I’ve had an exploratory couple of days.
A couple of days ago the fellows and I went on a ‘mega tour’ of the parliamentary archives. I feared it would be two hours of observing uninteresting dusty books. It wasn’t. The records are stored in the Victoria Tower, which is at the other end of the Palace of Westminster to Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben and is basically – as our tour guide pointed out – a giant potential chimney. So not the best place to store important and flammable documents.
The highlight was most probably entering into the storeroom in which scrolls and scrolls and rolls and rolls of Acts were stacked from floor to ceiling. The Acts, which are rolled up scrolls of parchment, date back at least a couple of centuries. They vary in diameter enormously: from perhaps an inch end on to over a foot. The fatness of the Act depends on its nature so, for example, whilst a divorce, which would have been a private Act in the 1800s would measure in at an inch or two in diameter, the Land Tax Act of 1782, when unrolled, measures in at a whopping 1/4 mile or 400ish metres. I calculate that if my PhD comes in at about 300 pages (which, I’ll be honest, is a number picked from the air) will only come in at just over 1/20 mile or not far off 90 metres. That must be some Land Tax Act.
Yesterday my friend Andy was in town giving evidence about food poverty. We took the opportunity to explore the Houses of Parliament a bit together. The first stop was the Sports and Social bar for a cheeky pint of Anarchy Beer and Strongbow. Then on for a gander around the Palace.
We asked to view the Commons debate and were let in. It was interesting watching it all unfold, but it wasn’t long before we were fidgeting. We got up and continued on our wander. Despite me having a parliamentary map, I couldn’t really work out where we were going. Fortunately, a friendly policeman asked if we were lost, to which I confessed we were. He suggested we might like to observe the Lords’ debate so, into the realms of the red carpet we crossed, and up into the viewing gallery.
The Lords is a much more ornate looking chamber than the Commons; lots of gold and stained glass windows. The only thing I’ve managed to retain that I’ve been told, however, is that the curtains which now surround the bottom sections of the high up galleries had to be put in when women were allowed in because otherwise you could see up their skirts! We endured some minutes of monologue on the high-speed rail, and then decided we’d seen all we needed. A few more cheeky sneaky peeks and pictures, then out of the Palace we headed.