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Any great seat of power offers an allure and an attraction as to the ‘Where’ and the ‘How’ decisions for the country are made, and the scope and scale are to (as any nation) a symbol of legacy and authority.
But there’s more than that for this American in the Houses Of Parliament. Standing on the very site where William Wallace & Charles I were tried and sentenced, what strikes me (apart from the history) is how the chambers of the Commons & the Lords were undeniably split as corridors of judgment and policy but try to function as a whole – even though the House Of Lords had much more gold in their chamber while the House of Commons was distinctly austere in comparison.
The treat for me was being in one of (if not THE) original cradle of Democracy, which I personally define as ‘people that don’t get along having to work together to get something done’. That is of course, a modern definition for the world I believe we currently find ourselves in… The corridor leading down to the chambers is lined with historical documents. I actually got to read the actual words of ‘the catching’ of Guy Fawkes – an eyewitness account!
The cost of Democracy over the ages has been high, from Civil Wars in the 1600’s to modern witch hunts like Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1950’s USA, but I must say it warms my heart to see the grand ambition of what these institutions were meant to represent and hopefully aspire to live up to.
We took two tours, the first an unaccompanied audio tour of The Chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords, where we could wander around at our own pace. The second tour was the Library tour, with our very knowledgable and amiable guide Rebecca. Apparently nobody is allowed in the library when the Houses of Parliament are sitting, not even Parliamentary staff, so we were fortunate a snap general election had been called – the tours were on! We also heard that even when there were strict licensing laws for bars ‘on the outside’, within the Houses of Parliament, the bar was 24-hour!
Rebecca took us on a journey of tradition and insight and even document/notes/pens & paper holders, and the calendars in each of the library rooms (alphabetically named ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’ & ‘D’ for the different information they each contain) still around and as grand today as they were when designed and crafted in the 1840’s by (sorry, I forgot his name, but our intrepid guide Rebecca would surely know…). I was particularly fascinated by the strange old telephone, which had no dial, but sliders and mercury dots to point to the number required, and an awesome list of all the Speakers of the House of Commons, going back to the Fifteenth century.
All in all, if you’re up for it the Houses Of Parliament and Library tours are an absolute must. The Houses of Parliament will be undergoing a major refurbishment from 2025 to 2031, when there will be no tours at all. So book your tickets online now! It certainly was a thrill for this Ex-Pat, and reminds me just how lucky we are to have the freedoms we have, warts and all. It’s taken a lot of grief to get to this point, and I just hope it’s not wasted by people who because they don’t think alike, won’t work together and therefore get nothing done. Democracy is not weak and decadent, but it is fragile and needs to be protected and nurtured as a beacon of liberty should be. Already my visit to the Houses Of Parliament has got me thinking about the views I’ve put forth here. Sometimes it’s those experiences we can’t define that hopefully push us forward. Well, to all you Masons and Dixons, East & West-Coasters & all in between, here’s to us and here’s hoping - ‘The Thrill Ain’t Gone…’.
Tour tickers can be booked at www.parliament.uk/visiting