Saturday 16 May 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: No room at the golf club for Fred 'The Shred'
Those multi-millionaire bankers like Sir Fred "The Shred" Goodwin must be relieved by the way the media searchlight has been switched from them to members of parliament for naming and shaming purposes.
But even before the current row I was aware that Sir Fred had done a disappearing act. Normally in this situation you would expect to see a figure like that caught out by a newspaper photographer surreptitiously slinking down Princes Street in dark glasses. But in Sir Fred's case there has been nothing of the kind.
The only confirmation of his existence came a few days ago when it was reported that his application to join Scotland's famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club had been turned down on the grounds that in the eyes of the members he was "the wrong kind". They didn't like the cut of his jib in other words.
This is not the first time Goodwin has had trouble getting into a Scottish golf club. A year or two ago The Sunday Times reported that when he applied to join the posh Bruntisfield Golfing Links Society he was told that there was a 10-year waiting list and that he would have to wait his turn. The reply was the traditional, "Do you realise who I am?" The secretary said he did.
Sir Fred later launched a libel action, claiming damages of £15,000 against the paper but withdrew it after the story was confirmed by a key witness.
Now rebuffed by a second club, Goodwin may well decide to follow my earlier advice in this column and go and live abroad. Or perhaps he has already chosen to do so which would explain why we haven't been seeing him around the place.
Is it only now that we despise MPs?
It was my great friend Auberon Waugh who decreed that "anybody who puts themselves forward to be elected as an MP must have some social or emotional inadequacy which requires this form of compensation".
I suspect that a great many people share that view, or at least I hope so. And I hope therefore that all this talk about the nation being shocked and appalled by the latest revelations about our MPs is misplaced. The way some people go on you'd think that the whole of our democratic system was in peril.
One does not want to poo-poo the disclosures about MPs' expenses – only to get them into perspective, which is why it is dangerous for people to pretend that up until a week or so ago they regarded MPs as devoted and upright public servants whose only aim was selflessly to serve the community.
While not going quite as far as Bron Waugh, who in any case was, as so often, overstating the case, I have always thought of MPs as a fairly disreputable bunch of human beings redeemed, to some extent, by the presence in their midst of a number of outstanding figures genuinely concerned with the welfare of their fellow human beings. Such MPs exist in every party and are distinguished by the fact that they are hardly ever selected for high office.
The same is true of other institutions like, for example, the Church of England, where most of the priests and bishops are second-rate time-servers but the presence of a small band of saintly figures manages to persuade the faithful that all is not lost.
Scott-James was ahead of her time, in the garden and on Fleet Street
I owe a great debt to my one-time neighbour Anne Scott-James who has died at the ripe old age of 96. Because it was she who first made me interested in gardening.
Although Anne was a famous Fleet Street figure in her day – an early version of the lady columnists who nowadays proliferate, (she is pictured in a bar in 1941), her greatest talent was as a gardener and it was thanks to her that I was introduced not just to flowers but to the books of the great gardeners like Vita Sackville-West, Christopher Lloyd and Marjorie Fish.
Ahead of her time she liked having semi-wild flowers like hellebores, tansy and sweet rocket, and I still have specimens which must be descendants of the ones she gave me all those years ago.
Anne and her second husband, the famous cartoonist Osbert Lancaster, made an incongruous couple. She was so tall and elegant. He was short and sturdy with a loud sports jacket and bristling moustache. Following his death in 1986 I assumed she would retire to her country cottage but she didn't and it was sold and the beautiful little garden she had created was destroyed.
In spite of their very different temperaments, Anne was devoted to Osbert, and after he died used to write long letters to him telling him all her news.
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