Andy McSmith's Diary: 2013 - a year of discoveries - from secret gardens to extraterrestrial trysts

 

It is approaching that time of the year when you take a backward look and think to yourself: what do I know now that I didn’t know a year ago?

I have worked in the Palace of Westminster for longer than the lifetime of a Norwegian Forest Cat (see below), but in 2013 I discovered three astonishing things. In the middle of the complex of buildings is one of London’s greatest lost courtyards. The cloister court, built in the 14th century and renovated during the reign of Henry VIII, is now completely enclosed, with only narrow wooden doors opening on to it. Like so much of the palace, it needs urgent repairs. Getting the necessary equipment into the courtyard will require lifting it, by crane, over the roof of the Commons, seven storeys high.

In the House of Lords, they have their private rifle range. Its cost to the taxpayer is minimal because it is seldom used, but there is something scary about the thought of peers of the realm, whose eyesight is not what it was when they were young, 50 or 60 years ago, being in possession of such deadly weapons.

Third, a centuries-old rule lays down that MPs are entitled to a pinch of snuff as they enter the Chamber. Ensuring that it is available is the responsibility of the Principal Doorkeeper, Robin Fell, who has to pay out of his own pocket. Luckily, his predecessor bequeathed him a full snuff box, and demand is low, so it has not cost him anything yet.

A tale pf two towns

I never knew there was a town called Hawick, until I learnt there are two. One is a place of high-speed car chases, prostitution, drive-by shootings and general mayhem and murder and features on Grand Theft Auto V. The other is a small town in Roxburghshire, on the road that links Edinburgh to Carlisle, a place with 15,000 law-abiding citizens best known for its Common Riding festival, when hundreds of horse riders parade through its streets. Its inhabitants are quite cross with the Edinburgh-based game makers, Rockstar North, creators of the GTA series. John Lamont, the local member of the Scottish Parliament, has asked them to come and see him in his office in Hawick High Street.

Ding dong destiny

Something else I never knew was that the lyricist Yip Harburg was born on 8 April 1896. He wrote the lyrics to “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”. It was on his 117th birthday that we lost that other great world figure, Margaret Thatcher.

Yoghurt with nothing added

An event I sadly missed was the First Global Summit on the Health Effects of Yoghurt, held in Boston on 24 April 2013, so I am afraid I have no new information to impart on that subject. Apologies.

Unclaimed streak prize

And another gap in my knowledge: Alki David, billionaire founder of the Battlecam website, made an open offer in February to pay a year’s tuition fees to the first student to streak in front of Nick Clegg. I can find no record that anyone has collected the prize.

Ukip’s space cadets...

The May council elections were a triumph for Ukip, under whose banner some unusual specimens assumed councillor duties. Some were nasty, some were – how can we put it? – distinctive. A favourite of mine is Elizabeth Ransome, a 26-year-old Ukip councillor for Boston, Lincolnshire, who took to Facebook with this pertinent inquiry: “I no [sic] this is probably a stupid question but is tuna a real fish like ones that swim in water?” I hope she found the answer.

... and aliens

No Ukip councillor can match the exotic life of Simon Parkes, a driving instructor and Labour councillor in Whitby, Yorkshire. The welfare officer of the Norwegian Forest Cat Society, his mother, he says, was a 9ft-tall alien with eight fingers, and he has been having sex outside marriage four times a year with an alien called the “Cat Queen”, by whom he has a child, named Zarka. “My wife found out and was very unhappy,” he told a Channel 4 documentary.

This Diary is now closing down for the festive season and is back again in January

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'