About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Sunday 22 March 2015


On Thursday I was fortunate enough to be invited for tea in the House of Lords by my mate, the Baroness.  I took along another friend (and fellow novelist), Richard Beard.  He was in a suit and tie, because we'd been warned we wouldn't be allowed in the posh restaurant if he wasn't suitably dressed.  I was briefed that provided I didn't wear hotpants, I'd be fine.

We arrived and went through security, and were asked to wait in the waiting area for my friend to collect us. I have added the italics there so that you, the reader, will grasp the importance of that instruction. Unfortunately, Beard and I didn't hear the italics, and wandered off to look at the peers' coat pegs to see how many names we recognised. There were one or two scruffy handwritten labels, just like there always were at primary school, for the kid who joined halfway through the term.  An obliging peer showed us the former coat peg of Mrs Thatcher.  I asked if she hung her handbag there as well.  He said he didn't know, and looked at me a little strangely.

Then my friend appeared, with a security person bristling in pursuit.  He was in a tailcoat and had the manner of a cathedral steward who has just caught you unhooking a red rope and going somewhere illegal.  A cathedral steward who does not know that I am MRS DEAN, and I go where I please.  This was a lesson in humility.  I've clearly started believing my own hype.  I may be Mrs Dean in Liverpool cathedral, but in the House of Lords, I'm nobody.  I am not even a man in a suit and tie who looks as though he belongs.  I imagine this is why I got stern dressing down for wandering off, while Beard didn't.  I felt like pointing and saying 'He wandered off too!'  But nobody likes a sneak.  On the bright side, it's nice to know that despite the ravages of the passing decades, I still retain the youthful look that people in authority always recommend I remove from my face.  I haven't been told off so thoroughly since I cheeked Miss Dickenson after deliberately lobbing tennis balls onto the science block roof.

We had a wonderful tour through Pugin's bonkers vision of medieval splendour.  Never knowingly under-embellished was his motto.  Red carpet for the Lords', green carpet for the Commons.  This colour coding means that you don't get hopelessly and terminally lost.  Unless you suffer from red-green colour blindness, of course.  We had tea in the posh tearooms.   Anchovy toast and House of Lords fruitcake (insert own joke here).  I took a sneaky illegal shot of the table, with some blatant product placement by my tea companion, whose new novel, Acts of the Assassins,* was launched on that very day.

It's a bit blurry, because I was half-expecting some ex-Marine in a tight tailcoat to appear and bollock me for taking a photo. 

After tea Beard and I went into the chamber to hear a bit of the debate.  We were about to be admitted, when a man in a tailcoat stopped me.  'Are those denim jeans, madam?  In that case, you will have to go up to the gallery.  You can't go downstairs in denim jeans.  The peers are very strict about that. They call it the Devil's Cloth.'

So we followed him upstairs, with me muttering bitterly that my denim jeans were hideously expensive and probably cost more that Beard's suit.  We were pushed for time, and only heard about five minutes of someone speaking about the importance of ensuring foreign science postgraduates didn't stay on and take low paid jobs, before it was time to leave.  We waited outside the chamber for the baroness.  Whereupon another ex military policeman in a tailcoat asked who I was was waiting for, and told me to sit down on a bench and wait.  I couldn't even wait properly.  Unlike Beard, who was all over that proper waiting thang.  He was waiting in a suit, being a man.  Or else he was invisible.  Or hiding behind me.

I did take one more illegal photo, by the way.  In a broom cupboard.  Here it is.  

You can just see my reflection there.  I feel I was part of that long subversive tradition of women being in the wrong.  In the wrong place, in the wrong clothes, with the wrong expression on their face.  Times have changed, of course.  My friend can be an active member of the House of Lords, rather than a suffragette in a broom cupboard.  I'd far rather be in the wrong as a woman in 2015 than in 1915.  But get out there and vote in the General Election, people.  There's still work to be done.

* excellent book, by the way.  Buy it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Acts-Assassins-Richard-Beard/dp/1846558395

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