Thursday, November 15, 2012

Five Shades of Paint

Very occasionally I write something that other people take an interest in, and so me and my fella were invited to the House of Commons this week to present some of our work at an event. I have never been in that building before so it was quite exciting (as I am a 40 year old middle-class British man, that's the equivalent of saying I was "totally stoked") and I felt very much like a pensioner who had won a prize in a magazine by naming five new shades of paint. I had a cup of tea in the House of Commons Cafe, and was a bit disappointed that there were white plastic spoons and no milk jugs, just those little UHT capsules - although as someone pointed out to me, if they'd had milk from a cow and gold spoons, there would be a taxpayer outrage.

We had printed out our invitation which had been sent via an email, and brought passports for ID purposes, although we weren't asked to show anything. In fact, once we'd got through the airport-like security machines ("take off your belt sir"), we were waved through by friendly security people who didn't ask any questions. I guess once they'd established you don't have weapons, there isn't anything very controversial you can do anyway - apart from employ the very British tactic of looking as if you disapprove or moaning quietly.

I used to suffer from public speaking anxiety, which over my ten years of lecturing has abated a lot (meaning that I only get just as nervous as everyone else now), but this wasn't the usual crowd of students - there was a cross-party set of politicians - some of whom even I'd heard of before - including Jack Straw and Simon Hughes. They were due to speak before us, and I was glad that we'd arranged beforehand that my job would just be to work the powerpoint slides and answer any questions that my fella couldn't answer (thankfully he could, so I didn't have to say anything in the end). My fella is somewhat excessively charismatic and forceful - if there is ever a war, he would be an ideal person to front a conscription campaign like Lord Kitchener, although he'd also work equally well as a Commander General, code-breaker or international spy. He is wasted in academia where only 15% of his skills ever get used.

Jack Straw sat right next to me, and ate a sandwich, before getting up to give his talk. It's always slightly weird when you are next to someone off the tv. Then I discovered something about these events - the way they work is, the politicians get to speak first and say a few inspiring and encouraging words about how great everything is. Then, during the applause, they slip out through a back door. So in the end, none of the politicians stayed around to hear about our research findings, which seems a bit of a shame.

Still, the event seems to have been a success, and after it was done I went to the House of Commons shop and bought two teatowels, two bars of chocolate and a jar of jam (which I am imagining was made personally by Nadine Dorries).

Oh, and I had a photo taken to commemorate the occasion. My five shades of paint were shroud, infection, varicose, toenail and mocca.

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