Wednesday, 20 May 2009


Actaeon, in Greek mythology, was a great hunter. He was grandson of Cadmus, who I seem to remember founded the city of Thebes. Anyway, the point is he was a huntsman. One day he was out hunting with his hounds in the forest, when he had the misfortune to come on a pool where Artemis, the goddess of hunting (Diana to you and me), was cooling down with her nymphs. Now for a mortal to see a god, or goddess, clothed but much less naked, is not good news. Her nymphs quickly made a scrum round her, but not soon enough for poor old Actaeon. He'd already seen her, and SHE KNEW he'd seen her, and she was not best pleased. In fact she was distinctly disgruntled, and took it out on Actaeon. Artemis and her minions took themselves off, and Actaeon was left to reflect on his fate, and reflect is the word.... He felt a bit peculiar and as he looked into the water he saw that the lovely lady had changed him into a stag, and then, uh-oh, he realised that she had given his hounds the 'tally-ho'. They came crashing through the undergrowth, saliva drooling from their jaws, and saw, oh joy! a stag at bay. They weren't the brightest of mutts. They didn't see their master anywhere, but they did see this rather juicy dinner, and so from all sides they set to. With bared teeth they tore him limb from limb. And so, rather nastily, Actaeon perished at hands, or rather teeth, of those he had cared for and fed for many years. Ovid, the Roman poet, reckoned that Artemis did it because she was jealous of Actaeon's prowess as a hunter and his pride. She felt hunting was her special province. Be that as it may, the outcome was the same.

I was put in mind of Actaeon by events this week in the House of Commons, with the Speaker, Michael Martin's two statements on Monday and Tuesday. What an unedifying spectacle it was! It reminded me of the bloody end of a hunt, with hounds tearing the cornered animal to pieces, while the hunt followers urging them on with voyeuristic excitement. On Tuesday afternoon, in the shortest of statements, Mr Martin announced that he was stepping down for the sake of the unity of the House. Afterwards Mr Punch (aka the Hon D Carswell) gave sanctimonious comments to the media, but enjoyed the limelight like a youngster blooded at his first kill. The hunt-following press were cock-a-hoop at 'this piece of history'. They loved it: another scalp, the biggest yet! But I wondered whether it was more a matter of a Glaswegian shop-steward daring to step into the realms of millionaires and the political élite. Maybe Ovid was right; it was a matter of jealousy. No doubt there was a hope that a big scalp would pacify the anger, not of the gods, but of the mob. It certainly had the feeling of a Westminster lynching.

On the way home today we listened to Prime Minister's Questions, which really had the feeling of the day after a blood-letting. Led by the Prime Minister, member after member paid tribute to Mr Martin, saying how kind he'd been to them and how faithully he'd served the Commons. Even Nick Clegg, Lib Dem leader, who yesterday had been baying for his blood, said what a grand chap he was. It was like Cassius paying tribute to Julius Caesar. The truth is however that Mr Martin's not the problem. Anyway, I must stop showing off my classical education. I'm sounding like the Tsar of London. And I'd rather think about the very pleasant 24 hours I've spent with two lovely people unspoilt by ambition. They're the sort who just quietly have a positive influence on those around them. I guarantee they've never fiddled an expenses claim in their life. There are more of their sort about than you'd think if you believed the news. Funnily enough, they have a connection with Parliament because my father-in-law taught a member of the cabinet all he knew, and may have forgotten, about geography. As you can see, they are still very happy after 61 years of marriage. Think about it.

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