Wednesday 10 April 2013

Stately Piles

Being born with a silver spoon in my mouth was a curse. I inherited an enormous pile, but stately it most certainly was not. Its crumbling, mouldy stucco costs the earth to maintain and death duties and death watch beetle conspired to rob me of all my prospects. As a Grade One listed building the planners will not allow me to demolish and rebuild a more economic home and in its current dilapidation I have not managed to find a buyer in over ten years.

To keep the farm workers in wages I had to sell off the tapestries and the paintings and turn off all the heating. We live, my infirm wife and I, in two rooms and by attending every session I can manage in the House of Lords we just about stave off the demands of the tax man and the local authority, after which we have under £53 a week to live on. If there was a mansion tax we wouldn't even have that.

Thankfully we didn’t have children and the family name will die out with this generation but at least we’ll finally be free from worry. The estate workers will probably get by – a generation ago we gifted them their cottages - but if we had children they would be crippled by the next round of redistributive taxation that props up the precarious society in which we now live. I securely bolt all the doors every night, fearing the attentions of the baying mobs we see on the news; running riot in the streets, looting stores and throwing fire bombs at the police.

I admit that yes, my family made a fortune from our mills, three hundred years ago. And a century later we were ennobled because of the great largesse of my ancestors who built the town’s alms houses and library and later a school and we carried on the tradition to eventually found the local museum and donate land for the cattle market. But since the “War to End all Wars”, when my Great grandfather and all his brothers perished, our fortunes have declined somewhat.

My father was a child when the family celebrated the election of Clement Atlee in 1945 and, committed Socialists at heart, they cheered the creation of the welfare state and a whole, brave new world. It was wonderful to see the philanthropy we had always exercised over our mills and farms and their workers extended to the country as a whole and they thought this might bring our crippled country together to become wonderful and happy and prosperous again.

But it didn't happen. We assumed the common man to be a decent, hard-working example to us all, putting the welfare of society ahead of personal gain. But we were wrong. He was just like my forebears – why should he be any different? Given a chance to advance himself, the relative poverty of others was no concern until he had tobacco in his pipe and beer in his glass. Only then did he care whether his neighbour had the same. And he didn't care a great deal.

For a brief period in the 1980s we thought the rot had been arrested as the net wealth of the country expanded at breakneck speed. Our dear friend Margaret may not have been loved by all, but she got the country back to work, buried the dead and curbed the destructive forces trying to tear us apart. We got our faith in humanity back through her dedication, hard work and refusal to bend to popular, insular, selfish demand. She showed us the way; she showed us that Conservatism really cared.

The estate picked up. We started to believe we might save the east wing. We began to talk about starting a family... establishing a new dynasty. Even the weather got better – or at least it seemed that it did – and with every little victory Maggie brought us we felt a surge of confidence, a thrill of renewal. It was a good time to be the Lord of the Manor.

But then came Socialism again and the great sell-off of everything we held dear – courage, honesty, integrity, national identity, character and fairness – everything was sacrificed to bring us to where we are today. We have given back everything we ever had, most of it before I was even born. We have atoned for every advantage our family ever gained. We have nothing left to give, yet they still come after us for more. Toffs they call us, but we can't afford Sky TV and I'm typing this on a ten-year old computer.

Our house. In the middle of our estate.

So, we're on our uppers too. We're about finished. When we go that will be the last of us, but it is beneath our dignity to go on the rampage. And I don't mean to grumble, but I still can’t afford the operation to get this fucking spoon out of my mouth.

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