“Will ye get a statue til yersel?” was the surprise question from one of the Wick scouts as we looked at the bronze statues of Churchill and Lloyd George on either side of the entrance to the Chamber at the House of Commons.
Laughingly I demurred.
“Now then,” said my excellent researcher Emma to the scouts when we were in the Chamber itself, “this is the Speaker’s chair – and do you see the kind of canopy thing up above it? What do you think that was for?”
The scouts shook their heads.
“Well in the eighteenth century it used to have curtains. And Mr Speaker would draw them right round him when...”
Here Emma paused for dramatic effect, and amongst the scouts you could have heard a pin drop.
“When during a long debate Mr Speaker needed to use his chamber pot – when he needed to go to the toilet.”
Several scouts held their noses. Clearly the free and easy habits of the reigns of the first King Georges would today find scant favour o’er ‘e Ord.
I have to admit that I was as surprised as the rest of them by this revelation.
“Do you see how Churchill’s left toe is so bright and shiny?” I asked them.
“That is because all the MPs here rub the toe for good luck as they enter the Chamber.”
Young hands were stretched out – but I sternly pointed to the sign beside Churchill: “The public may not touch the statues.”
But it was middle evening, and the doorkeepers in their black tailcoats and white bow ties had their backs to us. What the heck.
“Go on then, rub his toe each of you – quickly! – and remember to make a wish!”
So they did. And I believe that this, and the Speaker’s curtains, quite made their visit to Westminster. It was a pleasure to have hosted them.
Which takes me onto another surprising thing – and something that I shall strive to sort during the time ahead. From the North of Scotland, from this constituency, I don’t see as many visitors as I would like.
I know that London is further away than Edinburgh when I was an MSP in Holyrood, but all the same Westminster does belong to the electorate all over the UK and that is why it would be good to get more people from the far north dropping in to see the place.
Also Westminster and its history is fascinating. Churchill and Lloyd George and so many others, the place is stiff with the ghosts of the good, the great, and the thoroughly bad too.
So NT readers, while I am in Westminster, do please feel free to ring my Tain office and arrange a visit. The number is 01862 892726 and all will be most welcome.
I close with a small surprise. She is my granddaughter Isla, and she was born on the first day I set foot in the Commons.
A few weeks ago she and her mum came to visit me. Together we ate cod and potatoes on the Terrace and watched the boats on the Thames go by. And all the time Isla smiled at the world.
And I thought – midst the world of politics, what could be nicer than welcoming my youngest visitor yet? Nothing in this world.
In the New Year, Isla will be Christened in the crypt at the House of Commons. In the crypt is a broom cupboard where a suffragette once hid herself away...
I’ll show it to visitors the next time.