Thursday, May 20:  Political Science, History, Theatre Arts

Our first “full English breakfast.” Sausage, fatty bacon, a tomato, mushrooms, fried egg and so-so drip coffee. Only 30 more such breakfasts on the itinerary.

Once we got rolling, we headed towards Big Ben for a look and then for a visit to Westminster Abbey. Stopped for cash and had trouble locating my cash card. While rooting around for it in my under-shirt satchel, I discovered I couldn’t find our passports. Momentary panic, and the cash card came out. Still no passports. We’d had them yesterday to get off the train. Made the decision to go back to the room and hunt them down. Then I discovered I had placed them in the wrong compartment of my satchel. . .

Got to Big Ben after a pleasant stroll, and noticed that the House of Commons was to begin debate at 11:30, in forty minutes time, and there were but 20 folks in line. We hopped in. We passed the time with another couple from the US, traveling with their home-schooled son. Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair, had appeared on the floor of the House of Commons, and had been hit with a “flour bomb” from the gallery. The “Stranger’s Gallery” is fronted by a new glass screen (a year old), but the side galleries are open and available for the use of guests of peers and MP’s, etc. Two protesters had won tickets for these galleries at a charity auction, thus being “sponsored” by a peer. There’s a lesson in that somewhere. Anyway, as you can guess, the security detail was working extra hard today. I got a thorough patting-down three times. Anyone with a knife would be arrested on the spot. After joining the queue, a reporter for the BBC asked if I would be willing to be interviewed about it all. Following my father’s stock advice, I declined.

Political Science 402: Parliamentary Political Structure. It took a bit of waiting to finally get in, including a long wait inside in an especially ornate hall, but finally we were shuttled upstairs and took seats in the gallery. The debates included milk subsidies, waste disposal and the relative prices of the various English universities. David seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. You mean you can make a living by talking and arguing??? Even Pat was surprised to be interested. After a short stay, we exited and asked to be let in to see the House of Lords. Wish granted. The atmosphere here was a bit more relaxed. For example with with no female police, Pat was not patted down. We joked with the guard -- the House of Commons calls the House of Lords “the other place,” so when he heard we were from the “other” Washington, the parallels were clear. The extended debate was about child protection laws. It was a much more ornate chamber, complete with a throne at one end.

We were fortunate to have had both houses in session and to have gotten in the queue early, so I was quite pleased with our good luck. And it was free. We exited through the only part of the structure to survive the 1864 fire, Westminster Hall. Its huge gabled timber roof covers a large hall, complete with markers for a handful of various historical events, including executions, but more lately where various kings and queens lay in state before their funerals. At the exit, we spied signs for the Jubilee Cafe. We checked it out and found very reasonable prices (considering we were located at one of the epicenters of British power) and no crowd. The helpful clerks even offered to toast our packaged sandwiches. So we loaded up on dessert, had a beer, and bought leather “House of Commons” bookmarks at the checkout.

History 203: British History, 1066-present. Across the street, we visited Westminster Abbey, scene of coronations since 1066. Tombs for eighteen or so kings and queens, and markers or tombs for some 3,000 other prominent Brits (plus a few others, like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statue above the outside of the west doorway. A remnant of damage from World War II is preserved in the wall of the Royal Air Force Chapel. The Coronation Chair was being restored, but in place and in view anyway. It is now minus the Stone of Scone, but we’ll hunt it down in Edinburgh. Scientist’s Corner included Newton, Faraday, Maxwell and Kelvin. A more recent marker was for Dirac (died 1984) and includes an equation with various Greek symbols. A side museum included a replica of the crown jewels (used in dress rehearsals of coronations), putting the “final nail in the coffin” of any visit to the expensive Tower of London.

Afterwards, we walked north up Whitehall Road to see various government institutions like 10 Downing Street. This led us to Trafalgar Square, where the boys scampered on the lions and the base of Nelson’s Column. (Photo 146) Up Charing Cross Road we saw a few shops that were used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies for the Diagon Alley parts of the story, including one we suspect is where Harry bought his first wand. Our eventual goal on this walk was the half-price theatre booth, were Pat secured tickets for an evening show. That completed, we plotted strategy for the riding the Underground the rest of the evening.

A one-stop run, a transfer, and a two-stop run got us back home at Victoria Station. I had ridden the “tube” before, and never found it too complicated and it was the same today. It’s different that the Paris Metro, but only in the finer points (though much more expensive at more than double). At the station, we bought take-away pizzas to eat back in the room, where we took a short break before the evening show.

Theatre Arts 101: British Popular Theatre. We had obtained tickets for a 7:30 PM show at the London Palladium for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Of course, David had seen the movie and was certain it was beneath him. Robert didn’t know what to expect. The show was indeed fantastic and everybody enjoyed it. Our seats were in the third row, dead center (and at half-price!). Later in the show, the car “flies” as it is manipulated by what must basically be a piece of machinery that gets used like a boom crane, with an extending arm culminating in a rotating platform secured to the bottom of the car. It seemed at times that the car was close enough that we could touch it. And when the villain gets hauled away in a net, he was lifted up into the very high ceiling directly above our head.

A bit of rain on the way home from the theatre, but it should clear tomorrow. A busy day, but a good one.

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Photo 144  Prime Meridian, David
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Photo 145  Prime Meridian, Robert

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Photo 146  David and Robert in Trafalgar Square