House of Lords -- Public Gallery review
Given a choice between visiting the House of Commons and the House of Lords I'll always choose the Lords, because the decorations are better. But if you're a tourist then I definitely recommend the Commons -- because that's where you'll see today's politicians. The Lords is where you'll see yesterday's politicians. It's a bit like our political Hall of Fame, I suppose, and appeals to people who want to spot some famous faces from their youth -- old shadow ministers and cabinet ministers and people off the telly.
Once you've walked through Westminster Hall you'll end up waiting in St. Stephen's Hall for maybe 5 minutes, maybe 15 minutes, maybe 25 minutes -- it depends how busy it is (it isn't usually very long, because the Lord's is rarely full). Eventually you'll be given a card to fill in with your name and address and pointed up some stairs to the Stranger's Gallery.
If you've never seen inside the House of Lords before then you're in for a treat. It's all reds and golds and chestnut browns (autumn colours for autumn Lords), with black statues, stained glass, carved wood, candelabras, chandeliers... it looks like one of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace.
Alas, the chat in the chamber doesn't compare with the decor -- you've got to remember that most of these people are over 200 years old. Half of them are snoozing, drooping, daydreaming, or cleaning their glasses with an embroidered hanky. I'm trying to see who I can recognise... Robert Winston is definitely down there (that TV doctor with a giant moustache). And I think I can see William Hague as well -- but one bald head looks much like another from the balcony. He should write his name on the top of his head in felt-tip pen so we can recognise him. There are three of four more people that I definitely do recognise, but who's names totally escape me. I know they definitely have names, but the fame of their names doesn't match that of their face. They will come to me in a minute... give me a minute... I just need to think about something else for a few minutes, and then I'll suddenly remember what they are.
I can see a bishop in a white frock who definitely seems asleep. If I was being generous then I suppose I could describe him as being deep in prayer, and praying for the nation. But nope, he's fast asleep. His folded arms are rising and falling on his stomach as he dreams about Jesus. There are also lots of little old ladies clutching little old handbags. And some incredibly ancient old oaks -- the elder statesmen, I mean -- frozen over in arthritic poses, and leaning (sleeping?) on the seat. That's the problem with sitting up in the balcony -- you can't see their eyes. So when they don't move for five minutes you automatically assume the worst. There's one old guy that I'm particularly worried about because he's locked solid like a fossilised tree trunk. I really want the young guy next to him to nudge him or budge him just to check he's still breathing.
Shami Chakrabarti has just slipped in and sat all on her lonesome at the back. She was only ennobled a short while ago, so she obviously hasn't made any friends yet. She's made plenty of enemies, though.
I can see someone who looks a lot like Cecil Parkinson, but I'm pretty sure that he's dead. Is Geoffrey Howe still alive? Surely that must be Geoffrey Howe down there! That's what's so great about this place -- you can discover who is still alive, who is barely alive, and who is surprised to be alive. He could be a ghost, I suppose, because I'm almost certain that he's passed away -- I remember watching his obituary on the news. If it isn't him then somebody has stolen his wavy haircut.
I've just spotted somebody else that I recognise: that guy who ran for London Mayor and lost, Brian Paddick. We have to call him Baron Paddick now -- Baron Brian. That's what happens when you run for public office and lose -- you end up being parachuted into the Lords. If the British public don't want you then don't worry, because they'll still welcome you into the Lords. This chamber is supposed to be for the great and the good, but the only people I've seen so far are a doctor with a big moustache, a snoozing bishop, two dead people, plus a guy who couldn't beat Boris Johnson for the job of Mayor.
Peter Hain just walked in and briefly thought about sitting on Shami's bench, but he seemed to change his mind at the very last second. His feet were pointing her way but his brain suddenly took fright and dragged him the other, and he ended up doing a difficult Twister move to avoid her. Poor old Shami. She's still sitting on her own and I feel a bit sorry for her now. Come and sit in the balcony with us, Shami. We still love you. You'll get a better view from up here. And we talk more sense up here as well.
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