A few days ago, I came across an old friend. We had spent many dinner parties in each other’s company and, after the port had circulated, he had brought amusement to those present. He even got me into the final round for the selection of a Parliamentary Candidate in Nottingham Central in the early 1970’s. But I hadn’t seen him for about 10 years.
The old friend was at the bottom of my in-tray – a yellowing piece of paper called “The Joke”. I had cut it out from a periodical in the 1960’s, as it had made me laugh. I used it in speeches and it made others laugh. Eventually, the piece of paper began to fall to bits, and a kind secretary in whichever department I was in at the time typed up several copies. She labelled them “The Joke” in case anyone confused the piece of paper for a serious Ministerial address. One copy lived inside my dinner jacket pocket, and was brought out whenever I had to sing for my supper.
Either I got tired of my old friend, or I reckoned that everyone had heard of him, so he was laid to rest in the intray some time ago. The intray is being spring-cleaned and before I finally bury my friend in Test Valley’s brown recycling bin, I give him one last outing.
It tells the story of the Minister who muddled up his replies to parliamentary questions.
One question was “Is the Minister aware of the extensive damage done by rabbits, and will he take vigorous measures to have them eliminated?”
The other question was “May I direct the attention of the Minister to the increase in the number of Inspectors and other departmental officials, and urge him to check their multiplication?”
Both questions are as fresh today as they were then.
The wretched Minister, long before Jim Hacker appeared on anyone’s screen, got them muddled up. To the first question about the rabbits, he replied as follows
“No Sir. I believe that they are rendering valuable service to farmers, and that their activities should be welcomed and encouraged.”
And to the second about the Inspectors, he replied “I am fully aware of the damage done by these pests, which are breeding at an alarming rate, and farmers are constantly being urged to exterminate them. Sporadic shooting is ineffectual and organised drives should be arranged at frequent intervals. It must however be remembered that they add variety to the countryman’s diet, and that their fur has a certain market value.”
Farewell, my dear friend. We had some good times together, and you have served me well. Perhaps someone will exhume you and you may bring laughter to a future generation.