One Oxford student had an unusual sidekick on his road trip across America this summer – the secretary of state for Local Communities and Government, Eric Pickles.
James Johnson, a finalist at Brasenose, made the coast-to-coast journey across southern America with his friend, Daniel Falvey, a student at Nottingham. However, feeling they needed some gravitas on the road, the pair travelled with a full size cut-out of the minister.
Commenting on their unusual, but inspired, choice of travelling companion, James said, “Way back in the original planning of the trip we thought that we needed someone else to accompany us on our journey across the States. For a while we were narrow minded enough to consider other people, but then realised that there was no better person to take along than Mr Pickles.”
There have been some incidents on the trip, however. James noted that “[the] cardboard version does not have the same backbone and unwavering principles of his human counterpart, and as such gets blown away very easily. As a result, in most of the pictures I’m holding him up from behind.”
James, who claims to be a committed Conservative, complained that the secretary of state had also “riled” a horse, though he did not specify how.
In spite of these problems, however, the boys have kept the support of their host country.
“Americans have absolutely loved him,” said James. “Some are a bit bemused but once it’s explained they want to know more and many want to pose with Eric. The best example of that is a usually gravely serious US Border Patrol guard – he leapt at the opportunity to see the minister and immediately demanded a photo in front of his siren-blazing patrol car.”
“Mr Pickles himself has responded to the blog very positively, finding it funny and is keeping up to date. That’s exactly the response we wanted – we just wanted to do something unique on our trip to make people laugh.”
The Secretary of State reacted in a characteristically prudent manner, commenting,”I’m delighted they are taking me on such a wonderful trip without spending a penny of taxpayers’ money”.
Mr Pickles, who took his holiday in Norfolk this year, added, “This trip has widened my horizons and I’m really hoping to be taken even further afield next year”.
One member of the Oxford University Conservative Association, reflecting on the popularity of the minister, commented, “He’s done really great work, in a demanding time for the British economy, and for that, I think he more than deserves his position as MP in one of the safest seats in England. In all circumstances, I think it would be fairly difficult to unseat a man like Eric Pickles.”
The cutout, which was custom made, and delivered to the boys’ hotel in Miami, pictures Mr Pickles in a full suit with a purposeful stride, cutting a striking and authoritative figure while clutching a briefcase.
Spending their first day at the beach, Mr Pickles and his companions finished their trip in the bright lights of Vegas.
Catch up with the adventure at www.picklesroadtrip.com