Observant readers of the court pages in the more expensive newspapers may have observed, earlier this month in the birthday column, that their MP has passed another milestone along the journey of life. This event was marked by birthday cards from family, staff and friends – some respectful, others irreverent. Through this column, I thank those who may not yet have been thanked individually. The chocolates perished early on; the picture is framed and on the wall; the socks are between my feet and my shoes; and the children were kind enough to gang together to buy a Big Present – though I discovered later that I was a significant contributor myself.
In a drawer at home are a pile of book tokens. I do buy books, but this usually happens when a friend has written one and has asked me to the launch. Tempted by a glass of free vintage champagne and an amusing speech by the author, I frequently accept. The champagne then lowers the inhibitions and the book is purchased for the price of a whole bottle of vintage champagne, and then signed by the author. On these occasions, book tokens are not accepted.
The children had found and raided the book token drawer, found a compliant retailer who took a broad interpretation of what is a book and had bought me an iPod- preloaded by the manufacturer with some unfavourites tunes.
My collection of CD’s is now redundant and the shelf space they occupied will be taken up with the books written by my fellow MP’s that I have yet to read.
So far as celebrations are concerned, my birthday normally coincides with a barbecue held in Abbotts Ann by the Abbots Ann Conservatives – a powerful tribe that the other political parties sensibly give a wide berth to. Out of habit, they sing Happy Birthday towards the end of the evening. My wife, hearing their interpretation of this well known refrain, joined in, asking her neighbour at the table whose birthday it was; to be reminded that it was her husband’s.
But I do have an outstanding request if anyone feels they have forgotten my birthday. Driving down the A343 from Newbury to Andover, a sinister noise came from the car. To establish what it was, I wound the window down so my right ear could focus more accurately on the direction of the noise. My straw hat, perched on my head, was snatched away by the wind and has by now provided the raw material for countless nests. The weather forecast indicates that the opportunity to wear a straw hat during the rest of the summer is small, but my wardrobe is incomplete without one. Size 7 ½.