Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Underground Secrets of Whitehall

Everyone knows Whitehall is riddled with secret government bunkers and tunnels. Now, thanks to the recent declassification of various sensitive decuments - all previously classified as "mildly secret" - This Isn't London can reveal some of the hitherto murk Westminster underworld.

a: The Morlock Embassy. Eloi visiting hours 10am-4pm; please bring condiments.

b: The Phoney War Rooms. This network of tunnels and bunkers was used to fight the Phoney War, September 1939-May 1940. No major combat operations took place during this period, as the war was being fought in this very complex by the military top brass of both the axis and the allies. These generals ran around in the tunnels with cardboard guns, pointing them at each other and shouting "Bang! Bang! You're dead!", to which the "fatality" would respond with a series of grisly death noises. The Phoney War was called off, and the Proper War began, when a Thuringian Waffen SS officer failed to "die" when "shot" and instead shouted "Pe-ow! Ricochet!". [At Nuremberg in 1946, that officer was sentenced to a Chinese burn.]

c: Storage for spare Cenotaphs. It might look heavy, but the Cenotaph can be unbolted and moved fairly easily. There are several identical spare Cenotaphs, which are rotated regularly to reduce wear and tear, and a variety of "special edition" Cenotaphs that can be hired out when the Cenotaph is used for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, birthdays and stag parties. Particularly popular is the motorised bucking rodeo mule.

d: Number -10 Downing Street. Directly underneath Number 10 Downing Street. Home of the shadow cabinet, and Michael Howard's crypt. The crypt can be visited by the public outside the hours of daylight, when it is not in use. See also "a".

e: The Boothroyd Foundation. It's an extremely traumatic experience for MPs to lose their seats at elections. Many members, having lost their place in parliament, find it impossible to readjust to real life and end up hanging around the gates of the commons, waiting for their old friends to come out at the end of the day. To help these tragic cases, a discreet clinic called the Boothroyd foundation has been set up, offering an exact replica of the debating chamber where defeated politicos can pretend they are still running the country.

f: Churchill's bunker. Contains Churchill's bunk.

g: Westminster Tube station platform five. Special government trains for a variety of locations - including Brixton, as I've already mentioned - depart from here. Other destinations include Chequers, Northolt airbase, Chessington World of Adventures, Bluewater, and France.

h: Government Correspondence Clearance Centre c-5. The GCCC, a division of Her Majesty's Stationary Office, deals with all complaints directed at the government. The government is unmoved by complaints - that's why it's called a "stationary office" - and so they're just thrown into a big pile here while a form letter is sent in reply explaining how your comments have been noted. The pile is rumoured to be quite impressive - George Clifton, a parliamentary undersecretary from the Home Office, attempted to climb it in 1967, but was killed by a landslip while traversing the north col, only 200 metres from the summit.

i: The Broad Sanctuary. A Site of Special Scientific Interest. As well as broads, it supports breeding populations of dames, dolls, moochers, wiseasses, big-shots and tough guys, eh.

j: This is an enormous cistern, used since 1905 as the world's largest reservoir of whitewash. The pipe pictured leads, or rather "does not intentionally mislead", to a variety of parliamentary offices, including the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The reservoir is at its lowest point since the Profumo Affair.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Hold the West Front Page

The West Front of St Paul's Cathedral has been fully restored to its original glory. What are among the features of this project?

- the multicoloured disco lights under the cathdral floor, which were installed in the 1970s, have had their bulbs changed

- it's a little-known fact, but the West Front is hinged to allow the entry and exit of giant crabs. Why Wren specified this is rather mysterious, but nevertheless the hinges have been oiled and that annoying squeak has gone

- 18 new ringtones have been uploaded into the Cathedral bells, including the theme from Phantom of the Opera and Mr Ricky Martin's She Bangs

- a delicious new minty fragnance

- a particularly virulent infestation of earwigs could not be completely cleared, but they have now been converted to Christianity

- the words "Ha! You call that a Blitz?" in German have been cleaned off the Cathedral roof

- the encrusted dribble of the British press, a blight on the Cathedral since the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, has been chipped off

- the "Bird Woman", who has sold bags of crumbs from the front steps since the days of Mary Poppins, has been replaced with busty swimsuit model Janice

- the Cathedral is now 5% bigger, an inflation-busting rise.