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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Saturday, August 15, 1925. p. 8 — Peeps at Parliament: The Seats of the Mighty — Also Roads and Telephones

The Dominion, Saturday, August 15, 1925. p. 8
Peeps at Parliament: The Seats of the Mighty — Also Roads and Telephones

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things,
Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax,
Of cabbages and kings.
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings."327

Later on in the same touching little poem, I recollect, that identical Walrus is discovered wiping the tears from both his eyes. That's just exactly what I feel that I'd really like to do at the present moment. But let us at all costs preserve a Spartan stoicism. Some day I'm going to bring together a score or328so of dear old ladies—the sort that knit mufflers and forcibly induce their nephews to wear red flannel next to their skins. We shall thereupon and without further delay charter a hall (with a really comfortable Gentlemen's Gallery attached), and proceed to show the exorbitantly dear old gentlemen of the House just how exciting a Parliament can be when it really tries. Until that time, you mustn't complain if these notes are a trifle dull. Just thank your lucky stars that you can go to sleep in the middle of them—which is more than any normally constructed individual could do on those seats in the Ladies' Gallery.

That brings me to another point. I've told you, I believe, about the simple yet stately chair adorned by Mr. Speaker[.] Well, as a general rule, Mr. Speaker confines his love of luxury to a single black cushion—you know the effect—sombre, stern, and judicial. Yesterday afternoon, however, a beautiful blue velvet cushion, just exactly the right shade to tone with Mr. Speaker's iron-grey wig, appeared on the chair. This is all very well in its way. I, for one, believe that the Speaker, who has to preserve some semblance of wakefulness through the very drowsiest parts of the debate, should be treated with every possible consideration and kindliness. He needs it more than we do. But, all joking apart, several of the more frequent visitors to the Ladies' Gallery are prepared to produce X-ray plates and medical certificates showing that their spines have become permanently deformed since the first fateful day when they entered the House. I wonder if the S.P.C.A. could be induced to give the matter a little serious consideration? Do you know that, actually, in the Ladies' Press Gallery, we sit on benches! Over in the Press Gallery occupied by the Lords of Creation, they appear to recline on divans.

There are members in the House who remind one, in a dim and distant sort of way, of Master Squeers, the boy-hero of "Nicholas Nickleby." Master Squeers, if you will take the trouble to remember him, had curiously elastic features—so elastic that the caps, hats, boots, and waistcoats sent by fond mammas to other little boys at his school all seemed just exactly to fit Master Squeers.329 The young gentleman seems happily to have survived long enough to leave behind him a fair number of descendants. Take Mr. Buddo. The day before yesterday, the report of the Forestry Department was under discussion.330 Mr. Buddo produced, from his trouser pocket, as it were, some perfectly beautiful sand dunes in Canterbury, which were just crying out for afforestation.331 Yesterday he found roads in Canterbury crying out even louder for a little sand-papering, and roads which were not yet in Canterbury, but which, by all the laws of man and Parliament, certainly ought to be.332 Then there was the little matter of automatic telephones. The citizens of Canterbury are not, I am pleased to inform you, crying for their telephones. They have passed the lachrymose stage, and are at present busy compiling for themselves a neat little dictionary containing words, and, in a modified form, meanings of a totally new language, which is used only in speaking of the Post and Telegraph Department.333

But let's be perfectly just to Mr. Buddo. It was another member—I won't be positive, but it seems reasonable to suppose that the hon. gentleman was a Labour-Socialist—who started all the trouble about telephones.334 Of this I am certain. Mr. Lee, who for the past few days has remained ominously silent, startled the House with the assertion that when a man went to five penny-in-the-slot machines, one after the other, and failed to get his connection at any of them, or, worse, to get his money back, that man began to suspect that there was something wrong somewhere.335

As you really ought to know, telephones are included among the burdens that the Post and Telegraph Department is, for its sins, compelled to bear. The poor old Post and Telegraph Department, not to mention the officials thereof, came in for a somewhat rough hearing during the evening session. Mr. Langstone was among those standing by ready to cast the first stone. He painted a graphic picture of a little country town under his paternal care—refusing all Ministerial requests to spell its name—wherein, despite the solicitations of the inhabitants, the Government had positively refused to erect a sizeable post office.336 In fact, he declared that if any unwary traveller sent his luggage to the township, the citizens would be compelled to erect a shed in which to house post office, parcels, and all.337 It may seem strange to you that if this is the case the people of the town don't turn to and build a post office all by themselves. But that wouldn't be politics. Why should the Labour members turn upon and rend this highly efficient and obliging Department so? If you asked them they would probably reply, Scots-fashion, by asking another question: "Why won't the Government let the Post Office staff join the Alliance of Labour?" Which is another way of explaining how the fly got into the amber, the milk into the cocoanut [sic], the nigger into the wood-pile!

327 Lewis Carroll, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," from Through the Looking Glass. "The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:
Of shoes-and ships-and sealing-wax-
Of cabbages-and kings-
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 164.

328 Dominion: of.

329 See for example Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, facs. copy (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1982), p. 68.

330 The first reading of the Forests Amendment Bill was on 13 August.

331 See Hansard 207: 363. Buddo asked "if the Minister [of Public Works] could see his way to place a grant on the [estimates] so that willow-planting for protective purposes on the banks of the Ashley River might be undertaken immediately?" (Hansard 207: 363).

332 Buddo noted that he "had never known the roads in Canterbury to be in such a bad condition" (Hansard 207: 364).

333 Sullivan pointed out that "[a] considerable number of people [in Christchurch] who had applied for telephone services, some of them-having had their applications in for years-had been told that nothing could be done" (Hansard 207: 372).

334 Fraser began the debate by asking about developments in the postal and telegraphic services (Hansard 207: 372).

335 Lee noted that "it was quite a common occurrence for a person to place pennies in four or five machines without being able to secure a call; and, what was far worse, the coins were not returned" (Hansard 207: 374).

336 Langstone mentioned "a little place near Raetihi called Ruatiti, and one could not kennel a dog in the little box which served as a post-office and telephone bureau up there" (Hansard 207: 379).

337 There is no record of a comment to this effect in Hansard.