Having a quiet recess?
Spotted anything strange around the darker corridors of NSN or in the eerie emptiness of PCH?
Certain, are you?
Well, Jenny did – only this week – and she’s written to W4MP to tell us.
Read on – if you dare!
For most Researchers the long recess which Parliament takes during the summer is the most boring ten weeks of the year. Scratch that, it is a crazy-making, lonely eternity. But for Jenny, trying to get through her first recess, the summer took a turn towards the strange. There were the signposts and odd signals, just her imagination in overdrive; or so she thought.
Trying to survive recess could be more dangerous than she ever imagined. Recess should be a time where two weeks of annual leave can be taken as well as time off in lieu, and when admin can be sorted. For admin read: filing. There is work to do, mind numbing work, but the main problem with recess is there is no one else around. The benefits of recess, like lunch hours, never really materialise as they are hard to enjoy with no friends there to share them with.
Today it was 3.00pm. Diagnosis Murder had just finished and Jenny decided to go for a walk to get some tea. What Jenny really wanted to do was to go home for the day but if she did her boss would ring for some reason. They always do. Hers was brilliant at sending her long complicated emails at 4.50pm. The only option to escape at the moment was tea but at least it was a long walk to the Terrace from her office in Norman Shaw North even if it was all stairs and doors.
On the way for the first time she felt uneasy, as if she was being watched. Of course there were police everywhere and security cameras, Jenny had got used to those. It was something else. Like an over-your-shoulder, someone-following-you feeling. She kept looking round but there was no one there. She called her best mate who told her that if Jenny was living on a diet of Murder She Wrote, and Diagnosis Murder and working in a large spooky mostly empty building, then this would be the consequence. Jenny had a murder mystery hangover. She was letting her imagination run wild. She tried to rein it in as, clasping her tea and giant doughnut – it was recess after all – she sauntered back to her office.
On the way back Jenny’s weird mood was not helped by the fact the few people she came across stopped their conversations when she approached. It was very unlikely to be political intrigue as it was summer. More likely they were saying how great it was without the MPs there.
Jenny decided she could stretch out her day by about another half hour by eating the doughnut slowly. Her office was boiling as per usual. Boiling in summer, freezing in winter. She was in a skimpy summer dress and flip flops and felt overdressed. Her first floor window to the very attractive goods yard was open fully; admittedly she was lucky to have a window at all. They were clattering around testing fire extinguishers and it sounded like they were moving desks. Jenny heard a crackle of a radio right under her window. There was a snatch of a tune that sounded familiar and ‘test, test’.
She crouched low and looked down over the ledge so not to be seen but she was curious. It was a man in uniform, very like the security uniforms she saw everyday but there was something different. He was walking up and down moving robotically. Strange. And it struck Jenny as odd as why would the police or security play the music first before testing radios? Maybe they were new contractors? Or just playing silly buggers. Probably the latter.
Jenny got up from under the window, dusted herself off and felt like an idiot. She was not fit for human company anymore and it was only mid August. It was 4pm. And as she was clearly going mad, thinking she was being followed and hiding to spy on the security guards, it was time to go home. Before she started seeing things.
She decided to walk to along the river to soak up some of the sun rather than just jumping on the tube at Westminster. Go to Waterloo or Embankment. Maybe get a frappé for the tube? It was nightmarishly hot on the Victoria Line and that would help. Not that she could really afford the calories after the doughnut. She was thinking about the frappé perhaps too much as at the turning from Horse Guards Avenue onto the Embankment she almost walked straight into a van. Well more a truck. It was definitely a civilian vehicle but as it turned the corner she saw a young man in full military uniform look at her and smile from the passenger seat. OK that was weird and exactly like a scene cut out of a disaster or conspiracy film, with the perfect backdrop of London Eye as well. Jenny did not know why but she felt like she had had a lucky escape. Young women in those films often got swept up into the truck as the soldiers were supposed to go unseen. At that point she decided just to hurry to Embankment tube and go home. Make some pasta for her housemates and wait for them to come home.
Jenny had almost made it into the station when her phone rang. Curse it. She knew before looking at the caller ID it would be her boss. 4.30pm – she should never have dawdled. Too late now.
‘You still in the office?’
‘I just stepped out.’ Not on the way home at all.
She turned on her heel and started to walk back up the river ‘Was there anything in particular?’
‘It’s only I agreed to do a breakfast meeting tomorrow with the Local Chamber of Commerce.’
‘And you want some figures on local economy and facts about small businesses? The normal things? I will email it to you.’
‘Thanks, don’t spend ages on it. Have to go – am losing reception.’
Jenny could see her office now as she was walking quite fast. She needed to get there before her exit closed or she would have to go around the building. She ran up to it just as it shut.
Trudging her way round to the automatic entrance in the subway she noticed it was busier than it should be at the tube station. There wasn’t a large protest planned as far as she knew and tourists were few in number at 4.45pm on a Thursday. Also these people looked purposeful; tourists never really looked that purposeful. It was the heat. It must be. Driving her crazy. Making her suspicious. Half an hour on her computer and she could go home.
Anyway she went through Portcullis House and it was still and echoey. Like an empty swimming pool. Perfectly normal. The unwanted feeling she got from being there was in her head. Heat stroke. Totally just in her head. Looking up, (never look up why had she not learned that lesson from the TV?), she saw a large group of security guards looking down at her through the glass from the committee corridor on the first floor. All looking at her. They were wearing the same uniforms as the robotic-looking one she had seen earlier. She wasn’t supposed to be here but she seemed rooted to the spot.
Then a blast of that tune played over the PA system. Oh crap. She started to move and then ran towards the escalators leading down to the Palace as she heard ‘this is not a test, I repeat this is not a test.’ More police in the Palace, she hoped, as when she looked back she saw all the strange guards began to move as one down the four stairs in the corners towards the ground floor. After her, Jenny imagined. Why the Hell did she have to be right? Why the Hell did there have to be something spooky going on? It was very hard to flee for her life in flip flops. She ran along the cloister corridor through the sun and shadows, towards the exit until she saw the guards there were moving down the road in front of Westminster Hall towards her. Damn.
Going against all her instincts she ran further into the Palace. Hoping to lose them, whatever they were in the twisty turning corridors. Eventually she got hold of her phone in her stupidly large bag. Who was she going to ring? She realised she was running towards the Sports and Social. Why was she running towards the pub? She could phone 999 and say there was a bomb? Or an incursion? Oh crap. She was getting a stitch. And the feeling they were herding her towards somewhere as they weren’t running but were always there behind her. She crossed back on herself going into the building properly hoping to double back on them by going through the Chamber and down back outside Behind the Speakers Chair. If she could get out that way. Almost by reflex she smashed the fire alarm as she passed.
When she got there she discarded her flip flops, far too noisy and made for the stairs but she heard footsteps. It couldn’t be the firemen yet as she heard Big Ben announce 5p.m. She tried her phone – no signal. It must be being blocked. Crap. The fire alarm stopped. Her hope in that was dashed. Jenny’s only thought now was to run to the Terrace. She would get trapped out there unless she jumped in the river but these things had to want something. She had to warn someone somehow. She crept along the Terrace corridor until she found a dining room that opened onto the river.
Going outside she saw there were two of these Guards at the main entrances of the Terrace who when they saw her reached for their radios. She ran to the edge by the river and started to shout for help. Waving frantically at the tourist boats, who just waved politely back. Writing a message on her phone ‘help commons invaded by malevolent force’ she threw it as hard as she could at a boat and was going to follow it when she heard that tune again, only this time it was followed by a sharp static screech. Jenny had to cover her ears as the noise was too piercing and it forced her to the ground. She made herself get up and as she turned there was a metallic crash as the security guards hit the ground. So they were robots. When she took her hands away from her ears she heard a shout of ‘halt’. Running onto the Terrace was the young solider from the van holstering his gun.
‘You are safe- it’s OK.’ He motioned at the other soldiers running onto the Terrace to stop.
Jenny collapsed on the floor and started to laugh. ‘You could have just kidnapped me and saved me all this, you know.’
The solider looked bemused, ‘You slipped through just before we locked the place down, I am sorry you had to go through that Miss.’
‘Who were they?’
‘They were roboguards. It was a coup attempt by rogue MI5 agents, but it’s over now and you are OK. Let’s get you out of here, I need you talk to my Commander.’
‘I am not OK. I had to run for my life, I thought I was going crazy, all day I thought I was a crazy woman, I lost my shoes, I threw my phone at a boat, a boat for God’s sake and there is no way of getting my work done now.’
‘What the Hell am I going to tell my boss?’
Read Jenny’s other adventures. They’re on the main alt.guides page.
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Added by Jenny in 10th August 2010