Or, How to Waste Your Time

Each year, London boasts ‘Open House Day’ in which various public and private buildings open their doors for the general public to go in and have a look around. The ‘Day’ is in fact normally two or three days long, after the sunshine and the peak of the tourist season has finished for the year, in September.

The website sells a brochure (yes, you have to pay: never mind that we pay taxes here, and the extortionate London rents, and that many of the buildings are publicly owned: this is still Rip-Off Britain) detailing the 800 or so places you can get into, ranging from St Paul’s Cathedral, No. 10 Downing Street, the Gherkin (Tower 42), to individual people’s homes of architectural interest.

The Dome of St Paul's Cathedral, London

The Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, London

So, we thought we’d start out today with a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral and maybe visit one or two other places nearby afterwards as well. While it is possible to go any day, on a normal day you have to pay to enter the house of God (except, presumably, to worship, though I expect they still hand round the collection plate so the priest can buy new socks or a Jacuzzi and save the fabulously wealthy Church of England a few pennies). The prices are currently lower than I remember them, but anything over £5 I think of as exploitative and won’t pay. Especially for a publicly subsidized building which is in part supported by my taxes without my consent anyway.

We headed out early but arrived after 10 am because of ‘scheduled engineering works’ on the tube which we’d forgotten about, and saw a long queue of people outside the cathedral. My wife wanted to join the queue right away but I wanted to go around the front of the cathedral first to see what the queue was for… Big mistake. I saw that the queue was called ‘Open House Day Registration,’ whatever that was all about, and so we went back to join it. By now another dozen or so people had joined it in front of us.

So… we queued for nearly an hour, and with just three people left in the queue in front of us, they closed the registrations for the day. Even though St Paul’s is huge, they won’t just let people in to look around: they were letting people in in groups of 15, to be shepherded around on a guided tour (which we didn’t even want), every 15 minutes.

Of course, we could have let them gouge us for the normal entrance fee, which is probably the whole point of this rationing system, but as I’ve mentioned, I find it exploitative and won’t cooperate with that.

I’m sure the poor staff running the system were trying to do their honest best in their bumbling British way, but really this is no way to run a busy operation. They may argue that it is necessary to devise some system to control the numbers, but I don’t think this system is the right one. A simple queue, with, say, 50 people being let in every 15 minutes, would surely work adequately. There is, after all, no rationing for the paying visitors (except by varying the price from time-to-time). There seems to me to be no need to pre-register for a tour which I don’t want anyway, however nice and interesting it may be. Why not have a simple queue to get in, with an optional tour for an extra… £5? People can be held in the queue or allowed in depending simply on how busy it is inside. Plus, inside, they can sell us some holy coffee and Jesus cheesecake and make some cash on the side for the sake of it anyway. After hanging around outside in the freezing Autumn weather, I would have been – well, not exactly happy – but willing, to pay modest prices for some snacks and souvenirs. Maybe – a big bonus for them – I might even have been converted to their stupid religion! Who knows?

Instead, after being turned away we went to the nearby Bank of England. Unfortunately there was an even longer queue here – easily an hour long – so, cold, annoyed and getting hungry, we went home.

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