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  • Dougie

Let them eat cake

Updated: May 17, 2023

Marie Antionette never said the words for which she is most famous. And according to some, the beheaded Queen may not even have said, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”

Brioche or cake? No one knows. But that doesn't really matter, in a sense.

On our last full day in London we were running out of time. As was the doomed Queen, now I think on it.

There was a a quadriplegic related delay (which is always a possibility). We are slow at the best of times (and the worst of times ... if that's not too many allusions to the French Revolution, now that I'm paraphrasing Dickens). Do not set a clock by us. If you have an appointment with an important person, do not ask a quadriplegic to drive you there. Do not go on holiday with a quadriplegic (see all other posts with the #Travel tag in this blog).

There was, of course, the delay due to the clearly old, notoriously fickle key-driven platform stair lift in the hotel. But here is an (admittedly tedious) thought experiment.

If your ... clearly old, notoriously fickle key-driven platform stair lift ... malfunctions every time you attempt to use it over the course of a week, is the time you lose -- every time you try to use it -- a delay or a timetable alteration? Answers on a postcard to ...

The Manager,

The hotel in London where Dougie will never stay again,


Living in the Past-shire

Anyway, Spike was on holiday with a quadriplegic, we were late for an appointment with an important person and there was the customary lift malfunction. Of course Spike was late.

It had nothing to do with me. I'm like The Queen. And we are never late

We altered our breakfast plans because the cute café in Pimlico was in the opposite direction to the House of Lords (where we were heading). So we took off (poetic licence required there) in a southeasterly direction with my bold (perhaps over-confident) assertion, "we'll find something on the way."

This is what we found -- sugar.

The man who ran the café with nothing except pastries for sale was taking life's uncertainties more philosophically than I might. As we sat gorging ourselves on sugar, regular customers came in frequently to pick up their customary lunch boxes -- lean chicken, healthy Lebanese salads, braised octopus tentacles, falafel. The man behind the counter repeated many times the sad story of how the truck bringing the healthy homemade food from where it was made had been delayed. Regulars departed empty-handed.

Meanwhile, over at our table, the quadriplegic Duracell bunny I had become was approaching fully activated --- MORE SUGAR! MORE SUGAR!! MORE SUGAR!!!

So ... sugared-up we resumed our journey. But first we had to hear what the thunder said.

We had crossed the road from Westminster Abbey where the departure in a burgundy colour Rolls Royce of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales and an overdressed flunkie had delayed traffic. I assume this included the salad-delivery truck driver brother of the philosophical man back in the café.

I required a photo of me in front of the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square. And because it was warm and sunny and -- perversely given our earlier delays -- we were now a bit early for our appointment with Lord McConnell, I suggested we linger a bit in the pleasant space and watch the world go by.

Spike said, "that dark cloud over there looks a bit ominous."

And I said, "do you think?"

And this is what the thunder said, "KABOOM!!"

As we sheltered -- a word I use with some lack of precision -- under a dripping wet tree and a wee umbrella the lightning bolted, the thunder roared, the hail plummeted to the ground and the rain bounced off the statue of Nelson Mandela so that by the time we gave up caring and made a dash (more quadriplegic descriptive licence required here too) for the Lords' Entrance we were .... damp.

Damp all over.

We were so damp that after we emerged (two hours later to warm sunshine and a London that had dried out) we still had to pause to dry off in the sun. Spike removed her new Converse sneakers and her sodden feet left sock-like imprints on the paving stones.

Jack -- Lord McConnell -- and I met at Stirling University in the late 1970s. We were both members of the student Broad Left and active in the local students union.

I had a sabbatical year in 1977-1978 as Vice-President of the Students Association. Jack did his stint as President a few years later

I went off to London to do the whole NUSUK thing (which I loved) and then had a second 'sabbatical' year out of the world in the Spinal Injuries Rehabilitation Unit in Musselburgh.

Jack went off to teach Maths in a Stirling school then was elected to (and lead) the Stirling District Council and was then elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament and subsequently became First Minister of Scotland (during which time the Scottish Government made good, progressive, lasting change in the lives of Scotland's people).

So it was a delight when Jack invited us over for a behind the scenes tour of his workplace. I know the Commons a little bit from my lobbying days. But I'd never seen "the Other Place". The House of Lords -- as you might expect -- is a fascinating, sumptuous, remarkable place with stunning decor and a wealth of good art that I never knew existed.

The unelected Second Chamber should be abolished, of course. A democratically elected House to review and revise Government in a system with an elected and accountable Head of State is -- without a shadow of doubt -- the least reform required. This is -- after all is said and done -- the 21st Century.

But today that is not the point. Jack came to Canberra a few years ago. I attended the lecture he gave then next day me, Jack and Spike went out for a curry. We came to London and today Jack gave us a tour of the building and we had afternoon tea in the Pugin Room.

Thank you my Lord.

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