Matthew Parris tells the story about devouring the book that made him become a Tory at the age of ten.
Older readers may remember this series. Younger readers should know that Pookie was a small winged rabbit with blue trousers, rescued in distress by a loving, poor but honest girl called Belinda, who lived alone in the wood, made Pookie a padded bed in a sort of shoebox, and helped him grow wings. The pair became the greatest friends.
One late autumn day, Winter — drawn as a scary giant with icicle fingers — arrives. There’s a great storm. Trees blow down. Burrows flood. All the animals in the wood (Pookie’s friends) are devastated; homes destroyed, food stores ruined, wings and paws wounded. Pookie and Belinda take in the casualties, warm them by the fire and feed and tend to them. But Pookie (with whom I identified) strides out into the storm in a rage and, shaking his little paw at Winter, tells him to stop being so cruel, go back to the North Pole and never return.
And to Pookie’s shock, Winter withdraws. Pookie is briefly feted. Autumn is followed by spring. Then all nature is thrown into confusion. Flowers have no time to prepare to flower again; dead leaves and branches have not been cleared, nor animals refreshed by hibernation. Now all the woodland folk protest, and Pookie becomes a figure of hate.
So, in the biggest adventure of his life, Pookie flies all the way to the North Pole, nearly perishing in the attempt. He confronts Winter a second time (this full-page picture was so frightening I kept it under my pillow to sneak glances in the night). Pookie confesses he had been wrong, apologises, and begs Winter to return. The little rabbit now realises that the seasons have a purpose, that lazy or foolish animals with ill-sited burrows or nests have to be shown their folly, and every creature given an incentive to work hard, prepare and store.
Admiring Pookie’s courage, Winter relents, agrees to return, and wafts the exhausted bunny home on a storm cloud.
Being a confirmed enemy of winter as we all know it and a believer in directing human ingenuity toward a tightening of winter to the length of one month and a radical reduction of the shortened winter event to immaculate winter wonderland conditions, I would tend to extend the lesson to be learned from the above story to approximate more of a conservative-progressive compromise: let us respect personal responsibility as a pivotal means for changing the world in unheard-of ways. Let us not just brave what is, but achieve what is not yet. And let us not be too shy to do it collectively.