A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Theo

Theo’s life was a bit of a dud! At least that’s what the newspapers said. They had a semblance of a biography under that unfortunate photo of Theo with Rupert. There is Rupert sitting on his lap his bandit eyes staring right into the photographers lens, as if he is daring him to come any closer. Rupert has on his little hand knitted red shawl, drawn tight across his tiny but brave chest. He has one paw draped casually down by his side and the other, extended into the pudgy hand of Theo. Theo looks splendid and he has a mischievous grin on his face that looks to the left of the photographer, as if he is amused by something happening in the far corner of the studio. His hand is enclosed by a beautiful white silk shirtsleeve, set off by a paua shell cufflink that is slightly drawn out from Theo’s elegant purple suit. A discreet pocket-handkerchief matches the cuff link and shirtsleeve with the greens and blues swirling together. You could almost get lost in that pocket and its contents. His now famous bowler sits omni the arm of the elegant leather chair that he sits in and although the photographer has mostly caught the top half of Theo you can just make out the trademark old-fashioned buttoned boots. Theo thought the photo unfortunate because the overall effect is of a silly old man with his stupid little overindulged lap dog. The juxtaposition of Rupert’s arrogant stare and his kindly visage illustrated the Jekyll and Hyde personality, which the author of the accompanying article, had painted of Theo. It was also unfortunate that little Rupert sported a respectable erection and his little pink, erect penis poked upwards and outwards from Theo’s bemused gaze.

Theo, the child of Lord Quintin Hogg, the schooling at Eton, then Oxford. Theo, the companion of the glamorous Lady Symthe. Theo the husband of the not so glamorous but terribly rich Lady Marjorie Hogg. The kind comments of the present leader who described Theo as ‘a combination of brilliant intellect and acute political instinct with a profound patriotism and commitment to his country’ and went even further to praise Theo for his part in the ousting of his former political enemy. Then, there were the unfortunate slurs on his character. The escapades where Theo was described as a publicity seeker, a scoundrel, an adulterer. The article concluded that Theo’s political career had effectively ended when the opposition leader of the house had kissed him on the cheek and made a comment about the dignity and integrity that he bought to every office he had graced. They described as the kiss of Judas. On one hand it could have been taken for what it was, the final farewell from a politician who, now that he had left politics, can overcome philosophical differences, and be gracious. On the other hand, it could be construed as a sarcastic coda to the last five years where Theo constantly battled the increasingly hostile press, and an ever-vindictive Lady Hogg.

Theo didn’t agree with what the newspaper had to say about him. If you looked beyond the bare facts of what had been printed he was no more or no less a scoundrel than any other public figure. He was more interested in what they hadn’t printed about him. In particular he was interested that no-one had connected him with what had become to be called the Oracle? affair.

It had started in 1991 although the affair had its beginnings many years before that. However, Theo’s involvement had begun in May 1991. He remembered the day and month well because it was the Sunday after his day of birth. He had been driving back form a particularly torrid Sunday morning tryst with Marjorie, full of joy de vie, and a belly still half full of last nights good scotch. Just as he wheeled the big Rover around the southern roundabout that led onto the motorway that would take him to a leisurely breakfast of maybe kidneys and potatoes triest, or maybe thick Virginian ham and eggs, the cellphone, nestled close to his pudgy hand, chirped its familiar message.

“Lord T Hogg. Speak to me,” he bellowed into the machine, silently asking himself who would have the audacity to disturb his Sunday morning.

“Sorry to disturb your Sunday morning Lord Theodore,” the voice at the end of the phone haltingly said, as if anticipating what the likely mood might be of the voice on the end of the line, “Humphrey here- bit of a problem-thought it might need to be dealt with urgently-called ASAP.”

Theo generated a mental image of the ubiquitous Humphrey hunched over his little phone, hesitatingly forming the words that were now emanating form the black orifice held to his ear.

“Go ahead Humphrey! Give the worst.”

“Well! Farmer chap up north has been diagnosed with what looks like something called BSE and it looks like he won’t make it. The CEO from the hospital knew of our interest and got to me post haste.”

Theo wondered why this warranted an early morning Sunday call.

“So what’s the urgency on this Humphrey? I can’t see why you should break my only day off,” he grunted as he crashed through the gears and accelerated out of the roundabout, and tried to remember what the acronym BSE stood for.

“Well my doctor chappie thinks that this could be a new turning point in the whole BSE thingy. The diagnosis points toward this being a variant on the BSE strain that has not been seen before. Speculation is that it could have come through some contaminated feed or something and you know that your predecessor made her political fortune by widening the sorts of things that could be approved for cattle feed.” There was a silence as Humphrey let Theo assimilate the information. Theo’s mind race through all the possibilities and ramifications of what he was hearing. Theo was well known and respected for his ability to cut to the quick of an issue and put in place a plan that immediately addressed the key issues. He would have to find out more about BSE.

“What collateral damage might we expect from this Humphrey,” he barked while trying to focus his mind away from his driving.

“Well that’s the reason my doctor contact got to me so fast. The press seems to have got a whiff of this and are already at the hospital and are asking awkward questions. Seems that the farmer had been in touch with the local rag as he has been poorly for quite a while, feeling anxious, forgetting, tired all the time, long periods housebound, but no-one has been listening to what he has been saying. Seems they never even thought of BSE because they hadn’t seen a case in so long. Thought he was crazy!”

Theo slammed the Rover into overdrive and purposely pushed his foot down on the accelerator.

“Right! Get down to the hospital and get to the farmer as number one priority. Assure him that we will do everything we can do to get on top of this. Talk to Elveridge Jones, editor at the Daily Star and miss out the reporter. I’ll get onto Jones after we are finished and pre-alert of your call. We want to keep a lid on this and not have some loony wild-card cadet reporter getting his knickers in a twist and turning this into some conspiracy thing. Assure Elveridge that we will get to the Ministry on this and start some testing of the farmers herd. Emphasise that we do not think there is anything in this as BSE hasn’t been seen since the early 1900’s and it’s highly unlikely it would just appear out of the blue.” Theo was on a roll and he hoped that subsequent facts would bear out his fabrications. He would really have to find out what BSE was. “And get me all you can on BSE. I want it on my desk by this afternoon.” Theo slammed down the phone and blackly thought of a weekend ruined by politics. He had planned to take Rupert to the beach that afternoon but Rupert would have to wait. He hoped that Marjorie was in a good mood and could take Rupert for some exercise. He picked up the phone, hesitated, then pushed the auto dialler.

Theo pushed the enormous file away and, removing his glasses, vigorously massaged his eyes. His head hurt. Trying to assimilate all those facts and he couldn’t get rid of the image of Lady Symthe writhing beneath him, and little Rupert anxious little eyes staring at him pleadingly. He hoped Marjorie had taken him for a walk. She hadn’t sounded to pleased when he had rung.

“Where the hell were you last night T? I phoned the hotel and they said that you hadn’t even booked your room. Where did you get to?”

Theo had muttered something about an emergency and hoped that his excuse was lost in the pomp and importance of national security. It seemed that BSE had the potential to be very serious. There was only one way that it could have spread and that was through contaminated animal matter. It was unlikely that the sudden increase that had been noted elsewhere but, until now, largely kept from his gaze, in the disease could have been through natural means. It had coincided almost to the year with a decision made by his predecessor in the last Government his party had been in power to allow ground up spines and brains to be added to animal feed. Coupled with this had been an expansion in real estate and many farms turning to intensive indoor farming. Farming that largely relied on animals being fed man-made foods rather than traditional grazing. But from what Theo understood there was a faint hope that it wasn’t BSE. The variant and the timing of the outbreak could mean that it was a new disease altogether. Damage control. Theo formulated his battle plan.

The camera’s flashed as Theo ascended the podium. He placed his trademark bowler on the pedestal and, holding the gorgeous little Rupert to show what a man of animals he was he launched into his speech. He could hardly believe he was such an expert on BSE after only that afternoon and a couple of briefings. Basically, he was stalling. Deny everything, make noises that investigations are in place, blame the previous Government, point to contradictory evidence, then smile,smile,smile. But not too much of the smile. Keep a serious side. And keep Rupert in all the photo ops. It had worked for American presidents and, by God, it would work for him. Theo worked the room like the consummate professional he was.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease! Why hadn’t he been briefed? Where were the dams briefing papers? Why did he have all these people on the payroll to keep him informed if they couldn’t tell him what Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease was? The papers were having a field day. He had been on top of it. Last week he had been so on top of it was like he had a pipeline to BSE heaven-if there was such a thing. Now all of sudden, the press were bringing up a statement that he had made months ago about the traditional sausage. Had he actually said that they were safe to eat? Maybe! Then the fourth estate had finally done something useful instead of sitting on their hands, drinking, and lying to each other and their readers. Someone had found out that the dangers of certain kinds of sausage harbouring mad cow disease. Meat and sausage-loving citizens who, up until a year ago believed that the country’s quality controls made it immune to mad cow disease, were now calling for Theo’s blood. Theo had until Wednesday insisted that sausages were safe, but then had to abruptly reverse course. He had to admit to an increasingly surly public, that a warning about some types of sausage containing meat from backbones and other cattle parts seen as carrying a risk of disease transmission had lain in his ministry for a week before he learned about it. He had tried the old trick of releasing it on the eve of a weekend but instead of the usual diet of sport that feed the masses they were bombarded with Theo and Rupert playfully looking out from front pages everywhere and giant headlines screamed ‘No Sausages for Rupert-Lord T caught in BSE scandal’, ‘Lord T plays while the Country Ails’. The inevitable political insults followed – ‘”It is an absolute scandal that Hogg left a warning about the risks lying around in his ministry for a week as if it were just another Christmas card,” said Peter Repnik, a leader of the opposition in parliament.

“The man is in over his head and he has to resign,” he told local radio. “If he won’t go on his own, then The Iron Lady has to fire him. He seems to spend more time with his dog and a certain lady than attending to the affairs of state. He either runs an incredibly sloppy ship or has lost control. In either case he has to go.”

On top of all of this, little Rupert had taken ill. For a horrible moment Theo feared the worse. That Rupert had BSE. He fretted and then he prayed. Days went by and slowly little Rupert seemed on the road to recovery but his political problems seemed destined to get worse.

Then, a reprieve of sorts. Hot on the heels of the sausage scandal it was revealed that the brains under examination for traces of BSE, incredibly, were showing no signs of the virus. Temporarily Theo rose to glory again. The Iron Lady, who it was rumoured, was waiting for his resignation phone-call cited his patience and good management in her weekly press conference. The public were warmed to eating beef again. The press humbly asked for interviews from the man they had reviled weeks before. Theo had planned a weekend away at his beach house. Just him, Lady Smythe and Rupert. A weekend of bliss. He deserved it after the months of living on the edge. Then, the press did it again. Some disgruntled and misguided public servant used the law to serve their own or some other political master’s purpose. Mistakenly a whole brain was sent to the Government testing facility rather than pre-frozen sections of the brains of animals slaughtered from what were thought to be contaminated areas. The worker thought these brains looked rather too small to be from large bovines and after consultation with a veterinarian found out that the laboratory had been mistakenly supplied with the brains of dead sheep. Suddenly Theo’s name was in the headlines again and any thoughts of a peaceful retreat were well and truly dashed.

“Oh Christ. How could they have been so incredibly stupid? Humphrey. Tell me – no – reassure me that this is a dreadful nightmare.”

Theo looked over his eyeglasses at Humphrey who looked decidedly uncomfortable. Theo stroked Rupert little head and Rupert snuggled up against his ample chest. Little Rupert. Theo wished he was little Rupert who didn’t have a care in the world apart form his next walk and meal.

“I don’t know Lord Theo. The Ministry labs are saying that after your predecessor lowered restrictions on what could be fed to livestock she neglected funding for basic staffing and equipment issues and a large number of the scientists now working at the testing facility have had little practical experience in these matters. They just didn’t think that the slices of brain tissue they were looking at could have come from anything other than beef. My contacts tell me that the structures of the two animals are quite similar. Humphrey thanked his lucky stars that it wouldn’t be him that had to front up to firstly the media, and then to the Iron Lady, the ultimate arbitrator in the Government. Meanwhile Theo was asking himself; “Did I spend to much time sorting out Marjorie and Lady Smythe. Was my background research not broad enough? Was I distracted by little Rupert’s illness?” He groaned and distractedly pushed Rupert from his lap and headed towards the brandy decanter. The phone rang. He looked up as Humphrey stood to attention as the voice cam on. Theo knew it must be the Iron Lady. He stiffened as Humphrey extended the phone, raised his eyebrow, and uttered the words that Theo had been dreading to hear.

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