Part 1: Setting the Trap
“You have Black Rod and Silver Stick?”
“And Black Rod, what is his role again?”
“He summons the House of Commons—Parliament, you know—to the House of Lords.”
“But they shut the door in his face? The Commons?”
“And he has to knock again?”
I wrinkled my nose at this news. Ceremony, pomp, and circumstance were as baffling in their allure as Kim Kardashian’s fame. Neither made sense.
When Quinn had announced last week that we were traveling to London, one of my first actions was to look up a knitting group in the city. I found Stitch London, a group open to all who lived in the area or passed through it.
They rotated their meeting location all over the city and assembled several times a week; sometimes meeting at a wine bar in Covent Garden, sometimes knitting in a pub, and sometimes—like this fine Thursday evening—congregating during the dinner hour at a restaurant in Spitalfields Market, just east of the City of London.
Super double bonus: they didn’t care that I wasn’t knitting.
My eyes lowered to the yellow scarf in Bridgett’s hands—Bridgett was a fast knitter—then to the cavernous expanse of Spitalfields Market behind her. Vendors that usually crowded the market had left about an hour ago, leaving an echoing and lonely void behind.
I frowned, fascinated. “But, then they open the door, right?—to let Black Rod in?”
“Yes,” Bridget responded.
“And they can’t actually keep him out, can they?”
She nodded, the skin around her eyes crinkled. Judging by the lines surrounding her eyes and mouth, her face appeared to be in its natural state while smiling.
“Yes. Quite. Commons has no authority to bar the man from their chamber. Merely, they can question his presence. In closing the doors, they are flexing their ceremonial muscle. It’s a reminder to the Lords and Monarchy that the Commons does not bow to their whims.” Bridgett grinned in a small way that bespoke her delight; then she chuckled. “It’s all rather silly, isn’t it? When one talks about it to a foreigner, it seems so silly. But then, I suppose, all traditions sound silly when explained or discussed.”
I nodded at this truth. It was a good thought, worth remembering, worthy of further contemplation. I tucked it away as a data point to be mulled over later.
Bridgett’s daughter, Ellen, smiled at me over her crochet work. “Don’t you have any oddities of government in the United States, or—as I like to call them—the wayward colonies?”
“Other than being completely ineffective and self-serving? Not that I know of.”
“Maybe if you installed a Black Rod and Silver Stick to slam the door in the face of the Senate you might find that your government miraculously improves in competency.”
“It’s worth a thought,” I said.
Bridgett gifted her daughter a wry smile; she turned her eyes back to her scarf while she continued to speak on the subject. “Truly, I believe these traditions—as silly as they might sound—have real merit. Tradition builds confidence and gives people a sense of security, safety. If you know what to expect, you become part of the process, even if it’s in a passive way. Rites of passage are essential, and traditions endure because they have value. I think your generation under values the importance of traditions lest anything be sacred.”
Halfway through her mini pronouncement I began to nod. Her words, again, made a lot of sense; before I could fully process their implications I discerned a buzzing sound to my left, felt the vibration against my leg, and fought against my initial desire to audibly growl.
It was my cell phone.
Someone was calling me.
Here I was, sitting with approximately seventeen to twenty-three lovely ladies—I didn’t know the precise number as several ladies had come and gone over the last two hours, and I hadn’t yet re-counted—enjoying our discussion on the opening ceremonies of Parliament. Suddenly, a conversation absconder, likely halfway around the world, was interrupting my pleasant yet bewilderingly informative interaction.
I offered Ellen and Bridgett a remorseful glance. “I’m sorry. It’s my phone. Someone is calling me.”
Bridgett shrugged, entirely unperturbed by the interruption. “It’s quite all right, my dear. Go see to your business.”
I reached for my bag, still displeased at being interrupted despite Bridgett’s lack of indignation. I contemplated our discussion about Black Rod as I rummaged for my phone. If I’d been asked two hours ago, I would have said that enduring or supporting an action or behavior simply because it had always been done, without thought to its utility or necessity, seemed completely illogical.