Didn’t take her long did it. It’s only the first day of March and our own Mad Hare, Jenny, files the following bit of looniness. Actually we quite like the idea of PCH getting a Lords-style makeover . . . .
Jenny walked through Portcullis House realising for the first time how cold and clinical and ungothic it was. It had nothing of Hogwarts about it all, none of the magic or the majesty that the Pugin House of Lords has. There is no gold leaf here or stained glass, no mahogany panelling; just a plain wood that looks a bit like it’s from IKEA. She had been spending more time in the Lords and been paying attention for the first time because of the late night sittings over the Electoral Reform, Countryside Protection and Monorail Bill. Jenny was a great fan of the monorail part; well her boss was, so she had been lobbying for it. The Lords were questioning what it had to do with electoral reform and Jenny herself had her doubts but her boss really wanted an elevated railway track in his town so she did not think too hard about it. You shouldn’t look a local transport deal gift horse in the mouth.
Anyway Jenny was scoping out the Lords and she was thinking that that could be her next career move, not a Peerage for herself, in time that could happen but perhaps one for her boss? If not she could find a Peer to work for – it seemed a better quality of life at that end of the Palace – nicer furniture, views, offices and surroundings. She was glad it had survived the fire, the one she mentioned on her tours, though she had whizzed through the Lords as it was unfamiliar territory. Now she wanted to bask in it. She enjoyed the status of it and it was kind of a grown up Hogwarts like a wizarding university rather than a school – it couldn’t be a school as it had too much prestige for that.
It was a maze though. She felt like leaving breadcrumbs or a piece a string to find her way back. She couldn’t get to some places directly – they involved going up or over or through or back – then a lift. The Harcourt Corridor? Where was the South Return and where had it come back from? She still hadn’t found Residence 1 or 2 even though there were some important meetings there. She was sure she would in the long run…..eventually……maybe when she was ennobled.
Jenny was back in the Commons to have a meeting to update her boss, Jack, on the Electoral Reform etc Bill as it was now known. It had been creating a potential constitutional crisis in a tea cup and the Lords were digging their heels in. She had looked up the definition of what a filibuster was just in case Jack asked.
‘The Lords objections don’t seem to be monorails per se; rather they object to linking monorails to electoral reform.’ Jenny said.
‘The argument about it helping voters get to the polls not working then?’ Jack said.
‘To be truthful, no. They would like the Bill spilt.’
‘But there is a deadline on this – have you tried ‘electoral’ sounds like ‘electric’ and the monorail is an electric transport system?’ Jack persisted.
‘You really want me to try that?’
‘It cannot hurt.’
Jenny thought it really could hurt but wanted to explore more so did not object. She was sure she hadn’t found all the bars or function rooms yet. Also she had had a surprising run of good luck whilst she had been hanging around in the Other Place. No robots or ghosts or Time Lords or anything. Her work was piling up back in the office though and she had had complaints from the constituency staff that she wasn’t pulling her weight with the IPSA forms. After this she would make it up to them. Lord’s staff did not have to deal with IPSA and they seemed so happy and carefree in comparison to the world-weary researchers.
After another day of lobbying she realised the monorail bill was going down in flames. She wasn’t ready to let her boss in on this fact though as she was working on her own plan now. A new job in this tough climate was too much to hope for so she had decided that she was going to try and Gothic-up the Commons. The cold Commons could do with livening up; so drab and dreary – there were barely any murals there at all or nice carpets. There was a voice in her head that said that this was a time of austerity – it would cost far too much money. That didn’t mean she couldn’t try?
Jenny had heard rumours and stories that the Speakers House with its view of the Thames had its own Gothic glory. She couldn’t report first hand as she had not had an invite there yet. Bob had been there but refused to be drawn on the details or just didn’t notice them. If it was good enough for the Speaker why wasn’t it good enough for the rest of them?
Jenny made Dave and Bob come to the River Restaurant for lunch to discuss her love of the gothic and to see what they could do to liven up the Commons.
‘So you want to make us like the Lords?’ Bob asked.
‘How would we know which end was which?’ Dave asked.
‘I am not a complete radical – we can keep the colours.’
‘Colours and ends…sounds like football.’ Bob said.
‘Hey, they change ends at football matches.’ Dave said.
‘Are you suggesting we change ends – like at the end of a parliament?’
‘No, but it doesn’t sound that bad.’ Dave replied.
‘Changing ends does sound a little crazy?’ Bob said.
‘It’s not the craziest thing I have said.’ Jenny said
‘No it’s not, which is worrying.’ Bob smiled at least as he said it.
‘I don’t know why but I like the idea.’
‘Well Dave you would. What about your actual work Jenny? Do you remember the revolutionary monorail system that is going to put your town on the map?’ Bob said.
‘If my town isn’t already on the map why does it need a monorail system? Let’s face it you can walk to one end or the other in – like – 15 minutes.’
‘True but you are supposed to be trying to get investment into the town. Or at least be trying to show that you are’
‘But a monorail system? I feel that has been done somewhere else and not ended well.’ Jenny said.
‘I remember that there was a song or something?’ Dave piped up.
‘That’s ridiculous – this is completely a new idea, revolutionary.’ Bob did not watch as much television as Jenny and Dave did.
‘Anyway back to my idea’
‘I think you would be better off pitching that the Commons be decked out similarly than evicting the Lords. I can’t imagine they won’t go without a fight.’ Dave said.
‘I can’t believe you are seriously discussing this, of course I do – I am going to do some real work. Feel free to join me,’ Bob said.
‘What’s up with him?’ Jenny asked.
‘Something to do with three hundred letters on forests then a u-turn – I stopped listening.’
‘Sounds like he killed a tree all by himself.’
Jenny and Dave’s phones both started to buzz and they let out simultaneous groans. ‘It’s the boss.’ They echoed each other.
‘Jinx!’ She got it out first and answered her phone without fear of a playground type curse.
‘Hello Jack….Of course I did’nt forget about the briefing…..I am on my way now. No, I thought you had the music… how are we supposed to sell monorail without a catchy tune?’
Jenny found the Elevated Single Railed Transport APPG in Committee Room G. That is no where near the Committee Corridor and she had had to hijack someone to take her there. She was amazed by the turn out, perhaps she had misjudged the Lords interest or perhaps it was the mechanised model that had been built in the impressive room. Even the carpets here were pretty. Jenny was pretty sure they hadn’t got permission for the glorified scalextric track that was round the table and up a wall so she really hoped no attendants or security walked past.
She smiled and handed out the briefing papers while the Lords and Baronesses looked on entranced at the train effortlessly gliding round and round the track past the Pugin room features. Their concentration was almost hypnotic as they watched it go round and round. Jenny really hoped that this was just a really good lobbying tool and not any spooky business. She had other plans for this week – bigger plans – and they did not involve running for her life or solving mysteries. The owner of the model and the monorail company started to talk and Peers’ attention swung to him,
‘Monorail is the way forward. It’s the future of transport and I admit that, although its links to electoral reform are somewhat complex, it does not make them invalid. For example a butterfly fluttering its wings at one end of the world can cause a hurricane at the other. So a Butterflies and Hurricanes Bill would not be a crazy concept would it?’
There was a muttering of approval in the room, she was sure she could hear of course (of course). No one seemed to want to disagree. Jenny was suddenly worried. The annunciators started to flicker. She was the only one who saw it as everyone else’s attention was glued to the presentation. The division bell rang for the Commons, loud and penetrating but still no one moved. This reeked of spooky business. She was sure. What could it be though? It couldn’t be spooky – Jack was involved. She was being paranoid; it was just a good presentation and there was the model train. She nudged Jack and told him to go and vote. He seemed very reluctant to leave which was shocking as he was trying to keep in with the whips as he wanted support for this bill. She pushed him out of the door.
The music was beginning – the presentation was taking a step up. Jenny stayed outside with the door ajar and watched. The noise was thumping, she dropped her phone – again no one looked – and as she bent to pick it up she could see a light flashing. She stayed down and saw it wasn’t random light reflecting off the bottom of the train but a pattern, with long and short flashes. Jenny sat down on the floor watching until she felt a tap on the shoulder – someone wanted to get past. This broke the spell or whatever was holding her.
‘Sorry’ she murmured turning away from the door. She felt disorientated, as if the ground was shifting under her – she had felt like this before, what was the word she was looking for…dislocation, this sense of dislocation before. Jenny went to make some distance between herself and the monorail man; maybe it would help her think.
There had been a mini constitutional crisis over this Bill, all night sittings and filibustering – hundreds of amendments, and now she felt that this was slightly her boss’s fault. He was pushing for this and several of his colleagues because, because…she had no reasonable reason why. When she was outside, breathing in the Westminster air, she knew she needed to stop the meeting before the Lords were converted on the Electoral Reform etc Bill. Cluck! Why did she associate the feeling of dislocation with chickens, with clucking to be more precise? When I count to three? Why had that come into her head? Counting and clucking, counting and clucking? It wasn’t a nursery rhyme. Why couldn’t she think clearly? Why was this so hard? There was a fog in her thoughts. Count of three? Three, two, one. Hypnotism – why had she been so blind. That was the strange feeling and the clucking – at uni she had been hypnotised and pretended to be a chicken. Cluck! She was really in trouble here. There was no way out of this one she thought as she paced in Royal Court. So that’s were the Lords gift shop is she thought as she paced past the sign. She had been trying to find that for weeks.
‘Are you OK ma’am?’ A workman had appeared from nowhere, up some stairs in the corner of the courtyard.
Jenny stopped pacing and looked at him.
‘No, I got distracted by the prettiness of the Lords and a stupid idea of swapping with this place. I took my eye off the ball and now craziness has ensued. I promise not to get distracted again. Well not in term time, you couldn’t really blame me in Recess. This time I even emailed the Chief Exec. Did you know the Commons had a Chief Executive? Now there’s a monorail guy hypnotising a committee room full of Lords to pass a Bill which will set up that stupid system in most towns. I need to stop the meeting. Oh, and as a side effect it has been causing a little constitutional crisis.’
‘Where is the meeting?’
‘Meeting…? The one you want to break up?’
‘Committee Room G’
‘Hold on.’ The workman got out his phone. ‘Hey Jim its OK to do the power testing now – the meeting got cancelled.’
The lights flickered off in that corner of the courtyard.
‘Thank you so much.’ Jenny ran back towards the room talking to herself she said
‘Now I just need to get the monorail people out of the building before the Lords abolish themselves and we get a light rail system we cannot afford.
What the Hell am I going to tell my boss? ‘
‘Jenny’ – March 2011
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Added: 1 March 2011