Drink

Bloody Marys and the funniest woman in the House of Lords

A toast to Jean Barker, Baroness Trumpington

11 February 2017

9:00 AM

11 February 2017

9:00 AM

To the Western Isles, or at least to its embassy in Belgravia. Boisdale restaurant always claims to be extra-territorial. There was an awards ceremony, and the principal recipient was a remarkable old girl. Ninety-four years into an extraordinarily diverse life, Jean Trumpington is one of the funniest people I have ever met. She is also one of the bravest. She was born in easy circumstances, a child of the affluent upper middle classes, and the first disruption occurred when her mother lost a lot of money in the Great Crash. Her family did not exactly become poor, but she had her first lesson in adversity, and on the unwisdom of taking anything for granted.

At the beginning of the war, she set off to be a land-girl on David Lloyd George’s farm. She is now the sole survivor of the various females whom the old goat chased around his fields. Then came code-breaking at Bletchley Park. Jean had the right attitude to the war. When on duty, hard work in the national interest; when off duty, hard play in the interests of fun. Air raids merely spiced up the merriment. Under wartime restrictions, restaurants were not allowed to charge more than five bob for dinner. That made the Ritz a bargain. Jean enjoyed herself.


After the war, she escaped Attlee’s austerity by moving to New York: a lot more fun. She returned to England with a husband, Alan Barker, one of the foremost schoolmasters of his generation. By the time he was 50, he was a headmaster, apparently assured of all the glories that beak-dom could offer. It seemed inevitable that he would become a chairman of various public bodies, a lauded recipient of honours and emoluments.

That was not to be. A terrible stroke left him disabled. During what should have been his highest–earning years, he was an invalid needing expensive care. But a girl who had fended off Lloyd George and helped to defeat the Nazis was not to be deterred. Out of suffering came stoicism and fightback. Jean had been involved in local politics. She now intensified her commitment, came to Margaret Thatcher’s attention, and was sent to the House of Lords. There was a problem. What was she to call herself? Baroness Barker: no. Peers who do not wish to use their surnames often take their title from their home base. She lived in Six Mile Bottom. Doubly no. She settled on Trumpington, which is so appropriate. The word reverberates like a Handelian drum roll in a quick march.

She and Their Lordships’ House revelled in one another. At the end of term before a recess, the Tory whips’ office holds an impromptu drinks party: more of a drink-up party. Bloody Marys with Clamato often feature. Jean was sitting on a banquette, under which were more tins of Clamato. One of the younger whips said, ‘Jean, can I just come between your legs and….’ She interrupted. ‘Any time, ducky.’ A foolish and humourless girl who ran a colour supplement once almost redeemed herself by her choice of lunch guests: Jean and Nick Soames. Nick was praising the virtues of Virginia Bottomley, who is indeed as toothsome a wench as ever served in a cabinet. ‘She fits in so well that we think of her as one of the chaps.’ Silly girl: ‘But she’s a woman.’ Soames: ‘Of course she is. She’s also one of the chaps.’ S.G.: ‘If you call a woman one of the chaps, you must be sick.’ Jean, after removing the fag and the gin glass from her mouth: ‘BALLS.’

To salute this great lady we drank wines supplied by the Rothschilds. Recently, they bought Château Rieussec, famous for sweet wines. They have produced a dry ‘R’ de Rieussec. Crisp, tart, subtle, sophisticated, it was excellent with shellfish. Near Limoux, they are producing Domaine de Baronarques, a blend of Bordeaux varietals and southern grapes: grenache, malbec, syrah. We tasted the ’03, ’07 and ’13. These are serious bottles, fully worthy of a toast: ‘Long live Trumps.’

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