.
Your attention please. We are sorry that the 22:35 service to Poole is delayed by up to 30 minutes. This is due to signalling problems at Basingstoke. Network South East apologises for the inconvenience this may cause you.
End of this extract.