‘I suppose,’ said my dad philosophically, ‘I could always vote Green.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake! Not you as well!’ I screamed, as the entire restaurant looked round to see what manner of family crisis was brewing at our table.
‘Look, dad, it’s very simple. Do you agree with 60 per cent income tax?’
‘Of course not,’ said dad, a look of deep concern on his face. ‘Well then. Enough of this “ooh, the Greens are harmless, aren’t they? They like animals and trees and they don’t have any particular views about anything important one way or the other so they wouldn’t make much difference.”’ Stop! The Greens are harmless the way Stalin was harmless. They want to take all your money and use it to fund such hair-brained schemes as Monty Python sketches are made of. They want to prosecute pet shops for selling rabbit hutches!’
And I slammed my hand down to emphasise my point, sending cutlery flying. To be clear, I don’t like rabbit hutches. My rabbit always lived free in the house, and used a dog flap into the garden, and sat on the sofa with me watching Friends every evening, eating Maltesers. But let’s face it, I’m a weirdo. Not every family in Britain who buys a pet rabbit for their kids can dedicate their lives to ensuring it reaches its full potential as an artificially maintained lagomorph in captivity: ‘Where are the rest of the rabbits to live once the hutches have been banned? I’ll tell you where. Nowhere. They want to do away with rabbits. And that’s before they even get started on horse-racing.’
Pretty much every diner in the restaurant was staring at us now. The waiters looked cross that I was disturbing the ambiance but I felt justified. This used to be a Harvester and was perfectly fine while it contented itself with directing us to the salad bar, where we could top our shredded lettuce with croutons that we suspected weren’t decent but nevertheless secretly enjoyed. But now it has changed hands and someone with pretensions of grandeur has taken over in the kitchen and I had just been refused butter by a snotty waitress as she served us a platter of fashionably torn hunks of dry bread and weirdly too-green olives.
‘But this bread is horrible without butter,’ I had protested.
‘We don’t do butter, madam,’ she said, as if I were something the rabbit had dragged in through the dog flap. And she nodded to the little white ramekin of olive oil sitting beside the blasted wooden tasting board on which languished the oh-so-casually torn pain rustique.
‘If you’re intimating that I’m good to dip my bread in that you’re mistaken. It’s like water. Not at all the quality of extra virgin one would use as a dipping oil.’
But she had walked off. Dad broke off a chunk of not quite crusty bread and made a face to signal that he was enjoying it. ‘I know you’re not enjoying that,’ I told him.
‘Look, let’s just make the best of it. They mean well.’
‘That’s what people are saying about the Green party. That’s how it starts.’
‘Oh dear, let’s talk about something else,’ said mum.
I agreed. The whole question of how we, the disenfranchised of Middle Britain, were going to vote while we waited for our home to be destroyed by HS2 was so fraught I could barely stand it.
We sat in silence for a few minutes then realised there was nothing else we wanted to talk about.
‘What I don’t understand,’ said dad, ‘is why I can’t find out if there is a Ukip candidate standing in our area.’
‘For the last time!’ exclaimed my mother, ‘I’ve told you, there is! I saw a Ukip poster in the town the other day.’
‘Oh,’ said dad, with a face that said he wished that made his dilemma better but now he thought about it, he wasn’t sure it did. He bit into another hunk of dry bread and chewed uncomplainingly.
Just an everyday scene, really. We could have been any dyed-in-the-wool Tory family sitting down to dinner in any butter-free restaurant with pretensions in the heart of England, worrying about which barmy minority party to vote for in protest.
We sat in silence. I thought about hutches, and how I actually do wish people wouldn’t put rabbits in them. I once stopped a Labour environment minister in a Commons corridor and harangued him about hutches — ‘Would you put your cat in one, hmm?’ — until he crept away from me sideways, with his back pressed against the wall. Yes, in principle, I’m all for a hutch-less Britain. It just seems a bit of a jump from that to wrecking the economy. I guess you can’t have everything.
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