Frivolous Monsters

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 Queen arrives in her everyday clothes and goes to get changed into her Queen costume.

This is Her Majesty dressed down.

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.

Like rats in a trap

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.

He manages to get there just after all the MPs are safely concealed and they dramatically slam the door in his face.

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.

The Household cavalry, the Sword of State and the Cap of Maintenance… which is really just a hat on a stick.

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?

Say Cheese!

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21 thoughts on “A Foreigner’s Guide to the State Opening of Parliament

  1. Oh my god. This is amazing. I just cried because I was laughing so hard.

    Also, in all seriousness, are you saying that there isn’t a platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station? If so…I should probably return this owl.

    • Thanks. As far as I know, if you visit that station, they have half a luggage trolley (or something similar) jammed into the wall for the tourists. I’ll have a word with the authorities and they’ll send Hagrid around for the owl.

  2. I visited the House of Lords the other day. The Queen’s dressing room is huge – far too big for any normal person. Perhaps when she asks “Does my bum look big in this?” the extra large room allows the courtiers to reply politely and in the negative…

    • I knew you could get some tour, but that’s impressive. I think they said, about the Queen’s dressing room, that during the war the House of Lords (I think) actually used to meet in there as their chamber got bombed out. TV wasn’t allowed in though so we didn’t get to see!

  3. The first thing I thought of when I saw your picture of the Cap of Maintenance was ‘oh my, it’s Santa’s sorting hat….’ 🙂

  4. Love the line about Her Maj “reading a hostage video”.

    • I really do love all the ceremony when I caught some of it for the first time last year. This year I recorded it and made an effort to highlight how odd it can also look if you view it from a different angle!

  5. Ken Clarke looked a bit glum in his wig and gown as he led Old Queenie in…needed a Rennie by the look of him.

  6. Wonderful ceremonial dress, Her Magesty looks like she’s stepped out of a fairytale – the Snow Queen? We’re not a Republic yet in Oz, so our Snow Queen. Great article!

  7. oops, meant Her Majesty, must have been thinking about magic..Her Magicsty…

  8. Pingback: Lords temporal | Lunchtrac

  9. Strangely it is very much like Hogwarts – extravagant and fantastical with some silly costumes, taken far too seriously by people who think it’s all real… 😉

    • I love the real-life Hogwarts thing. It’s the sort of thing that other countries can’t make up!

      And I love the notion of certain objects imbued with special constitutional powers. Possibly because there’s a Tom Baker Doctor Who story – The Deadly Assassin – that covers all of that sort of stuff about rods and sashes on Gallifrey! (Plus other stuff about coronets, statues, and secret weapons in others) Head in the clouds since childhood, me.

  10. Ha ha, finally, a lesson in British traditions that I’ll actually remember a day after reading! Can we have some history lessons as well? About all the kings and queens maybe? (I’m half English half Greek but went to school in Greece, so I’m fascinated by British history – obviously because I never had to learn it!) Great post.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you like it. I kind-of react to what happens in front of my eyes. When bells tinkle with what I see I work it through and write it down. I’m not sure I’m qualified for history, but thanks anyway!

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