When I was around 8yrs old I went on my first 'educational' school coach-trip to London, England. I remember it as being a cold, grey, day with plenty of walking to be done. I also recall the boat trip down the Thames, from Westminster Bridge to Greenwich, where we went aboard the famous tea-clipper, 'The Cutty Sark'.
Back at Westminster, our female teacher blagged her way into the House of Commons. The Commons Chamber was very dark, with intricate carved wood - festooned with cob-webs. The green leather benches looked very soft and inviting but we were warned against touching them (an almost irresistible temptation for any 8 yr old) as the M.P.s hated to get the residue from sticky fingers onto their trouser-legs! Naturally, several of our number did indeed touch the plush leather, to the great annoyance of the guide who quickly wiped them with his handkerchief.
We next went along to Downing Street and, once again, our teacher blagged her way past the security and we were invited to assemble outside the famous black door of No.10. We were instructed by our teacher to wait quietly and to speak politely to anyone who came out.
Presently, an elderly grey-haired man emerged, wearing what I presumed was a beautiful grey cashmere overcoat. " Hello, whom do we have here? " he beamed, cheerily
Our teacher explained that we were from Peterborough, and I was mightily impressed by his local knowledge when he mentioned "Fletton Bricks", a company for whom my Grandfather worked at the time.
I was struck by the old man's sivery hair, his soft, unlined skin and rosy complexion; his kind eyes and, of course, that overcoat.
" Your coat looks warm ! " I ventured with a smile. The old man commented on the coldness of the day, and I thought I detected a look of sadness in his eyes as he looked at my cheap, inadequate clothing . . perhaps with a little embarrassment. I think he would have gladly offered me his own coat, if we had been more similarly-sized.
He was rescued from his embarrassment by an aide, who indicated that it was time to go.
" Lovely to meet you, " he beamed, " I have to no go, now," he shrugged," boring meetings to attend. Enjoy the rest of your day."
With that, he was gone . .and our teacher was left, slightly flustered, with a strange, far-away look in her eyes.
It wasn't until I got home and told my parents about my day, that It was explained to me that I had met the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan. My Labour-supporting father made some derisory comment about the "lovely coat" I had mentioned. " He's no-good," he snorted, " He'll soon be out!"
" Oh, I hope not, " I replied, " he seemed like such a nice man "
On reflection, I think that I learnt two important truths from my early and unexpected brush with the political 'elite' .
1. People invariably look better in real-life than on T.V. "SuperMac", for example, looked about twenty years younger, in person, than on t.v. !
2. The ruling classes had better haircuts, looked altogether healthier and wore much better clothes than us 'mere mortals'
Unfortunately . . . these simple 'truths' are still as evident, today, as they were then. Very little has actually changed in this voter's lifetime !