Well that was a weird day. I spent the most of the day in Committee Room 4 with assorted members of the House of Lords. When I switched my phone back on a text message popped up from a friend and colleague from Storyboat days (check the link on the right). Then as I was walking back to where I was staying in West Hampstead I thought I heard a voice call my name ...
The encounter in The House of Lords was the latest round in my opposition to the Middle Level Bill. It had its first readings in the Commons in 2017 and I attended and spoke at the Committee stage in January 2018. My own MP has never responded to anything I have addressed to him over the years, including three e-mails regarding this Bill. In the Commons debates our opposition attracted a little minority support, but each debate was upstaged by something to do with the European Union - one being on the day Article 50 was "triggered". The second reading fell foul of Theresa May's ill-judged vanity election in 2017 when one of our two most outspoken supporters, Stewart Jackson (Con - Peterborough) lost his seat. I rather hoped that would be the end of the Bill, but it wasn't. The incoming Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, appeared to have other priorities and we never felt she understood or supported the arguments we were presenting. This meant that, when the second reading eventually took place last October, we had just one MP up to speed with our case, although a few props to the new MP for Cambridge who did speak out too. Unfortunately, as it was to prove, our robust supporter was the infamous Sir Christopher Chope (Con - Christchurch). During his thirty years or more as an MP, I have rarely considered myself in agreement with his point of view on anything. It was a difficult pill to swallow to realise that he was our main support in the Commons, but I remain grateful for that support and for the clear way in which he presented his and our objections. That makes it more of a pity that his demand for closer scrutiny of the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill, expected by many to pass through unopposed, will end up being the one thing for which he is likely to be remembered when his Parliamentary career eventually comes to an end.
The Middle Level Bill was passed through to, and debated in, the Lords and was sent through to Committee to undergo scrutiny. A couple of weeks ago I attended the House of Lords Opposed Private Bill Committee, this time for four days (which proved not to be long enough so the Committee had to be reconvened last week), and once again I was called upon to explain my opposition to the proposals, which I did in my forty-five minute presentation before the Lords Thomas, Hunt, Tree and Brabazon and Baroness Bakewell. It was an interesting experience and I'm going to come back to the Bill in a future post. For now I just want to get some new diary entries up and visible.
On the Tuesday about which I started writing this essay the Committee finished at 1pm. Their Lordships were otherwise engaged for the remainder of the day. Our little crew went down to the commoners' café to discuss our progress and buy our expensive sandwiches and herbal infusions - not for the users of this café the fabled subsidies afforded to members of both Houses. I switched my mobile phone back on and up popped a text message from Andy, my friend from Storyboat days. We hadn't seen each other for a couple of decades and hadn't even spoken on the telephone for many years. His message was reaching out to me in the hope that I was still using the same number. Of course I am and that was how we found ourselves chatting in a West Hampstead coffee shop later that same afternoon. I love meeting old friends. People sometimes express surprise that I am still in regular contact with friends from my school days and from college. I don't see anything odd in that at all. If they were good enough to be my friends all those years ago the least I can offer is to remember something of the experiences we may have shared and solidarity during the experiences our adult lives have brought. These days such contact is so much easier than it has ever been before the world wide web brought us all closer together. Admittedly friends drift apart for many reasons and there are many with whom I have not maintained contact. That's okay too. I daresay some of them would be horrified to see how I live these days.
Walking back to M's flat (another friend from my school days) where I was staying during the week, I thought I heard someone call my name. I turned to see a cyclist some way down the street resting with one foot on the ground and another on a pedal. I didn't recognise anyone and another man was walking by so I assumed they knew each other. As I turned to continue on my way I distinctly heard my name being called and turned again. This time the cyclist headed my way. This was weird, I don't know anyone in this part of London ... surely? He started talking and it was clear he knew me from somewhere. Damn my prosopagnosic tendencies. There was something about his manner and his voice, but naturally I could not recognise his face at all, so I had to ask. It turned out to be George, a composer I met at a composers' forum last year. He stopped me a couple of months later in Tate Modern. This was now a year after that our only prior contact being those two short conversations a long time ago. It doesn't make sense to me. I am in awe of how some people remember faces. I wish I could do it, but I seem quite unable to do so.
As a post-script, while writing this I have been popping out of the boat to push it away from the landing stage when another boat comes by. I've tried tightening my mooring ropes, but the river rises and falls according to the whims of the engineers at the big sluice gates into The Wash, so tightening my lines is often unproductive and occasionally dangerous. The wind and the wash of passing boats rub my boat against a couple of fenders I have in place to keep me from scraping off even more paint. I have tried yelling at people to slow down and it really doesn't make either of us feel any good, so these days I just climb out and attempt to hold the boat away from the side. If they really are going too fast I make a slowing down gesture like I learned to do when I was learning to drive. Most people just give a cheery wave back. I also avoid eye contact, because I am pretty sure I would be glaring at them and I don't really want to be that mad, angry boat bloke. Tilly 2 just came by and Paul, the owner said, "You don't remember me do you?" Of course I didn't ... argh! We met last summer, when we shared adjacent moorings in town and later in the boatyard when he had engine problems while I was in for a service. Apparently I gave him a cd. He said he showed it to some other people and they said they knew me. We talked about the Middle Level Bill and he thanked me for taking the trouble to stand up for boaters.
As a post post-script, I've just had a text message from another school friend. I think every time I have seen him since we left school he has been married to someone different, which is neither here nor there, but I can't help thinking about the heartache he must have experienced, although we all find excitement in our own special ways I suppose. Again I haven't seen him for years and he's coming over on Wednesday. I'm attending a Prom Concert tomorrow at the Albert Hall. I have a great life.