Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Palacette of Westminster

Please excuse the absence of my usual Monday through Friday posting schedule, dear readers, as Chumley and I have been experiencing considerable computer issues.  My time has been spent resolving them, airing out the study from the profanity cloud I have created overhead, and taking a good dose of yoga to zen-ify my technology rage.  As our friendly Compaq has decided to cooperate today, I rejoin my regular posting schedule.

Our stalwart tour group had tickets to tour the Houses of Parliament, alternately refered to as the Palace of Westminster.  Or Palacette, as I deemed it.  We got into the chambers of Lords and Commons, only to find them surprisingly small.  Parliament the building is quite large, but if making law is like making sausage, I expected the butcher shop to be bigger.  The shop is only open until October when the butchers come back.

Westminster was indeed a palace until it was converted to use by Parliament, partially burned, rebuilt, and finally took the form we see it in today.  Our tour guide was a Blue Badge professional guide (very chatty and informative), and warned us that straying off the path might not only result in a profound loss of direction and his dismissal, but a stint in the pokey as we were swarmed by many formerly friendly Metropolitan Police. 

Parliament offers one of the worst taunts of any tourist attraction I have encountered thus far, worse than the cold beverages for princely sums in the Sahara.  Most tourists have trekked many miles in their sensible (or in my case, somewhat unsensible) shoes, especially in large cities.  We were escorted into the House of Lords and filed into the rows of seats, but told in no uncertain terms that we were not to sit in the red leather-covered, overstuffed benches as they were strictly the domain of the Lords.  And, by the way, they were made by the same company who does the car interiors for Bentley.  They might as well have been giant chocolate brownies attached to fishooks, so overwhelming was the urge to risk arrest and permanent bolshie-branding by diving onto the buttery leather and letting them pry me out with the speaker's gilded staff.  I knew for a fact that Chumley did not carry sufficient cash to bond me out, so I grumbled to myself and convinced myself that the MPs (Members of Parliament) had probably booby trapped the place with giant tacks, one for each Lord.  The House of Commons wasn't much better - same moratorium, different colored leather.  The oldsters who carried a cane that doubled as a stool were looking pretty intelligent, after all.

So far as historical interest, the tour was very informative.  Our guide explained the system of voting, which is strangely bizzare, but presumably effective.  Instead of having a desk with a button to push, all the "nays" congregate in one hall, while the "yeas" congregate in another.  They each single-file past a person taking tally, and in the meantime, have a chance to mingle and catch up on old times or new laws.  It's the cocktail party approach, I suppose.  Besides, god knows the cost of wiring such an old building with even more electronics.  There isn't room for any desks at all.  It's so small, in fact, one might get stuck sitting next to one's arch enemy if running a bit behind for debates that day, as there are no assigned seats.  Knowing what little I do of English politics, the icy glances would set the thermostat back a few degrees. Yowzaa. 

Parliament is an excellent tour, but I could have done without the frisking as I went through security.  I suppose they're still a bit uptight about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot.  Residents of Great Britain can apply to their MP for tickets to tour Big Ben, which also sounds like a hoot, although it may be a throwback to the cardio workout on my tour of the Peterborough Cathedral Tower.  My mistake this time was wearing potato shoes with limited support.  Note to self: I must acquire a purse-sized, fold-up pintglass and a weary tourist stool, preferably purse-sized as well.  Should any reader know how to procure the later, please get in touch.

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