It’s probably not at the top of everyone’s list of what to do in London, but my personal dream was to watch Parliament in session. I’d heard that the queues were long and that I might not get in, especially as there was a Question Session with the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. But in the event I just walked right in, happy as a clam, until I saw all the steps leading up to the Gallery where one may watch from behind (presumably bulletproof) glass. As soon as I asked for a lift and explained my predicament, I got a personal escort up in one lift, who stayed with me through the Speaker’s Procession where the Speaker of the House, the Sarjeant at Arms, and a doorkeeper process past the waiting crowd and a police officer yells, quite loudly Hats Off, Strangers! My escort then took me up in another lift to the gallery, where I happily installed myself to watch the wheels of government turn. You’re not allowed to take any pictures inside Parliament, in fact, they take your camera and phone away from you, so all I have is pictures of the outside.
It’s quite spiffy though, inside and out. But I wasn’t in it for the beauty, I wanted to see the famously rowdy House of Commons strut their stuff. But while there was a little jeering, mainly it seemed that Members were earnestly trying to get their work done. The Speaker did offer this rather singular reproach “Will the Honorable Member please turn around, as we do not with to see the back of his coat but rather the front of his face,” and the Deputy Prime Minister did actually use the phrase “suck up to” in disgusted response to one question, but all in all it was tamer than I’d expected. Although, come to think of it, if Joe Biden said in public that he wouldn’t suck up to some Senator we’d absolutely never hear the end of it.
After that very down to earth couple of hours I went across the street to Westminster Abbey, another place where you may not take photographs inside, which is probably a good thing because it’s so overwhelmingly filled with beautiful things that no one would ever stop snapping pictures and the gridlock would be unbearable.
The list of people buried there is staggering – basically all the kings and queens of England from 1066 through Elizabeth I, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Oliver Cromwell, Henry Purcell, George Frederic Handel, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that most of England’s monarchs were crowned there, and many significant weddings also took place under the superbly vaulted ceilings. I could hardly breathe. The sense of history is palpable there, and I had to sit down several times just to remind myself that I was walking in a place that had been central to the whole story of England since 1066.
Lots of the time you’re even walking over the graves, although the most important people have huge monuments. After seeing the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I had to ask one of the staff whether the current Queen would also be buried there. “Oh no,” he said “we’re full. There hasn’t been a burial here in 100 years.”
As I was leaving, the light on the outer, photographable, parts of the abbey was gorgeous. Here’s your dose of beauty for the day.