When our Home Secretary was not a home secretary at all; before police reorganisations and passport staff cuts and abortive announcements about extraditing terrorists in the House Of Commons; once, she got very hot under the collar on behalf of the victimised people of Maidenhead.
It seems that parliamentary briefing documents on her constituency added a little colour to the statistics. They need not necessarily have bothered: this area has colour all its own. With a privileged population of around 5,500, one area – Cookham – was featured as Britain’s second richest village in 2010 by Daily Telegraph readers.
Still, never one to miss a bit of exposition. May launched a scathing attack on the hapless researchers of the aforementioned documents for branding her constituency “somewhat spoiled by the gin and jag brigade.”
In a huffy letter to the Secretary of State she wrote: “Not only do I feel this is offensive to members of my constituency and a wholly inappropriate way for a government department to regard an area, but it also concerns me as to the assumptions made by your department in dealing with my constituents.”
Allow me to give you a little insider knowledge.
For my sister-in-law was landlady of a great big Cookham pub, The Crown, from 1977-1989.
And my husband served faithfully as barman for intervals during her tenure.
And let me tell you: they had jags bursting out of every car park, and gin overflowing the glasses on the manicured village lawns. My sister-in-law had a jag: her clientele had jags. My husband, at the tender age of 17 having just passed his test, was handed the keys to a jag and allowed to cruise the lanes. He tells me that the hump back bridge at nearby Boulter’s Lock was a perennial problem for every Jaguar XJS driver, because you couldn’t see over the vast bonnet to the road ahead.
The poor victimised jag drivers were forced to drive it blind.
And so, Mrs May, though it pains me to gainsay your passionate campaigning, this place has been home to people with jags who drink gin for a very long time.
Cookham is an incredibly affluent area, home to various very important people.
And the evidence is that is has been, for centuries. Look in the gorgeous yard of the stunning little church and you will find that people lived a good long time there. There are vaults and tombstones with people living into their seventies way back in the seventeenth century. They lived well here long before jags were ever invented.
But it is also the most charming area imaginable.
This is where Ratty and Mole and Toad were born in the mind of Kenneth Graham. He lived in Cookham Dean as a child, and came back to write “Wind In The Willows”.
And it is the destination we chose for a picnic today, in lieu of Sunday Lunch. For England is cold and grey and rainy for an overwhelming percentage of the year; but when it is warm and sunny it is little short of paradise.
We threw a picnic in the National Trust picnic rucksack,made a flask of tea, and headed for the Thames.
After nudging the nice cars in the car park out of the way with our aged Merc, we began the most glorious amble across the common, towards the river. You know that sight when the boats appear to be sailing along the ground in a solemn traffic jam? There they were, nose to tail.
We passed houses beyond the dreams of avarice: a moneyed English Shangri-La, each mansion swathed in green trees. And as we got nearer to the river the dogs became visible: big ones, small ones, happy little corpulent ones, rangy racer-types. All on leads, all enjoying the sun and the social scene.
And so to our favourite bench by the river, shaded from the glare, opposite opulent boat houses, where we ate and watched the craft going by: canoes, rowboats, gin palaces, barges, all river-borne life was there, grinning and sun-kissed, cooled by the breezes of the Thames.
How can I describe the scene: the straw hats, the aquatint, benches for all, the affable conglomerations of picnickers with their salmon and champagne, the dappled willow-shade: a stroll to the churchyard and the stream-cool air of the 12th century church. This is England, my England; the most beneficial of clichés, a living oil painting through which one can stroll.
And so: if you find yourself in the South of England on a sunny Summer day, perhaps you might add, to your list of destinations, a trip to brave the gin and jag brigade, to picnic on the willowy river adored by Rat and Mole, at Cookham.