Throwing oneself at the feet of the transport secretary at a posh lunch is not a dignified thing to do. I realise that. But since my parents found out that the HS2 rail link is going past the end of their garden — though just a few metres far enough to mean they won’t get compensation — I have not been feeling very dignified. And before some Lib Dem blogger reports me to the Standards Commissioner for lobbying, I didn’t lobby. I begged. On my knees. There’s a difference.
Poor Patrick McLoughlin didn’t know where to put himself. There he was, having a perfectly nice time at the Savoy, when a suicidal woman in a bright red dress threw herself in front of him like he was an oncoming train. I felt, perhaps with some justification, that I had nothing to lose.
My family has tried all the other channels. They’ve queued up at meetings, sent letters, begged David Cameron to listen to their desperate pleas not to be completely financially ruined in their old age. But they just keep getting told to stop being such tiresome Nimbys. What of it, if the value is being wiped off their home? How small-minded! Can they not just buy another one, using a bit of dosh in a family trust fund, or do some dodge to do with capital gains? Can they not see that HS2 is vital infrastructure to reduce the north south divide?
‘Er, yes,’ say Mr and Mrs Kite, ‘but you’re actually taking our train station away from us in the process so we won’t actually be able to get to London from the Midlands as easily as we used to.’
‘Silence, Nimbys! Don’t be so impertinent, or we’ll stick a hundred eco-homes for key workers at the end of your front garden!’
I had, perhaps unfairly, assumed that not many women throw themselves at Mr McLoughlin. But maybe they do, because after his initial shock, he treated my throwing myself at him with complete professionalism. ‘When are my parents and the rest of the people living in their street going to get compensation?’ I gasped.
‘Oh yes, I see. Well, there is a process.’
‘Gah! You must listen to me!’ I garbled. ‘They are getting on. They can’t retire. They can’t sell their house. The thing has blighted them already. The blight is happening now, can’t you see? Now!’
‘Oh dear,’ said Mr McLoughlin slowly, ‘well, if you will just please contact my office with the details…’
‘Er, the main number.’
How humiliating. The next step was for an aide to rush up to him and tell him he was going to be late for his meeting with The Guild of Earwax Solvent Manufacturers.
This is not the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me in connection with a high speed rail link, however. I was once invited to debate HS2 with the transport union leader Bob Crow on Sky News. As I opened and shut my mouth like a goldfish, Mr Crow, who speaks at a speed only hyenas can intercept, accused me of not wanting HS2 going across the lawn of my estate.
I tried to explain that my parents live in a three-bedroom semi. The estate amounts to a very pretty back garden with a bird table and a Homebase swing seat. My dad is a car worker. My mother is a hairdresser. I hate to disappoint all those, including my colleague Rod Liddle (see last week’s issue), who seem to think I’m ‘upper-middle-class’, and I’m flattered people should think I’m posh, I really am. But the truth, I confess, is that I grew up in a small Midlands town and went to a former boys’ grammar school in Coventry on an assisted place.
The only reason I haven’t got a Brummy accent is that I had to painstakingly expurgate it when I arrived at university in the south east so that I could cope with posh people who thought Coventry was ‘somewhere near Blackpool?’, which I suppose it will be when they finish HS2 and we can beam ourselves supersonically between the two at Mach 3.
I’m willing to bet the house I grew up in, which has seen its modest value decimated, is not much bigger than Bob Crow’s famous council house. It might even be smaller. In fact, I issue this challenge now: Mr Crow, I invite you to come to my parents’ house for tea and see for yourself how the HS2 link is affecting ordinary people. I will even buy you a ticket on the very reliable Virgin train service that will get us there, although it will be a good ten minutes slower than the £32 billion HS2. If you play your cards right, I might even throw myself at your feet.