Friday, 24 October 2008

Houses of Parliament Part Two.

Having been prevented from securing a better life for Textile Artists, or even managing to get free chocolate on the NHS, we continued our walk along The Corridors Of Power (I'm sure there was a sign saying that somewhere!)

We ended up at the right place but a little early so spent 20 minutes or so on the Terrace overlooking the Thames. You get a lovely view of London from here, but we were preoccupied with the state of the river, which to put it mildly was a bit grubby. No litter or decaying bodies, but a foul brown colour.

In 1858 the smell was so great from the river, into which raw sewage from the whole of London was poured, that MP's couldn't stand it and draped blankets soaked in chlorine over the windows in an effort to stop it. It was this Great Stink that led to the installation of London's sewerage system, by a gentleman called Bazalgette. There certainly wasn't a smell on Tuesday, but I wouldn't like to have fallen in and swallowed any of it!

Eventually we were led into a room where I was greeted with the following photo of myself blown up to a disgusting size! Of all the photos to choose; still I suppose it is quite funny. There was an army Captain also at the reception who said that his troops were coming home the following week and he was going to line them up and threaten them with me and my fork, if they didn't behave.

There was plenty to eat and drink of course but not much for a teetotal veggy. We were there for 3 hours and the waiting staff bought plates of nibbles around continuously. There was a lot of sushi, and things like olives, salami, anchovies etc, and this was all followed by tiny weeny cones of chips with a piece of battered fish on top no bigger than a 1p piece. I was amazed by the smallest dishes I have ever seen which contained mustard mash and 2 small sausages, or a teaspoon of rice and two miniature meatballs in sauce. I was starving hungry when I left and had to revive myself with a quick sandwich on the way home.

The business of the day involved us all talking about our projects to a circulating crowd of Mp's, peers and 02 executives. (Aside:- the Chairman of 02, shockingly, looked about 12!) There were speeches and polite chit chat all set to a background of patrolling armed police men. Odd sensation. (the Terrace was covered with a pavillion but had sliding doors which were open to the outside and we were quite close to the bridge so you could see why.)

Before leaving, we had a good ferret around where we could without getting into trouble and spent some time looking closely at some of the art works. I was rather taken to find that there is a Post Office for MP's in the central lobby. Very enjoyable experience, and one I'm glad to have had. We stocked up on various House of Commons Mints and pens etc for the other Gals who weren't able to go, and came straight home to avoid the rush hour on the tube.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

A Rainbow goes to London-part 1

Apologies for length of posting- I've been asked for all the details by my family!!



On Tuesday I spent the day at a reception on the Terrace of the Houses of Parliament which just in case you don't already know is in London, and is the seat of Government.

Now, I'm not a happy traveller because I get lost very easily. I am directionally dyslexic and really need to be accompanied at all times by a responsible adult. Happily Lyn agreed to come with me. Lyn is a fellow GAL and we belong to a small group of 5 ladies who do a spot of guerrilla gardening in and around the town we live in. I have mentioned this before on other blogs, but if you haven't heard of what we get up to this link will take you to The Gals. The invitation to this shindig was addressed to me as I was first contact and 1 other, and well, the pallava to get a volunteer, when everyone is so nice and altruistic is a bit tortuous. No one wanted to push ahead of the others. At one point I thought we might have to arrange a joust or a mud wrestling match!

We began like most ladies with our clothes and what we thought would be appropriate, what we could afford, and what made us look thin. I ended up buying a pair of black "thin felt-type" wool fabric trousers from Kew, and a thin wool top with a faux silk blouse and scarf affair at the neck. (Laura Ashley) I looked, oh, at least 3 lbs thinner than normal. I also had a tailored grey suit-type jacket so felt reasonably smart but not overdone. I actually put a face full of make up on as well which doesn't happen often these days!

We caught the train from our local station to Marylebone in London and apart from an emergency stop, which threw us into the back of our seats and petrified us with a very strong smell of burning brakes, was uneventful. The driver of the train announced to us all that he was very sorry, and didn't know why that had happened, but not to worry. Worry? why on earth would we worry for heaven's sake? It's quite normal to come to a screeching stop and have to reclaim your teeth from the chair of the person sitting in front of you. Still, I was comforted by the fact I'd made a will.

I don't do the Underground. I don't believe it is possible to emerge from it a) unscathed and b) before you've been lost on it for at least 5 months, and some kind person has eventually helped you to the surface by holding your hand and speaking slowly. This opinion has been matured through years of tagging along behind DH who walks extremely fast and leaves me floundering and following doggedly behind like a loyal spaniel. However, Lyn, is a somewhat slower walker than DH and I actually had time to orient myself. True, without a quick thump in the ribs at the appropriate point from Lyn I might still be smiling sweetly and going round and round on the circle line. If you're from another part of the world and don't know about the London Underground, it is a wondrous thing with continuous trains to all parts of London. Sadly the train map is not geographic and bears no relation to distances. Also the names of the stations are very beguiling....Swiss Cottage is not a lovely little wooden house where Heidi might live, on a snowy hillside, and Picadilly Circus is completely devoid of all elephants. Mostly, people sit quietly and pretend they haven't noticed anybody else is on the train, till it's their time to get off.

Having successfully negotiated the Underground we re-surfaced in Westminster and came up into the light right next door to Big Ben, which I haven't seen from so close before. Wonderful! The entrance we needed was just around the corner and we were shown where to wait by a hulking great policeman carrying a gun. So frightening to see a gun close to! Policemen in the UK aren't normally armed - they carry mace spray and a baton thingy, and they walk around in two's or three's keeping the peace. I was bought up to smile at a bobby and say Good Morning etc, and mostly where I live that still happens, and it's very disconcerting when there's a huge machine gun between you.

It wouldn't be sensible to explain the security arrangements except to say they were very thorough! I had a photo taken and was given a number and a search before being allowed through. We were a few minutes early so decided to have a coffee in a small cafe by the entrance. I was amazed to see so many smart groups of young men and women (lobbyists?) Their clothes, hair, and manners were immaculate. I shall pause here so you can think about the effects of nerves on 2 middle aged coffee drinkers. I shall merely say the loos were rather remarkable too!

We walked through enormous thick wooden doors to a kind of entrance lobby which had a massive wooden ceiling with painted bosses - much like a cathedral. Yet another visit to the loo, (just in case) and a little fit of giggles caused by live television broadcasts of both the House of Lords and the House of Commons ..... actually in the toilets. I don't know.

We were directed past the files of visitors waiting for a chance to get into the public galleries and up a very grand staircase. All the chairs were green leather with a gold portcullis emblem on them; thick carpets; high wooden ceilings, sumptuous oil paintings that I'd seen in books. I thought it was more grand than Buckingham Palace (you may remember, I went last year for a garden party) The staircase led into the central lobby. This is the bit you see on the TV when they stop and ask MP's questions about what's going on.

At this point we needed more directions. Unfortunately, between being told "go down this corridor to the end and turn 1st left and then left again" we seem to have got lost. We ended up in a corridor where I don't think we should have been. There were a series of doors - possibly 10 or 12 - and behind each door was a sumptuous dining room where private dinners, meetings and speeches could be held and listened to. The decanters on the tables; the fruit in the bowls; the desserts on the crystal cake stands, the waiters in tails, the champagne in the buckets, and the murmur of voices giving speeches from behind the doors, all told us we were definitely in the wrong place. Well, we couldn't help ourselves. We had to have a bit of a nosey around. Within, I'd say, oh, 10 seconds or so, another "very nice" policeman came and smiled at us and gently guided us on our way to the Terrace where our reception was waiting.

Now you see, dear reader, I was almost, so very nearly almost, able to jump into the centre of power of our country, to grab an MP by his well tailored lapels; prepared to risk all, and leap across the white linen and crystal glasses to ask, nay, demand, earnestly on your behalf, for more consideration and merit to be given to the struggling textile artists of the UK. Thwarted I was! It wasn't my fault. Blame the British Bobby for your lack of sensible funding and support.

More tomorrow.

Portrait in parts

For this portrait I'm starting off by using some stencils and stamps to make a background. I especially like the stencil with the jumble...