“No, Tom. For the last time, there will not be any free sandwiches,” groaned an ashen-faced Seumas Milne, raking an exasperated hand through his thinning hair. “And Shami, I think I know what you’re going to ask and the answer is no – you cannot, and I repeat cannot, claim your three hundred pounds attendance allowance for this.”
Milne leaned pitifully on his elbows against a shabby wooden lectern and gazed grimly upon the assembled members of Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. They sat in three unruly rows upon a mismatched assortment of plastic swivel chairs, wooden seats and Chesterfield armchairs they had dragged in from their respective offices.
Some of them disinterestedly thumbed their mobile phones and some muttered bitterly under their breath. Diane Abbott lifted up a black veil and briefly checked her face in a compact mirror. At least someone, thought Milne, was taking this halfway seriously.
“So,” ventured Milne, staring at them, wide-eyed. “Are we all set? Do we all know what we’re doing?”
“Erm, Seumas?” piped up a croaky voice from behind him. It was Dennis Skinner. He was lying in a long, tatty cardboard box perched unceremoniously atop Jeremy Corbyn’s expansive desk.
“I just wanted to check with you, Seumas – should I try to hold my breath for the whole thing or just when Jeremy’s looking at me?”
Milne inhaled irritably, closed his eyes and clenched his fists at his side. “No, Dennis. We’ve already been over this. Just lie there with your eyes closed. That’ll be enough.”
“But I’ve been practising,” whined Skinner, his craggy head peeping out from the box. “I’ve been practising at home. I set a new record the other da…”
“I know Dennis.” barked Milne, abruptly cutting the old man off. He knew all too well that one minute and fifteen seconds had been the record set by Skinner for holding his breath. The Beast of Bolsover had insisted upon proudly showing everyone, including the police officers at the security gate, a grainy mobile phone shot of his wife holding stopwatch displaying his record time earlier that morning. In almost five decades in public service, this was arguably Dennis Skinner’s crowning achievement as an MP.
“I’ll go through and get him ready. Oh, and Burgon – did you manage to get hold of some suitable music like I asked you to?”
The Shadow Lord Chancellor grinned dumbly and held up a pink, children’s portable stereo. “I brought mah boombox in, Seumas,” he beamed. “It’s gonna be reet good. Ah downloaded something reet approti…appropitat…appropriate to the occasion.”
“Okay,” muttered Milne, wearily pinching the bridge of his nose. “Let’s just get this over with, then, shall we?”
He strode across the Leader of the Opposition’s office and disappeared through a wood panelled door leading to a small anteroom.
The members of the Shadow Cabinet shared a number of knowing glances and slumped into their seats with an air of resignation. Within moments, the sound of raised voices wafted through from the anteroom.
“I want to meet the pilot, Seumas,” screeched an unhinged, reedy voice from behind the door. “I want to look at the steering wheel and the controls. I want to try the pilot’s hat on.”
A lower, more composed voice murmured something inaudible, but the howling continued unabated.
“I don’t like this aeroplane, Seumas,” it rang out, half sobbing. “I want to get off. Why aren’t we in Havana yet? Who are you? Where’s my tray?”
The shadow cabinet sat in uneasy silence through five solid minutes of scraping, banging and muffled yelping from behind the door before the room.
Chairs shuffled, shoulders shrugged and concerned glances shot around Corbyn’s office until the struggle finally seemed to subside.
“Come along now Seumas, I don’t want to be late,” bellowed the voice from the anteroom. “I’ve got some important matters to discuss with Erich Mielke before it starts.”
The door flew open with a clatter as Jeremy Corbyn, clad in green military fatigues and matching cap was wheeled into his office. He clutched an opened tin of Aldi Everyday Essentials baked beans in one hand and a plastic spoon in the other. The tartan travel rug sitting messily across his lap dripped with what appeared to be half of the tin’s contents.
“My Cuban comrades! How wonderful to see you all!,” he screamed, staring feverishly at his Shadow Cabinet.
He held his tin of beans proudly aloft. “Your socialist airline is wonderful. This is people’s food. Not like the sort of decadence you’d find on bourgeois Western airlines like Ryanair.”
“Okay Jeremy, it’s time to take our seats,” cooed Milne into his boss’s right ear. “The service is about to begin.”
He wheeled Corbyn to the end of the front row and stood behind him, stony faced. The room fell silent for a few moments. Corbyn’s Head of Press turned and motioned to Richard Burgon, who had spent the past ten minutes with his finger intensely poised over the Play button of the portable stereo.
The speakers erupted with a nightmarish cacophony of heavily distorted guitars and atonal wailing,
“Electric funeral! Electric funeral! Electric funeral!,” it blared, causing many of the assembled Labour politicians to sit up with a start.
Milne spun around, his teeth bared, and made a throat slitting gesture to Burgon, who was enthusiastically playing air guitar along to the music. Noticing the Head of Press’s prickly demeanour, he quickly hit a button to halt the racket and meekly returned to his chair.
Milne glanced down at Corbyn, who was staring blankly ahead, unmoved by the commotion. He closed his frustrated eyes for a few moments, before nodding towards the far corner of the office. This signal prompted a figure to stroll uneasily out of the shadows towards the tatty wooden lectern.
It was the Member of Parliament for Tottenham, David Lammy. He was dressed in Cuban-style military fatigues and, contrary to the strongly worded protestations of Seumas Milne, a false beard and beret combination in the style of Ernesto Che Guevara.
He cleared his throat, grasped the sides of the lectern and spoke to the assembled MPs. “Erm. Hello guys. And by the way, fanks for all coming today to the big, massive state funeral of the legendary Cubist legend Fiddle Castro.
“It’s dead sad to be losing the old man, who was a proper ledge in the world of socialism an’ all that. He was a fellah that never tolerated no intolerance.”
Diane Abbott lifted her veil and wiped away a tear.
“And I’d like to give a big Havana shout out especially to my man Jeremy Corbyn for coming all the way ere from ingland and stuff. Ere in Cubastan, we fink of Jeremy as being like an inglish version of our boy Fiddle. Which, basically, in a nut bell, means we reckon he’s a total an uttah ledge.”
Seumas glanced nervously down at Corbyn. He was grinning maniacally at Lammy.
Lammy, catching sight of the Labour leader’s deranged stare, gulped and steadied himself.
“Now wiv all that out of the way, we’ve come to the dead morbid part of the funeral. You know, that bit where we gotta put the old boy in the fire. So, now’s your last chance to go up and get a selfie or whatever wiv him.”
“I want a selfie with Fidel Castro, Seumas,” erupted Corbyn, clawing desperately at the wheels of his chair and sending his beans clattering to the floor. “I want a selfie. I want a selfie now!”
“Okay, calm down, Jeremy,” said Milne, unlocking the brakes on the chair and wheeling Corbyn past the vacant-looking Lammy and on towards the cardboard box on the desk.
The old man immediately grabbed the edge of his desk and hauled himself up to peer inside the box. He stared long and hard at Dennis Skinner, who took a huge gulp of breath as Corbyn’s face loomed over the side of the box.
“Take a selfie of me and Fidel, Seumas,” croaked Corbyn, grinning from ear to ear. “We can send it to the Morning Star.”
“Diane, come here and hold Denn..Fidel up straight for me,” snapped Milne, over his shoulder. “Jeremy doesn’t know how to take a selfie.”
Abbott rose slowly from her chair, sobbing gently. She paused briefly to thank Lammy for his moving eulogy before waddling slowly over to the box.
She used her gigantic ham fists to grab the puce-faced Skinner, who was still holding his breath, by the shoulders and haul him up straight.
“Right Jeremy, say cheese,” smarmed Milne, before snapping a shot on his phone.
“Oh, Jeremy,” he chided, staring at the screen. “You weren’t even looking at the camera. We’ll have to do it again.”
But before Milne could take another photograph, the now scarlet-faced Skinner exhaled an almighty breath of air and opened his eyes.
“No we bloody well won’t have to do it again,” rang out the old man’s distinctive Derbyshire accent, “One minute fifteen, I said, Seumas. And getting manhandled by Diane wasn’t part of the deal, either.”
He sat up, dusted himself down, climbed off the desk and marched grumpily through the ranks of the Shadow Cabinet. He spun around, raised an accusatory finger at Milne, spat the words “worse than Thatcher” at him and stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
The room fell into a stony silence. Seconds dragged by like hours as all eyes moved upon Jeremy Corbyn. A look of tormented confusion played over the old man’s face as he attempted to process what had just unfolded.
“He’s…he’s….he’s managed to foil the CIA again, Seumas,” howled the Labour leader, dropping incredulously back into his wheelchair. “The revolution lives on. Viva Cuba! Viva Castro! Viva la revolution!”
Milne’s eyes darted around the room, skittishly. He sputtered as he searched for the correct response to his boss’s expostulation.
“Well then Jeremy,” he began nervously. “We’d better get back on the plane back to London before, erm, Reagan sends in a one of his death squads to finish off the witnesses.”
“Yes Seumas, get me back on that aeroplane immediately,” barked Corbyn, as Milne wheeled him towards the anteroom door. “I’ll be bringing this up in the House when I get back to London. Mrs Thatcher needs to explain her involvement in this wicked, undemocratic plot.”
The pair disappeared hastily into the anteroom, where the sound of struggle rang out once more. A series of loud thuds and crashing noises were followed by a plaintive cry of “It’s happening again, Seumas. Do you think this aeroplane has a commode?”
The assembled members of the Shadow Cabinet took this as their cue to beat a hasty retreat from their leader’s office.
As the grumbling pack shuffled towards the door, they were halted momentarily by David Lammy, who had just emerged from a period of deep contemplation with a bewildered look on his face.
“Hey guys,” he piped up, holding his mobile phone aloft. “Just to check – that was a real funeral we was all just at, wasn’t it? I’ve just tweeted about it, you see, and…”
© DH 2016