I opened the kitchen cabinet to be confronted by the image of John Major, one-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, looming in front of the cereal bowls. I reeled in shock. I barely considered Mr Major when he was in power in the 1990s and certainly haven’t thought of him since. It was unnerving to come across him this morning. Had this happened to you, you might have looked around for Mrs Thatcher hovering by the toaster, or strained your ear for the ghastly chuckle of Edward Heath as you opened the fridge. It would be reasonable to assume that you were being haunted by Tory leaders and to return to bed, trembling, before William Hague put in an appearance.
Once I regained my balance and my wits I was able to work out what had happened. Mr Major’s mug was on a coffee mug given to me in April 1997 by political commentator Vincent Hanna. Vincent had acquired it at a minor Major rally in the run-up to the British general election of that year. “Hold on to this,” Vincent had told me conspiratorially ” they haven’t made many. They know he can’t win.” The mug, in addition to featuring Major’s face and the Union Jack, bears the legend “Fighting for the 5th Term. The Winner”. Major himself had won only one term, but was attempting to build on Mrs Thatcher’s legacy, delivering a fifth consecutive victory for the Conservatives. Vincent was right. It wasn’t to be. I held on to the mug and brought it with me to the United States in 2000, three years after Major resigned the Tory leadership, and three years after Vincent died in July 1997, just weeks after the May election.
Usually, the mug is at the back of a high cupboard, kept alongside the Christmas plates, occasional vases, and saucers for which there are no cups. It is not the sort of thing you want to look at everyday.
An unusual number of visitors this week must have meant a deep rummage for breakfast ware, causing Mr Major to make an appearance. Whoever emptied the dishwasher could not have known that his face does not fit in my crockery cupboard. He is now back in scullery Siberia, his face turned to the wall.
Instead it is Vincent’s face that floats in front of me, making my day.