‘Do you know...?’ said the Tory MP I was sitting next to, as he tried to introduce me to the transport secretary. But the transport secretary didn’t even wait until the Tory MP said my name. The transport secretary starts turning a funny colour whenever he sees me. On this occasion he hurried past saying, ‘Ah ha ha yes ha ha ah, erm…’
Before he got past, I grabbed his hand and shook it. I suppose I wanted to assure him that the small matter of him putting a high speed railway past my parents’ back garden needn’t necessarily mean he has to run across the Savoy ballroom. Or look like he wished a tunnel would open up and swallow him. A tunnel, perhaps, like the one they are going to build in the Chilterns to protect all the rich people’s properties from HS2.
‘How about a bit of tunnelling in the Midlands?’ I sometimes say when I meet the transport secretary, just to be jolly about things. Other times I say, ‘Please, I beg of you, you must compensate the little people whose homes are now worthless. You can’t just decimate their only asset and dismiss them as Nimbys when they ask for help.’ And he says, ‘Ah ha ha yes ha ha ah, erm’
I can totally see it from his point of view. I wish I didn’t have to harass the transport secretary at social events. I really do. I don’t want to become known as the girl who makes Patrick McLoughlin run across the Savoy ballroom. I don’t think that can be a thing to be proud of. Also, I get the distinct impression he is not the only politician who would gladly do major tunnelling works with their bare hands in order to avoid me.
For example, after I scared Mr McLoughlin — again — I was sipping my after-dinner coffee trying to behave myself when a very nice friendly female Tory MP, who was sitting at my table, swapped places with the man on my left in order to strike up a conversation with me. She told me she liked something I had written, and we got chatting. But my head was still stuck in the whole ‘high speed railway going past my parents’ back garden and no compensation’ horror.
I was all over the place. I did the nightmare thing of not quite listening to the very first thing she said, which meant I was playing catch-up for the entire conversation. I could have been honest. I could have said, ‘I’m sorry, but the Coalition have just wiped the value off my parents’ three-bedroomed semi. They can’t sell up and retire and they won’t pay us any compensation so I’m a basket case. Could you repeat what you just said?’
But I didn’t. I sat there nodding as she talked while imagining how I will have to lie down in front of the diggers. Then I suddenly realised she was staring at me waiting for an answer to a question. ‘Well, er, yes,’ I said. She frowned. ‘I mean, no.’ She frowned more. ‘Or, to put it another way …it’s tricky, isn’t it? I mean, what can you do?’ She stared at me like I was not all there. Which I wasn’t. ‘I do agree with you,’ I ventured. She kept staring. I had no other option. ‘I’m sorry. What is it you’re talking about?’
She did not look very pleased. She explained, rather testily, that she was talking about the green belt. Looking back on it now, I think she may have wanted to engage me in a discussion of the finer details of the Coalition’s planning policy. Unfortunately, I was now a black cab driver.
What came out of my mouth was something along the lines of: ‘Green belt. Green belt? Don’t talk to me about the green belt...’ And then I think I quoted some figures about building on the green belt since the Coalition changed the planning laws, followed by lurid examples of where England’s green and pleasant lands were even now being concreted over by greedy developers, followed by a rant about the underlying problem being uncontrolled immigration.
I could hear myself, but I couldn’t stop myself. It was like having an out-of-body experience. Every now and then a word like ‘betrayal’ would come out very loudly and the poor female MP would lean away from me and grip her coffee cup a bit tighter.
But the really shameful thing was the way she did the runner. She didn’t even try to make an excuse. She just suddenly got up as I was mid-sentence and fled, almost falling over a chair as she scrambled to safety.
‘Nice to meet you!’ I called after her. But she was running across the Savoy ballroom.