Of pints and parchment…

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.


Bishops and hashtags…

I went to church yesterday morning. Not just any church, I have to say, but to St Margaret’s Church (next to Westminster Abbey), to join with staff from the Houses of Parliament in a service for the new Parliament.

I’ve not been into St Margaret’s Church before, and it appears I inadvertently went in the VIP entrance (the east entrance next to the altar as opposed to the west entrance at the back). Oops. I handled it like a boss, though; put on the confidence façade and owned it!

It was a good service: good readings, good prayers, good sermon. Good hymns too; pertinent and, dare I say it, a bit comedic: singing in a service for the new Parliament “Dear Lord and father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways…” – comedy gold!

It was a good preach too from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He got a great buzz-word into the sermon and an easily transportable take-away message: go for Holy Pragmatism. To illustrate the point, Welby evoked the event from one of the readings (John, 13, v 1-14) in which Jesus washed his disciples feet, including those of Judas Iscariot (knowing full well that Judas would later betray him). If I’ve understood Welby correctly, then Holy Pragmatism basically means serving others in practical ways, meeting their needs and putting them first. So actually, it’s not a particularly novel idea, nor one that is unique to Christianity. I think it’s a pretty good goal to aim for, though, and I’m particularly taken by the way it lends itself to a hashtag: #HolyPragmatism – v. 21 century. And yes, I’ve obvs already tweeted it.

It took quite some time to file out of the church after the service and the vast number of vicars present meant that once out of the building there was a bit of a vicar gauntlet to run; lots of hand shaking. Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Speaker’s Chaplain, is definitely my favourite – I met her a few days ago and she’s pretty cool. I took great delight in shaking her hand and giving her a big grin, before moving on to the next vicar. It was only as my hand was in his that I realised it was the Arch Bish! Had I realised sooner, I could have gone in for a selfie. I said this to my colleague, Josh, afterwards, and he said it would have upset the decorum. I think he’s probably right.

If you fancy a game of ‘Where’s Welby?’, then have a look below!