A Foreigner’s Guide to the State Opening of Parliament
Former Colonials, members of the Commonwealth, Britain is a thriving modern country and not at all anything like what I know you believe it to be, i.e. Hogwarts, so allow me to welcome you to the home of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal for a foreigner’s guide to the State Opening of Parliament 2012…
Although to be honest I don’t imagine it’s changed much in the last several hundred years…
And if you have no clue as to what really goes on in this country then I imagine that you’re probably in for a bit of an eye-opener.
On the morning of the opening of Parliament the Yeomen of the Guard, the Queen’s bodyguard, search the vaults of the Palace of Westminster. They had a success, once, and caught Guy Fawkes in the act and have been dining out off that story for four hundred years.
To open Parliament the Queen holds a member of the House of Commons at Buckingham Palace, to ensure her safe return, so already we’re into a hostage situation here. This is before setting off on a low-speed chase around the cordoned off streets of London followed all the way by police and media… So just like OJ Simpson really.The Queens special metal hat arrives in advance of her, brought forth in a horse-drawn carriage by the Crown Jeweller who gives it a bit of a polish.
The House of Commons is the only place Her Majesty is not allowed to enter… Technically that’s not true as she was barred from The Horse and Hound pub after getting drunk on shandy in a beer garden in 1944, but when the MPs get word of her arrival they hole themselves up in the Commons hiding away from her.
The Queen, fully kitted up, makes he way to her golden throne in the House of Lords and is walked down the aisle, with four pageboys holding onto her costume’s billowing train, on the arm of the elderly Prince in a ghostly flashback to her wedding in 1947.
When she’s ready the Lord Great Chamberlain sends a signal with his magic white wand of office to Black Rod who marches off down the corridor to the House of Commons with his own much sturdier magic stick.
We could have a three little pigs stand-off here, but such is Black Rod’s magical constitutional powers that by banging on the door of the House of Commons he causes it to be flung open, in a sort-of inverse-Gandalf manoeuvre: Thou shall pass.
And entering into the enemy territory, of the common elected representatives, Black Rod with his enchantment leads them all out of their hole, much like the Pied Piper, and draws them down the corridor two by two, to see the Queen who’s waiting in the House of Lords. It’s like a grand school assembly except that there’s no singing and by the time the tardy MPs turn up there’s standing room only.
The Queen is then forced to address the TV cameras and read out a statement prepared by her government, much like a hostage video… It’ just lucky that we don’t have David Cameron stood behind her in a balaclava holding up a copy of that days newspaper to show it’s live.
Honourable mentions should also go to The Barge Master and his Watermen who no longer have a boat, The Purse Bearer, The Heralds, The Maces, The Household cavalry, and the magical Sword of State and the Cap of Maintenance.
And with all that done Parliament is open for another year. It might’ve been easier to flip a switch, or cheaper to just explode a party popper, but we’re British and these are the sort of customs you just can’t make up.
And once you let go you can never get it back and we’d be left with something like the New York Stock Exchange which they open every day by getting some psuedo-celebrities to ring a bell and get their pictures taken as if it’s a theme park roller coaster ride. Now, which one’s our photo in the booth?