I thought I was in for a dull evening…

…instead, I was awed.

I’m not a political animal, by any stretch of the imagination, so, the prospect of keeping Mum company whilst she visited her Labour Council members at her Union’s invitation in Portcullis House at the Houses of Parliament didn’t thrill me.

However, the evening was a but a brief chat from the Council Leader (Chris Ball), a few of the Labour Council Members, a Cabinet Minister for the Bexley Area and the MP for Erith & Thamesmead (John Austin). The issues of General Parking issues, Drink & Drug abuse (Bexleyheath Broadway was recently developed and now has 4 Pubs within 100 meters of each other!) 24 Hour Drinking (Opinions Much divided!) and the seeming malaise of non responsiveness of the Met. Police in the Area. Pretty normal concerns really…

Following on from that, they plied us with some refreshments, and took groups, both large and small off around the Palace of Westminster.

Mum and I joined another couple with our Guide, (Angela Hall, a completely lovely lady and one of John Austin’s Staff) and off we went.

There are times when “Awesome” is appropriate. Not in the tacky American “overused/underweighted” devalued sence of the word, but the true meaning. The Palace in general and The House of Lords in particular is one such place.

The Victorians knew a thing or two about Grandure and Populace intimidation. The scale of the Palace is Monumental. Yet, the Actual Chambers are relatively small, even intimate in nature, reflecting the needs for true debate between peers and commons without the interuption of distance.

The Lord’s Chamber is full of Gold. The Throne ornate and imposing, separated by a bar from the benches of red leather on either side.The Woolsack faces the Throne, Books of Law are on the Table of the House, and above, the huge stained glass windows, the 12 knights guarding and the People’s Gallery.There is another bar at the entrance to the House, seperating it from the rest of the Palace.

The Lord’s Lobby is, again, ornate, with highly decorated tiles, more stained glass (and fake panels reflecting the shape of the windows) and 2 big clocks.

The Art Frescoes leading to the Chamber are of the English Civil War, so of particular interest to me!

The Central Lobby of the Palace is HUGE. The Ceiling, Ornate Stone and gold work, with bosses of the Rose, Leek, Thistle and Shamrock, with Statues of St George, St David, St Andrew and St Patrick at the Compass points. This hall is the place at which you can Lobby your MP!

The Common’s is spartan by comparison, the “Throne” of the Lords mimicked in the Speaker’s chair, but with no separating bars. The Red line in the carpet is not to be crossed in debate, the distance between is the length of “2 man’s arms with drawn sword in hand”. No Windows, no statues, or other ornamentation.

The simple Doors to the Commons,bear the deep scarring of Black Rod’s hammering for admission every year since 1860.

The Common’s Lobby, is again plain. Simple green decor and tiles, and the Bronzes of past Prime Ministers. The quaint habit of being able to touch the foot of Lloyd George and Churchill for luck means that the Bronze has been polished by many hands over the years.

The Art Frescoes leading to the Common’s are of the Restoration, the Jacobite rebellion and the investiture of William and Mary.

Westminster Hall, totally different in mood, plain yet grand and with the Highest and largest Medieval wooden ceiling in Europe. It is being restored at present, so we couldn’t see it properly, but it still left an impression.

As we were on Special Tour, we saw bits of the Palace that you wouldn’t see on the normal tour, the little corridors of power, where the machinations and conversations take place. The Incidental art, the cabinets of artifacts, the books behind glass.

We also took in the ground floor of Portcullis house, and the art on the Gallery Walk overlooking the Atrium. Pictures of Past and present ministers, Proportional Representation by Jonathan Yeo in particular sticks in my mind.

I came home invigorated yet pensive. I may not be interested in Politics, but you cannot help but be inspired and awed by the seat of the Oldest Democracy on Earth.

If you ever get an invitation, snap it up, and go and see what I mean for yourself.

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