For more than 40 years we’ve lived in a beautiful, listed, Cotswold stone, Stonesfield slate-roofed farmhouse in Oxfordshire. The trouble is it’s an ex-Blenheim house, within earshot of the palace, and the current duke is having POTUS — that unlovely acronym for ‘President of the United States’ — to dinner. Locals are muttering about this World Heritage Site being used to fete a pantomime villain. On Thursday we’re invited to a friend’s 70th birthday party at the Athenaeum, and there’s also a press night at the National Theatre. I wonder whether we’ll be able to manage either of these, as our village is almost certain to be in lockdown then.
If I were a little paranoid, I might feel that this preposterous President is stalking me. I have spent large chunks of the past few winters as the guest of friends in a rented house in Palm Beach; for the past two years our house has been exactly four doors from Mar-a-Lago. Every time the Donald is in residence, the semi-circular drive visible from my bedroom has been populated (and blocked) by members of the US Secret Service. Looking out of my windows, the drive to the right hosts the concrete-slab ‘Jersey barrier’, with the way barred by a large black car, whose engine is never switched off. To the left is the surveillance tent with the sniffer dogs, and those giant dentist mirror things they use for inspecting the undercarriage of your car. This year we found that the youthful Secret Service guys were real sweeties, helping us cancel the Uber cars that declined to enter our area, though one of us was wheelchair-bound, and promising to remember our faces and where we lived, so as to speed up returning in one of our own cars. The problem was that the SS people were rotated on what seemed to be a random schedule; so that the fresh-faced young man from Idaho who waved us out had been replaced on our return by a brand-new chap from Idaho.
For most of Trump’s reign we visited Mar-a-Lago often — once even having a large dinner party there, with interesting wines from the wine list of the teetotaller head of state. Of course, none of the waiters knew a) where the wine was stored or b) how to open or serve it. We were usually to be found at the heavily gilded ‘winter White House’ for chamber music events; but there was none this year, as it seems the musical organisers were nervous about any association with the Trumpet.
As for Blenheim, it’s not just the road traffic on the day that bothers us. We’ve already suffered convoys of trial runs by double-bladed helicopters. They seemed to me to be Chinooks. Whether they belong to POTUS or us, I cannot tell, but I feel certain they’re something to do with security for Agent Orange’s dinner party. The local Oxford newspaper says that the PM is the official host for this black-tie affair, with a hundred or so tycoons as guests. I’m shocked to learn this, as it means that you and I are picking up the bill, not only for the food and booze, but presumably also for the 150 snipers that local rumour says will be guarding the walls and gates of Blenheim (which we locals used to be able to enter for free — and can still, if you know where the footpaths are). As for the menu, word reaches me from some of the beaters for His Grace’s shoots that Prez and co will be given pheasant and partridge from the ducal freezers. I don’t think this can be true; not only because it would be hideously incorrect, but because there is no chance whatever that the fast food-loving Commander-in-Chief would eat anything that might have a shot pellet in it.
But if the PM is to be host, who will be PM that day? As I write, Boris has just added his resignation to that of David Davis. We can claim a special interest in this; after all, our former, splendid constituency MP was David Cameron. His successor is the baby-faced Brexiteer Robert Courts. If he has received an invitation to the dinner of shame, I hope he’ll have the grace to refuse. If not, he’ll have to answer to several local activists of my acquaintance.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, an anti-Blenheim protest is forming, with most of the thousand comments seeming to be about bus schedules to Woodstock. The estate is increasingly unpopular with locals, because (it is claimed) they are involved in property development deals to build even more new houses than are needed or called for in the local plan. The feudal practice of painting the doors of Blenheim-owned houses the colour known as ‘Blenheim Green’ seems to have ceased; but everybody still knows which houses the estate owns. (I must say that, while we were tenants, they were exemplary landlords. I should be very grateful indeed if only Blenheim were still responsible for the maintenance and repair of our roof and garden walls.)