I've landed in the UK for two weeks of horse racing adventures that I'm chronicling for the Paulick Report in a series called Tattersalls presents An American Invader in the UK. Read my day one diary from London here. Among other things, I talk about my first bet with a bookie and the differences between the wagering systems in the U.S. and Britain.
A couple of non-racing things I didn't mention in the piece: I stopped at the Household Calvary Museum, which highlights the Royal Horse Guards, who provide the Queen's escort on ceremonial occasions as well as serve in battle. These young people - some of whom have never even ridden a horse before - go through 20 weeks of intensive training on horseback, and it is not uncommon for them to be thrown several times before getting the hang of it. Most of the horses are black, and there's a reason for this. Apparently, King Charles II, who was very instrumental in developing the modern sport of horse racing, thought black horses looked more intimidating in battle, and so his royal horses were black. The tradition continues.
While at the House of Parliament, our group from the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program also sat in on a House of Commons session. There are 650 members in the House of Commons, which is Britain's equivalent to the House of Representatives. There are another 789 members of the House of Lords - a rough parallel to the US Senate, although the Lords aren't elected. Can you imagine if Congress, instead of 535 members, had 1,439?? Somehow, the system seems to work for the UK, I guess. But I thought it was interesting that Commons members can only spend 12,000 pounds each on their election campaigns (about $24,000 U.S.). No TV ads for these ladies and gents! Just good ole fashioned door-to-door campaigning. Attention Washington...
We spoke with a member of the House of Commons, Bill Wiggin, who shared stories of Parliament's Westminster Hall, which was built in 1099. I stood in the very spot where King Charles I was sentenced to death in 1649 and then taken a few blocks away for his beheading. Wiggin also told us that during a renovation of the Hall, they found tennis balls hit by King Henry VIII. The history is so thick in these places, you can almost feel the ghosts.
Wiggin's assistant got us passes to sit in on the Commons session, and Wiggin himself told us we shouldn't stay any longer than the point where we'd "lost the will to live" from the boredom. Turns out, that was about 20 minutes. Unlike the US Congress, where the seating is semi-circular, in the House of Commons, the two parties sit directly across from each other, which was by design. They found it facilitated more direct discussion and confrontation. We witnessed an example of this when a woman from the Labour Party argued with a member of the Conservative Party over the length of their speeches earlier this week. After the woman commented on the length of the man's speech, the Conservative argued that no, no, his speech was definitely shorter than hers. The woman shot back that while, in length, her speech was shorter, it lasted longer because it was more engaging than her opposite's speech, soliciting more opinions from others. The pressing matters of the British government could certainly wait while this dispute was resolved.
The day was topped off by a plate of lasagna that I can say with complete certainty resembled lasagna the way Bill Clinton resembles George Bush. The pasta slices were filled in with salad, beets and broccoli.
I'm counting the hours until we visit Royal Ascot Saturday.