Yesterday I met James at the Red Lion Pub near the bottom of Whitehall (the street leading to Big Ben). We turned round the corner and went through security. My bag was searched and I got my picture taken. Walking round the corner we then found our way to Portcullis House. Its a modern building where a lot of civil servants work. Its full of a beautiful light coming in from the massive glass ceiling. It was nice to see so many school children there getting a tour round the place. Nothing like breeding future civil servants eh?
James and I headed down an escalator to a long tunnel. Beautiful Gothic brickwork lined the passageway and we passed the mark of the crown: A statue of a Lion and on the opposite side, a unicorn followed later on by some very impressive doors leading to Big Ben. Many people were carrying piles of papers in their hands, rushing past in a hurry. I then saw to the right of me through the terrace. I recognized the trees and all the tourists standing taking pictures outside the iron gates waiting for Ben to chime.
James grabbed my hand and I looked over at him with a huge smile on his face. I knew he was glad I was there and he was in his element. This was a dream job for him 25 years in the making. We walked onto the cobblestones and passed through a barrier guarded by a policeman carrying rather an impressive gun. Inside the ceilings were all very Gothic-looking carved wood, at the end a stained glass window. It looked more like a cathedral than a place where English Law was created. Just this room had so much history: Nelson Mandela giving a speech just after his release from prison, Guy Faulkes being found guilty for trying to blow up parliament. James said I could take pictures but I didn't. The incredible amount of police officers meandering in every corner made me very nervous to sneak snapshots. We walked up a stairwell past the gift shop offering stuffed animals, pencils, cuff-links and other items brandishing the official symbol of the House. I kept looking around at the ceilings, chandeliers and the beautiful walls. I could see the effect the Anglican church had on the creation of this magnificent building. I wonder how many hours artisans and builders put in to create it or maybe even died in the process.
We reached the middle. On one side was the House of Commons, the other the House of Lords. James said neither members of the House could cross over and go into each others respective houses. The flooring was full of rose tiles which is the symbol of England. I couldn't go in to either house because they were in session. I saw men wearing black tuxedos with a very large gold fixture on the top of their trousers. Apparently they were door keepers. We then passed by endless security (so this is where all the live policeman in the city are??) and walked into a library. Felt very nervous because we were told that we couldn't go beyond an archway. Saw official looking people with old keys locking paperwork up in wood lockers. When we neared the archway, several security people started rushing over reminding us we couldn't go past. Gosh they were awfully nervous for a little ole library. What fun it would be to look through the cupboards in there would be.
We then passed down a walkway. Lots of art and interesting rooms to see from afar. Someone rushed quickly out a door on my right and I heard laughing. I saw several people drinking over the lunch hour in a private bar. Apparently it was for Members only (MP's--equivalent to a US Senator). I wonder if the US Congress has a private bar and Senators spend their lunch hours sipping specially made wine (with their own label) whilst telling the public how the government is broke and how jobs will be lost and cutbacks due? Private Bars don't seem to say I understand the difficulty you're going through right now with finding work. I also saw what looked like old time smoking rooms. The room was labeled meeting rooms, probably just for members I presume as well. I wonder how many secret discussions and deals have been made over a cigar and whisky throughout the years.
We made our way down a hallway lined with old drawings of London and Parliament. We headed down the stairs into the canteen. House wine on offer for purchase, House brand water....too bad the food looked pretty rank and disgusting. We grabbed our purchases we had made at the gift shop a few minutes before and some water and went and sat on the terrace. It was an incredible view. You could see the London eye and a great view of the Thames. We sat and ate our English shortbread biscuits and watched the unusually large seagulls eye our food. On the way out we were stopped by security saying we weren't allowed there because it wasn't recess (this word gives me images of MP's playing in sandboxes and running round pulling girls' hair). The lady really laid into us. Gosh I don't know why these people are so nervous as it was an honest mistake. It got to me a lot when it probably shouldn't have because I didn't think it was doing any harm sitting on the terrace. They had let a group of nuns go through, why not us? It seems as if the MP's get an awful lot of private this, private that in the House plus new blackberry's and laptops each year which sounds to me so economical and un-extravagant. Its a wonder they even have any contact at all with us common folk based on the hierarchy I observed just in the few minutes inside with members of their own staff. Sometimes private rooms are needed but the disconnect if its in excess...well I can see why so many MP's abused their expenses (which apparently is still going on). Life is just too good in the House to not take advantage of it.
We slowly made our way out trying to recuperate after a rather ridiculous telling off for sitting a few minutes on the terrace (yes, sitting on the terrace will spill state secrets eh?). It was nice to see inside something that so few people see. I was surprised by the excess of security forces within the estate and the weird rules of where you can and can't go. I don't know how anyone working there could keep it straight and someone really should slip a cup of chamomile tea to those security guards once in a while. I think how nice it would be if the public had the amount of security and police that the MP's had, how many crimes would be not committed and how many potential lives would be saved. I guess a country has to have its priorities though.
We walked back to the train station and made our way home. It may be nice to see the ole place again if the MP's are in recess. Going inside both Houses would be pretty interesting considering the history and plus it would give me another chance to buy some of those shortbread biscuits down the gift shop and maybe a mug made out of a politician's head. A girl's gotta savour those once in a lifetime memorable experiences.