The walk from the bus stop on London Street down Abbey Hill toward Parliament only takes 15 minutes but heads up! Be alert for doggy piles, cigarette butts, pigeon poop, the occasional puddle of vomit and a twist of razor wire – we are in the city, you know! Scan the skies for pigeons and tar drippings when walking under the train trestle in this seedy pocket of neighborhood, but then…..THEN (cue harps and angels) emerging from this darkness ~ BEHOLD! Holyrood Palace on your left and behind is the glorious Arthur’s Seat (a small mountain made by volcanic rock) looming over her with Parliament only one block further. The perfect trifecta! You now find yourself at the base of the Royal Mile, the famous street that leads uphill from Parliament to Edinburgh Castle at the top. You’ll find shops and pubs and medieval historical and ghost tours right here on the main vein of the city. The people watching is endless ~ if you want history and excitement, you could spend a full week on this street.
It’s time to enter Parliament and start work. The nautical images with bamboo, glass, and steel make a person wonder at the architectural elements. Sadly, the designer passed away before his work was complete which leaves much of the building’s ambiance a puzzle and open to interpretation. Guides say the use of glass gives a person the idea that the government employees are easily accessible to the public. First step while inside: show Security official badge strung around my neck. This maneuver makes me feel important and very official. Security guards are dressed in purple shirts and ties ~ the hue represents the color of Scotland’s native flower, the thistle. Next step: beeline to café for morning dose of mocha from friendliest barista who calls me “luv”. When you’re new to a country and culture, even the smallest kind gestures mean a lot. Now, gather the hot drink and go through the first of many heavily secured doors to get to desired tower. Note to self: place official pass in front of small box to right of door and wait for beep. There’s a tricky dance involved that requires timing and patience when using your pass. Make sure not to hold it in front of fire security box or any of the other three boxes that look suspiciously identical or you will be waiting for the door to unlock, and it just won’t happen. I did this once with a group of six people behind me. Luckily a Scottish friend corrected me, laughed softly at my ignorance and I proceeded to turn beet red. Once up safely on the fourth floor, I round the corner to my desk with its phone, computer, file cabinets….a certified office nook! I am an official Intern to a Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) and couldn’t feel prouder.
The days are filled with activity. One day I may be drafting letters to politicians from other countries, or doing research and compiling information about the MSP’s Cross-Party Groups. I was fortunate to get to learn everything I could about Visual Impairment issues in Scotland, the Housing Crises, Knife Crimes, and Funerals and Bereavement. Here’s an interesting bit of information about the latter: in order to create a smaller carbon footprint, it’s becoming possible to freeze a dead body, shatter it, then grind it into a powder to be kept in a special place or scattered into the wind. It is an eco-friendly method that prevents trees from being cut down for coffins and prevents smoke from polluting the air from cremation. This is only ONE of the many exciting things I learned during the internship.
Some days I stuff envelopes, run errands, or escort special guests up to the office from the Garden Lobby. Other days I work on projects like searching for postal codes for constituents, answering phones, filing, or attending meetings and receptions in the evening. There is always something exciting to do and learn, and sometimes the best experiences are the simple ones, like when you find yourself sharing an elevator with a friendly person who wants to chat. As soon as you exchange pleasantries, the next comment will certainly be this, “Are you from Canada or the states?”
In the evening I often join a small group of MSP’s and their Assistants or other random Parliamentary staff for drinks up the Royal Mile at the Toll Booth Tavern. This is a wonderful authentic old pub built in 1591 and originally used as a place to collect taxes and as a jail. In 1820 it became a tavern and I must say, has delicious french-fries! Of course I was corrected, they are called “chips”, and American “potato chips” are “crisps”.
By 9PM I am getting sleepy and I still have to walk 15 minutes to the nearest bus stop and take the 30 minute ride back to my sea-side apartment in Portobello. As I ride the bus at night, I reflect on the day and think about what tomorrow will bring. An elderly man gets on the bus and stands in front of me holding the railing. I touch him on the arm and ask, “Would you like my seat?” and as I start to stand up, he replies, “No thank you, luv. I’m not as old as I look.” And we both have a giggle.
Upon completing her IE3 internship, Margaret O’Neill returned to Scotland to look for full-time employment. She is now a Parliamentary Assistant to Mr. Alastair Morgan MSP in his constituency office in Dalbeattie, Scotland.