Month: April 2016

With More Than a Drop to Drink

A long list of entertaining signs and sayings from the once, now slightly fractured, United Kingdom. Some funny, some wonderful conversational gems designed to keep otherwise dull conversations sparkling with newly acquired wisdom – and one either intentionally misleading or downright wrong.
It read: “Alcohol is prohibited in the UK Parliament with one exception; the Chancellor (of the Exchequer) can drink while delivering the annual budget statement.” Leaving aside for a minute the thought that if the Chancellor needed “Dutch courage” to deliver a bad news budget, his listeners would probably require “doubles all round” to sustain them.
I’m sure my old colleague for many years in the trenches of journalism, King Lee, who forwarded me the few minutes of pleasure, will be delighted to know the Palace of Westminster is not a “dry zone.” The home of the House of Commons and the upper House of Lords is well sprinkled with 23 points of sale for meals and snacks – and eight bars to serve the needs of 13,000 people holding the right to imbibe and feed in all but the exclusive Commons Smoking Room (MPs and guests only) and one or two bars for House of Lord Peers and their guests.”
It is true that smuggling a hip flask into the parliamentary debating chambers is frowned on, but not unknown.
I owe my knowledge of the eating and drinking establishments in the Palace of Westminster to George MacMinn who served many illustrious years as the Clerk of the British Columbia Legislature and 25 years ago arranged a meeting for me with his counterpart John Sweetman of the House of Commons. For lunch one day John took my late wife Candide and 10-year old son Nicholas for pre-lunch drinks in The Strangers Bar and eats in the restaurant on the adjacent Embankment.
A well remembered delightful occasion. The bar overlooking the River Thames quiet and orderly; the restaurants impeccable in food and service. Quiet and orderly has not always been the way as The Guardian pointed out three years ago in March, 2013. In an article, Parliamentary Bars- What are they really like? Writer Michael White was commenting on one Eric Joyce, MP for Falkirk, who with several assault charges already on his “form” was arrested by London Metropolitan Police Force in The Sports and Social Club at 22.20 one February evening.
White:”Located next to the bins in the basement, it is the only bar most voters would recognize as a normal pub, with darts results and welcoming scruffiness. Mostly it is used by younger pass holders.” It is referred to by true blue Tories as “the sports and socialist.”
(Readers can Google Eric Joyce for a fascinating read of a thug turned gentleman turned thug)
Back to the pubs of the mother of modern parliaments where even with a potential customer list of 13,000 pass holders – research workers, staff, journalists and contractors – not all have been successful.
The once legendary Annie’s Bar, named in honour and of a long dead bar maid closed years ago says White “ Bellamy’s Bar (named after another long dead functionary) has been turned into a crèche for the children of MPs and staff. It has not stopped tabloid complaints about wasted public money.”
There is Moncrieffs “the refurbished and cheerless press bar….called Moncrieff’s after a legendary thirsty Press Association reporter who gave up drink and is still alive.” Never having been there I have to accept White’s “cheerless” description. If it is accurate it must be the only cheerless press bar in the world.
How do British Columbia and Canada stand in the parliamentary bar world? Modestly, as always.
In Ottawa you can wine and dine at reasonable rates if an MP, Senator, spouse or family member, a senior official, judge or “a member, associate member, life member or honorary member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.” Compared with nearby eateries where $14 for a drink is normal, dining in the Centre Block is a bargain. There are no “in-house” bars as such – but there is a liquor store and MP’s can be provided with a portal bar for private office receptions.
In BC the Legislature Dining room is open to the public; you can get a drink with your meal. Check in with security, trade a driver’s licence or other official ID for a pass and dine well at comparable rates. Phone first if the House is sitting. No private bars – a problem I overcame in my half century of tenure with emergency supplies in the bottom left-hand drawer of my desk.