Well my parliamentary career is positively blossoming; I’m on first name basis with a few of the security guards (for mixed reasons) and sharing a lift with the former Foreign Secretary no longer causes heart palpations.

In my third instalment I thought I might share with you some observations on my first recess; basically the portion of the parliamentary year when the Houses of Parliament do not sit.

In the case of a Member of Parliament, it is a time to be used for concentrating on one’s constituency and electorate. It is a time for school fairs, social action, hospital campaigns, day centre visits and pub lunches (there may of course be the odd one or two knocking about, replete with linen blazer and Slazenger sports bag).

In the case of the parliamentary researcher, it is basically the green light for a doubling slight extension of ones lunch break (as an aside, no longer does the “Members have Priority” rule apply; with no Members around you are free to queue at leisure and be served by the cashier devoid of interruptions).

Parliament is indeed a most unusual place during recess. What is for the majority of the year the mother of all parliaments and the home of British democracy basically descends into a university campus.

For the purposes of those who found themselves seconded to the constituency or lost in a paper forest of outdated parliamentary questions, may I present to you my Seven Symptoms of Recess…

Symptom 1: Dress Code

No longer are bag-carriers stern looking drones, marching around in sombre TM Lewin suits and Karen Millen dresses, in recess now a positively cosmic display of apparel emerges. Over my exceedingly long lunches I have sat outside the Debate and attempted to break down the different ‘recess dress styles’ by political party.

  • Conservative

    Normal Attire: Dark suit/dress, silk print tie/pashmina, bright socks, leather shoes.

    Recess Attire: Ralph Lauren shirt/polo/floral print dress, chinos, deck shoes/loafers.

  • Liberal

    Normal Attire: Light suit/dress, multi-coloured stripy tie, sandals.

    Recess Attire: Bob Marley print t-shirt, festival wristbands, worn jeans, sandals.

  • Labour

    Normal Attire: Skinny fit suit/loose fitting dress, knitted tie, brown brogues.

    Recess Attire: Beret, t-shirt, old trainers, placard.

  • SNP

    Normal Attire: Kilt

    Recess Attire: Kilt

There are of course exceptions to the above; due to the unusual political set up we have at present I will accept that some cross-pollination between parties does occur.

Symptom 2: Deli Sandwich Bar

Somewhat misconceiving if I’m honest, I am not sure which part of tomato, white bap or tuna mayonnaise constitutes the “deli” part of the equation but it does make a change from jerk pork. Worth a visit if only to sit outside on the terrace (see below).

Symptom 3: Extended Access to the Terrace

Now don’t get me wrong, the very gracious decree by the Speaker to open up the vast empty terrace to us lowly green-passed bottom feeders is very welcome. However, I challenge anyone to clarify and/or explain exactly when one is allowed on it?

The simple fact is that access rules for the terrace change on an hour by hour basis, if you are wearing blue socks on a Wednesday then you are allowed two guests between the hours of 13.00 and 15.00, except when that Wednesday falls in a leap year and then only those with three years service or more need go on, of course the exception being when that person is wearing red socks and then the hours change to 14.30 and 18.00.

The simple way to use the terrace is the ‘suck it and see’ method… go on there for lunch or an evening drink and if a heavily armed policeman throws you off, you have your answer.

It is certainly well worth the effort, as highlighted in my previous posts, there is simply no better place to drink a pint of continental larger or glass of new world Pinot Grigio whist giving a dandy wave to the passing tourist boats.

Symptom 4: Paying Tourists

Perhaps the biggest change that happens during recess is the emergence of paid public tours. Thousands of people pay £12.50 to walk round the palace and gawp at the impossibly small size of the main chamber.

If you want to take anyone round during recess you will need to obtain a permit from the tours desk first. You will also need to hold the permit and wave it in the face of every security guard as you go round, stick rigorously to the line of route and never ever ever ever deviate. Failure to comply will result in termination of the tour and immediate removal from the line of route.

Seriously though, don’t get in the way of the paying tourists.

Symptom 5: Extensive Building Work

A variety of building work going on whilst the place is in recess, whether it’s the refurbishment of the palace roof or the building of a redundant fire hazard nursery, you can be sure that the very fabric of parliament will be a different place by the time the House sits again.

Symptom 6: Sudden Influx of Interns

The final bell in the playgrounds across Great Britain signal term over; some celebrate with a bottle of Smirnoff Ice in their local park, others are off to Phuket for mopeds and glow stick parties. However, as we all know, to some… this bell is a call to duty.

There is absolutely no doubt that come June/July, every aspiring politico between the ages of 13 and 22 will be applying to parliament in the hope of securing an internship.

You can be assured that during the recess period the building will be positively swamped with young Economist reading American school/college kids.

Yes there will be drawbacks; getting to your tuna jacket potato with a hopscotch game session right in front of the debate entrance does present a challenge. However these young whippets do generally make a good cup of coffee.

Symptom 7: Parliamentary Rounders

Last but not least there is the annual British House of Commons Parliamentary Staff Rounder’s Competition or as I call it, “BHOCPSRC”. Alongside the Journo/MP Tug-of-War and Peers Pancake Race, “BHOCPSRC” completes the parliamentary sporting calendar.

If you’re not a sports legend or action wizard then there is always the accompanying picnic… and by “picnic” I mean a pork pie washed down with neat vodka.

The event usually takes place in Hyde Park and is followed by a “Pub Drinkathon” (see my previous post on parliamentary events), soiled flower displays and ice from a 5-star hotel comes as standard… more fun than you could shake a stick at!
Well that was recess in a nut-shell. Looking back at the whole thing it seems a bit of a blur.

I spent the weeks building up to recess on the back foot thinking that there would be buckets of time to catch up on work and that the whole thing would be one big jolly, however the reality was very different; I now find myself with a greater stack of paper on my desk than before the whole episode started.

Recess came and went without much fanfare (I suspect in part due to the anti-climax of it being so short compared to previous years), however one thing I quickly realised is that although there is no parliamentary business, the constituency still has plenty of uneven roads and dog soiled pavements to attend to.

If I’m honest it’s good to get back to normality, one can only eat so many roast pork sandwiches with lettuce…

Harper Pepperswitch

Added: 14 September 2010