Red-robed figures, carrying a proclamation from the head of state, swooshed purposefully across Parliament Grounds today; past a bit of light traffic on Molesworth Street; past schoolkids walking in the opposite direction; past bronzed sunbathers and barefoot, lunching civil servants; past security guards - barely numbering enough have their own soccer game (indoor soccer, that is); past me with half a chicken bagel in my mouth; then, past a line of flags at half-mast.
Only in New Zealand.
Inside, the MPs are already seated. Everyone sees the empty seat that Rod Donald has left behind. A simple photo - in a green frame - sits where he used to, too low to be clearly seen, but its presence is known. Later, a candle is lit on his desk.
His seat is on the Opposition side, to the (relative) right of New Zealand First and United Future, three seats down from Rodney Hide. Hide always said ACT and the Greens had a lot in common. Hide even has a degree in ecology, I think. I blame MMP - I wonder if Donald would do the same.
Like the first day back at school, seat-buddy alliances are forming. Some are looking awful lonely. Harry Duynhoven looks like the House matre'd. Georgina Beyers is officially one of the back-row's bad girls. National's front-bench looks strangely cramped. Maybe it's the view from where I was sitting. Maybe it's all the naked ambition. Maybe it's just Gerry Brownlee.
Bill English looks two decades younger than when I last saw him two months ago. It's probably just a new moisturiser or something.
The MPs are now being sworn in, alphabetically; some in lots, some by themselves. Some put their hand on a bible, many didn't, some make their vows in Maori, one put their hand on the Koran (presumably - I went to get a drink during the late A's and didn't come back until the D's). The P's have just been. I think Winston swore by the bible, Simon Power didn't.
Everyone, as they walked back to their seats, gave their condolences to the Greens.
Margaret Wilson did her head prefect walk to the Speaker's chair. Winston offered to help her do her job, sparking the first bit of ruckus in the House for this sitting. Go Winston.
The politician formerly known as the Perkbuster lectured Wilson on fairness and asked for, effectively, positive discrimination for the small parties.
Hugs and kisses for Greens as everyone left. Someone gave Keith Locke a great big hug. Didn't see what Peter Dunne did. I wondered which side was the fake one - the "you think differently therefore you are scum" theatrical outrage, or the "you have public sympathy therefore I love you" condolences.
Saw Steven Ching leave. And since National has taken over most of Parliament, I walked a gauntlet of National MPs on my way out. First MP I saw was Dr Wayne Mapp. He glanced down at my pass to see who I was, and I tried desperately not to crack up.
Ominous trivia - the sign on the door of the office right across from the Press Gallery:
"Brian Connell, MP."
(To grammar-nazis: The whole thing was written live-ish, on my iPAQ, sitting in the Gallery, and that's why the tenses are a bit mixed up.)