Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Where have all the MPs gone?

Well, it was a long afternoon but hopefully it was not in vain. Four of us were repres-enting the Oxfordshire branch of the MNDA: Barbara and Jane drove here from the Witney area, and then we all travelled on together. Once again into Dean's Yard, greeted by our friends, the genial beadles at the gate, and then we crossed to the Houses of Parliament. That's when the fun began. We went through the security barriers (those black wall things) and then down into the bowels where the checks all happened, like heavy airport security, photos, bag checks, x-rays, and through to be escorted through the corridors of power.

As it happened we followed Chris Woodhead, who'd earlier delivered the petition of 18,500 signatures at No 10, and who was going to talk to the MPs later. As a result I think we got straight into the Commons Dining Room before we should have. Neither of our local MPs were coming; so Jane, from Witney, went to find her local MP's office - and proceeded to spend the next half-hour briefing David Cameron's secretary. Nice one, Jane! At 4 pm everyone else was let in! I thought the MPs' interest - or uninterest - was disappointing. Not one Oxfordshire MP. In fact I gathered about 20 had come by 5 o'clock. But we talked to a peer, and at the end to one MP, Nia Griffith, who went off to sign the EDM (Early Day Motion) supporting the National Strategy for MND.

One cameo I witnessed was an MP talking, presumably, to some of his constituents. No sooner had the official photographer snapped the moment than the MP instantly turned and left.... Hmm.

Sadly he missed the short intro given by Professor Blakemore and the moving personal account of MND given by Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Schools. That was lacking in self-pity. It seems he's had a different form (PMA?) about as long as me. His speech is still clear. He described MND in his experience as a 'merciful disease' for three reasons. First you learn contentment. Secondly you learn to make the most of the moment. And lastly it allows you to say your farewells properly. I'm told he spoke without notes, though being in a wheelchair I couldn't see.

I'd had the opportunity earlier to chat briefly to him about the time when he taught at the University's Institute of Education and I had one of their best students attached to my department in Cowley St John. Contrary to my prejudices from his HMI days I warmed to him greatly. He commented that he'd not still be alive if it weren't for the incredible support of his wife, who was there too. Naturally I empathised with that sentiment! I reflected on how quickly shared hard experiences break down barriers and bring people together. I suspect in a world without suffering there would be far more alienation.

I suppose the highlight of the proceedings was meeting individuals from all round the country either with MND or involved in the Association in some way. There's a lot of commitment and initiative taken in fighting the cause of MND sufferers, in caring for them and in funding research. Being a rare disease, there's an unusual closeness for an organisation.  

And then it was time to leave. We had a bit of trouble in getting out as wheelchairs can't go down the normal visitors' exit. Eventually a convoy of three wheelchairs plus entourages retraced the way we'd come in past the cash machines, and photo-booth, and tight dispensers, past the only café in London where you can get a cup of coffee for 90p, and out past the policeman and turnstiles on to Parliament Square. And so back to the car, along the Embankment passing cyclists intent on self-destruction and back onto the M4 - and home. To find seven small visitors sitting in the lounge...
Overnight visitors from Fitzwaryn School, Wantage

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