|A noisy afternoon in Westminster|
To the Palace of Westminster in the line of duty, for a meeting of a parliamentary group on – what else? – North Korea.
It's the first time I've ever been inside the building that I've been past hundreds of times in my life. In fact, it was the source of years of youthful terror when I was small. This stems from the days when we would routinely drive through Westminster and along the Embankment on the way to my grandfather's house on the far side of London – by far the least slow route in the days before the M25, and probably still the case now.
Big Ben filled me with dread. What would happen if the bell struck when we were driving past? Blood out of the ears, painful death, the whole nine yards. What an arse I must have looked, cowering in the foot-well of the family car. I'm over it now. After all the traffic's so loud, you can barely hear it on a good day.
(Nevertheless, in my days as a boy technician at the BBC, one of the feeds we had coming through the control room was the microphone up in the bell tower, which was used for – among other things – the chimes on Radio 4 at 6 o'clock. Just listening to it, hearing the traffic hundreds of feet below gave me the willies.)
So – inside I go for the first time ever, and it's exactly like visiting your local town hall, except for a genuine student riot going on outside, and considerably more heavily-armed police officers.
Despite terrorist fears, its amazing how much of the place is open to the public. So much so, you can wander through Westminster Hall, arrow-straight corridors, winding staircases, peeking into rooms, occasionally to the bark of "No photography!" from important-looking people in extravagant headwear. I might have taken some pictures.
|The Palace of Westminster, twinned with Hogwarts|
The real show – naturally enough – comes thanks to the public galleries above the main debating chambers. They're a long, long way up, and you have to surrender your bag, your phone, and sign a piece of paper promising not to be an arse. Unfortunately, you're sat behind a glass screen, because certain people in the past cannot be trusted on that front. And there's some poor bastard whose job it is to watch you watching the politicians, and there can surely be a more thankless task in the whole of the world.
The view is magnificent, especially if there's something interesting on the agenda. I got Home Secretary Theresa May quietly sitting through a proper, heart-warming bollocking from Yvette Cooper, a waft of dusty old Ken Clarke, a touch of Keith Vaz, and an Ed Balls.
I repeat: ED BALLS.
|Some of their lordships have frankly bizarre names|
Then, another wander around Hogwarts, the committee room, a sighting of William Hague in a penguin suit, then out and home.
Tourist tips: Avoid the gift shop. You get better stuff from the tat stand on Westminster Bridge, which does Princess Diana postcards into the bargain.
Find and excuse and take a trip before UKIP turn up in droves and fuck it all up for everybody.