I was woken by Box, my parliamentary assistant, with my breakfast tray.
"Your coffee, my Lord, your tray of toast, assorted toast adornments and the morning papers."
"Thank you, Box."
"You will note the headlines in all the papers, inflation is hitting 15% this month."
"Yes, Box, I know. The Peers' last pay rise barely covers the increase."
"On that matter my Lord, you will recall that my own salary is up for review."
"Oh, I can't pay you more this year, Box. Heed the PM's warning, pay increases for the mob would cause a wage cost spiral and bring the country to its knees."
"Very well, my Lord, you force me to take action."
"You're going on strike, Box? Who's going to bring my papers, I don't own a dog?"
"Not a strike, my Lord, I will work to rule. I will perform all my contracted duties, but next time you're in a fix you'll have to sort it out yourself."
After breakfast I headed to the Lords, for my mid-morning nap. However, in the Lords robing room I was surprised to find Lord Hedgehog staring at me. Hedgehog is one of the Peers promoted from the health service, not because health service staff are held in high regard, but because of the average age of the peerage it's useful to have a handful of doctors on our benches to deal with medical emergencies.
"Something the matter, Lord Hedgehog?"
"It's Hegog, Lord, as well you know. I'm worried about that." Hedgehog pointed to the flap of skin I've been growing under my armpit.
"My flap? It's quite harmless I assure you."
"Not the flap itself, but the mole growing on it. I would need to examine it more closely. I have a hospital session this afternoon, I'll squeeze you in if you're free?"
"Thank you," I said, glancing at the Order Paper, "I think I can miss the Washing Machine Parts, Emergency Requisition Thereof Bill, Third Reading."
"Of course, it'll take longer if we go through your GP, if you sign this authorisation I'll sort the appointment myself.”
After lunch I took a taxi to the nearby hospital, where Hedgehog held his surgeries. After a scan Hegog led me into his office.
"I'm afraid it's cancer, Lord," he said.
"Cancer!" I said, shocked at the grim turn of events. "What sort of cancer?"
"Cancer of the flap."
"Cancer of the flap?"
"It's a form of skin cancer."
"Is it fatal, Hedgehog?"
"Oh no, it hasn't spread. It's only a simple operation and it'll be gone for good."
"Is there a long waiting list?" I said.
"Oh, I can do it now. Take your shirt off."
So saying, he took out a pair of nail scissors, took hold of my flap with his left hand and snipped it off with his right. "There you are, Lord, all done."
"Is that it? Wait 'til I tell, Box. He thinks I can't manage without him, but I've conquered cancer in a single day with none of his clever scheming. What's this?"
Hedgehog had handed me a piece of paper.
"My bill? But this is an NHS hospital."
"You were referred here as a private patient."
"But you referred me."
"Then I should know."
I opened the letter nervously. "£250,000 for cancer surgery!"
"That's what it costs as a private patient. It's not just my own costs, there's the nurses, anaesthetists, theatre costs, team of junior doctors."
"But it was just you and a pair of nail scissors."
"It's a standard fee."
"But this will bankrupt me."
"Maybe it will remind you to pronounce my name correctly in future."
I hurried home, to consult Box, who always has an answer to these sorts of problems.
"What shall I do, Box, I can't afford £250,000?"
"You forget, my Lord, I'm unable to advise, I'm on a work to rule."
"Oh for goodness sake, Box, I can't deal with militant socialism on top of everything else. Okay, I will give you a 15% pay increase if you manage to sort this."
"Very well, my Lord, I shall look into it."
The next morning Box brought me my toast and adornments in bed as per usual.
"Your toast, my Lord, coffee, cream, and adornments."
"Thank you, Box, that will be all."
"There was one thing, my Lord. Do you remember the situation with Lord Hedgehog?"
"It's Hegog, Box, he's quite insistent as I found out."
"I've been looking into the matter, my Lord, and in fact he was born a Hedgehog. You will find a copy of his birth certificate under the inferior marmalade."
"So, he is a hedgehog after all. That's very amusing, Box, but unfortunately it doesn't help me. I still owe this particular Hedgehog £250,000."
"Not necessarily, my Lord. You are forgetting the Inappropriate Animals Act 1643."
"Remind me, Box, I believe I missed that debate."
"May I draw your attention to Clause 48, Section 3, Subsection 9, paragraph 18."
"Remind me further, Box."
"The paragraph in question bans hedgehogs from the House. Also bats, iguanas and chipmunks. And the Act has never been repealed."
"Good lord, so we can get him kicked out of the Lords?"
"Not just that, my Lord. His referral letter was written on Lords’ paper to which it now transpires he was not entitled. So, the £250,000 claim is invalid."
"Well done, Box, you've saved the day again. No matter the lacklustre strength of the coffee, or the inconsistent browning of the toast, or the absence of my favourite marmalade, you really are a genuinely adequate assistant."
"It's why I'm here, my Lord. To serve. That, and for my salary."
"Ah, yes, Box. Well, I suppose the economy can sustain it. I shall have to find a way to claim it on expenses."