Parliament Square review
Parliament Square has changed a lot over the last few years. When Ken Livingstone was in charge (a leftie mayor) he was happy for it to descend into a messy cub camp of bleeding hearts and long-haired liberals, who'd come along with their homemade banners and placards about whatever war was their flavour of the month. Who is the bad guy today, they'd say. Israel? Yeah... Woo hoo! Let's have a shout about them. Or George Bush? Yeah, we hate George Bush and Tony Blair and Maggie Thatcher the milk snatcher! Arrest them all for war crimes! And they'd shout down their loudhailers and smash their pots and pans about on the pavement and it was just... stupid.
But then Boris came along (a Tory mayor) and sanity was restored. It was like spring had come: all the grass grew back (literally). I think he must have passed a law that prevented people from sleeping overnight as well, because all the tents came down. There is not a single tent left now. If you want to moan about George Bush these days (still!), then you've got to clear off when the sun goes down and give us all a bit of peace and quiet for twelve hours -- thank Christ for that. The place has been restored to what it should be.
I've only got one thing left to moan about now, and that's the subject of the statues. I think they need to refresh them because I haven't got a clue who half of them are. I mean, who the hell is Ian Christian Smuts? And who is this bloke called Beaconsfield? I thought Parliament Square was supposed to be full of British Prime Ministers. Where is Gladstone and Disraeli? Where is Pitt? Even the totally inoffensive Attlee is nowhere to be seen. And what about Walpole? Surely he deserves a place as our first-ever PM.
Personally I would like to see Maggie Thatcher up there as well, but I know that is impossible. Someone would just come along and knock her head off within a week.
But listen to me... I'm having a big old moan here, without telling you any of the good stuff! The last thing I want to do is put you off going to Parliament Square, because it's one of the must-see sights of London. So forget the statues and do what I do... focus on the buildings. Getting a picture of Big Ben is best from the middle of the grass (or halfway across Westminster Bridge), and get a shot of the big North Door at Westminster Abbey too (remember to walk round the side and get a shot of the front as well). The little church next door is called St. Margaret's, and if you follow the road round to the far end of Parliament you can see the Jewel Tower across the street. The Jewel Tower is one of the two remaining chunks of the old Palace of Westminster (the other bit being Westminster Hall, at the Big Ben end). If you're lucky you might get to see a few famous politicians being interviewed on the grass (directly opposite the Norman Porch -- at the far end of Parliament), because that's where the dolly birds on the news and the news cameras get set up.
If you want to hear the ding dong bells of Big Ben then you don't have to wait around for the hour. He sounds out four notes at quarter-past, and an extra four notes every fifteen minutes after that -- so it's four notes at quarter-past, eight at half-past, then twelve and sixteen on the hour (which is the full tune). The full tune is then followed by the famous bongs that count out the hour. If you want to set your watch then you have to listen for the very first bong and ignore the rest (so it's the full tune, then the first bong which sets your watch, and ignore the rest). Confused? I probably could have explained that a bit better but all Londoners know this stuff from birth -- you will have to learn!
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