This morning I arrived at the train station a couple of minutes early so decided to try a different route into work: as opposed to the usual mainline to Victoria followed by 20-minute walk down to Westminster, I took the mainline to Blackfriars. From Blackfriars it was just three stops on the Underground to Westminster. The best thing about taking this route was that it meant I could take The Secret Entrance into the Palace that I had spied from within the week before. I followed the signs to Exit 3 in Blackfriars, having noticed them next to The Secret Entrance during my first week, and felt smug as I looked around to see few commuters heading the same way.
There’s no way to describe this entrance into the Palace other than it being pretty cool. You go from standard Underground ‘décor’, through the security-enabled revolving doors which are illuminated by distant light coming through the far-off glass ceiling of Portcullis House and some low lighters, and then through into a crypt-like space. From there, you can either turn right and take the escalator up into the modern concourse of Portcullis House, or turn left. To the left, which was the option I took to head through the Houses of Parliament down to my office, you walk through the half-lit stone corridor and between a human-sized lion and unicorn taken from the royal coat of arms. The corridor is set on a gentle gradient, which means that as you pass through these majestic beasts, you resurface.
Having resurfaced, I knew I needed to follow the covered path along the side of the Houses of Parliament, then make a right through a courtyard, crossing through a couple of heavy doors and onto Millbank. As I crossed through the courtyard, I realised the heavy doors were missing; there was no way out. Mild panic set in as I realised that I didn’t know how to get out and was probably going to have to unsettle a policeman in order to escape; I was aware that I looked like I didn’t quite know what I was doing and thus like I probably shouldn’t be there; I was looking guilty in the Houses of Parliament!
Before panic could set in properly, I flagged down a lone worker and asked how to get out. It turns out the Houses of Parliament are longer than I thought they were and I’d crossed across the first courtyard, when I should have crossed the second. As I crossed the second, I was relieved to spot the sombrero I had remarked the week before; in fact, it wasn’t a sombrero at all but an up-ended red carpet which had been rolled up and shoved in a corner in such a way that it looked like a sombrero on a plinth. Its incongruity had caught my attention the week before and I was happy to see it again this morning. I crossed the corridor and, sure enough, there were the big wooden doors, through which I crossed onto Millbank. A few more paces and I’d arrived at the office having reduced my commute from 55 to 35 minutes!