The Palace of Westminster, as the building in which Parliament sits is officially known, has been at the heart of English governance since the 11th century, when Edward the Confessor established his court here. William the Conqueror found the site to his liking, and under the Normans the palace was greatly extended. Westminster Hall aside, little of the Norman palace remained after the massive fire of October 16, 1834; the rebuilding started in 1835 under the joint command of Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin.


After 18 years of stony silence. Simon Knowles of the Queen’s Guard finally speaks out.

LG: Your uniforms look pretty heavy. Are they comfortable?

A: They’re not comfortable at all. The uniform weighs about 3 stone [about 45 lb.] in all.

LG: How do you overcome the itches, sneezes, and bees?

A: Inherent discipline is instilled in every British soldier during training. We know not to move a muscle while on parade no matter what the provocation or distraction u n I ess, of course, it is a security matter. But our helmets are akin to wearing a boiling kettle on your head; to relieve the pressure, sometimes we use the back of our sword blade to ease the back of the helmet forward.

LG: How do you make the time pass while on duty?

A: The days are long. Smarter men work on horseback in the boxes in shifts from 10am-4pm; less smart men work on foot from 7am-8pm. Some guys count the number of buses that drive past. Unofficially, there are lots of pretty girls around here, and we are allowed to move our eyeballs.

LG: What has been your funniest distraction attempt?

A: One day a taxi pulled up, and out hopped 4 Playboy bunnies, who then posed for a photo shoot right in front of us. You could call that a distraction if you like.

The ostentatious House of Lords is dominated by the Throne of State. The Lord Chancellor presides from the giant red Woolsack. In contrast is the restrained House of Commons, with simple green-backed benches under a plain wooden roof. The Speaker sits at the rear of the chamber, with government MPs to his right and the opposition to his left. With seating for only 437 out of 635 MPs, things get hectic when all are present. (Parliament Sq. Tube: Westminster. 7219 4272. Debates open to the public while Parliament is in session (Oct.-July). M-Th after 6pm and Fare least busy. Advance tickets required for Prime Minister’s Question Time (W 3-3:30pm). Lords usually sits M-W from 2:30pm, Th 3pm, occasionally F 11:30am; closing times vary. Commons sits M-W 2:30-10:30pm, Th ll:30am-7:30pm, F 9:30am-3pm. Free. Tours Aug.-Sept. M-Sa 9:15am-4:30pm; reserve through Firstcall (n(0870) 906 3773). £7, students £3.50.)


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