A day trip with a difference and a visit to the Palace of Westminster, better know as the Houses of Parliament for a guided tour and lunch with Margaret Hodge. All those years living in London and I never actually made it inside. The trip was a arranged by a local business association.
Starting off at 7.30am in Crawley to catch the bus up to London which unfortunately had to take a long detour round the M25 due to an accident and general traffic on the more direct route in. Needless to say this meant we arrived late to meet up with our tour guides at the Sovereign Gate and the rest of the group. First stop was through security and a most thorough body frisk. Far more extensive than the casual search you get at the airport.
Once inside, we were divided into two groups and our wonderful guide Stella (one of 25 door-keepers who work with Black Rod) gave us a whistle stop tour of the inside - past numerous paintings, stained glass windows and statues that lined the hallways, which we hardly had time to glance at as we progressed, first through St Stephen's Hall, the Central Lobby (frequently seen on TV) and then, in one direction the ornate grandeur of the House of Lords and in the other the simpler panelling and green seats of the House of Commons. Finishing in Westminster Hall with it's hammerbeam oak roof. This wasn't quite the end of our tour as we were then shown into the ornate, gilded chapel crypt with it's broom cupboard where Emily Wilding Davison shut herself on the night of the 1911 census and then up to one of the committee rooms where much of the work is actually done. If the Commons is looking a little empty then your MP is likely to be in one of these rooms.
Lunch took place over in one of the other parliamentary buildings - where Margaret Hodge made a brief appearance - did her talk for small business and answered a few questions before disappearing off again. Canapes were provided - appetising little nibbles dipped in batter, wrapped in pastry with a slightly healthier sushi version.
Fortunately the return trip on the coach was quicker, although we took the same route out of London. Definitely worth a visit and you could even get to see one of the Houses in action or sit in on a committee.