Chin up, Susan; thank you, George; and who's Tim?

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The Independent Online
IT IS always the same when you are out of the country for a week or two, as I was over Christmas. You know that as you fly into Heathrow with only one thought in your mind (in my case, 'Oh God, which car park did I leave the car in?'), a headline will hit your eye saying: 'Little Mike restored to mother' or 'Tracey: the grim wait goes on', and you will not have the faintest idea what they are about.

If you are like me, you will take good care not to find out, either. These stories are the real-life equivalent of TV soap operas, and it is as hard to believe in the scriptwriters employed by newspapers as those employed by television. So don't get involved.

But even if you do not care and do not want to know who little Mike is, you cannot get away from it. People keep reminding you. Quite nice, intelligent people will remind you of it. 'See they got that bloke back from Egypt, then,' they say. And if you have got any sense, you never say, 'What bloke from Egypt?' because there is a danger your question might be answered, and you will spend the first day of your return listening to regurgitated press soap operas when all you want to do is get back to bed. Or tell people how cold it was in Canada. Or, in my case, find your car.

So what you are safest doing is just nodding, and moving on to safer ground by asking if they know what has been happening in The Archers recently. Only this is not any good any more, because now The Archers is a press soap opera as well: Susan Carter, one of the battier figures in the lovably batty radio soap, has been put away for six months for giving shelter to her runaway criminal brother, and hundreds of listeners have written to their MPs asking for her to be released.

The MPs have pointed out, if they have any sense, that they cannot interfere in what is a purely fictional scenario, although this may not cut any ice with those members of the public who enjoyed House of Cards and To Play the King and think that all politics is a fictional scenario, on the grounds that Francis Urquhart is a more realistic Prime Minister than the one who normally appears on our screens.

But I did not come back to headlines of: 'Little Mike restored to Mum' or 'Tracey: the grim wait goes on' or even 'Francis Urquhart takes over from embattled Major'. I came back to equally incomprehensible headlines of 'Tim's love child battle', 'Yeo Ho Ho]' and 'Can Major save Tim?' Tim? Who was Tim? Not the Princess Royal's hubby, surely,? No, a man called Tim Yeo, apparently, who was apparently a junior minister, but who apparently was not going to be for much longer, because . . . well, I won't bore you with the story because a) you know it already; b) it is so badly written; c) I have no wish to injure the Conservative government at this moment. Cripple, yes, but not injure.

The 'Tim's love child' story took the inevitable dreary course that all Tory resignations seem to take these days. (Are all Tory resignations dealt with by the same scriptwriter?) First, the man said he would not resign, because it was not a resigning matter. Then he said it was a purely private matter and his wife was standing by him, as indeed was the other woman. Then the PM let it be known that he was also standing by him and loyalty to companions was his first consideration. And then, when resignation was firmly ruled out, he resigned.

Goodbye Parkinson, goodbye Mellor, goodbye Lamont. You all said you would never go and then you went. Can we have a new script-editor please? For instance, couldn't Tim have stayed in office on the grounds that he was too busy dealing with the agonised complaints about Susan Carter in The Archers for him to leave public life? That would have meant a pleasing conjunction of factual and fictional soap opera for perhaps the first time ever.

(Of course, there is something rather cheering about returning to Britain after Christmas and finding that the only thing that seems to have happened in your absence is the resignation of someone you had never heard of before, even if it does raise the question of why Tories only resign when they are found out and not when they actually do their misdeeds.)

Then I found my car in the depths of the Park And Fly park near Terminal Four, and after two weeks in the open it would not start and a nice man called George came out from reception and gave me a jump-lead start without complaining - God bless you, George - and two hours later we were home in my West Country constituency where recently our MP left his wife on the grounds that she had been committing adultery. That was a novel twist to the usual Tory plot development. Maybe there is life in Tory Central Scriptwriting yet. More about this tomorrow.

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