Canada Slim and the Museum of Many

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 January 2018

It is easy to criticize, easy to destroy and belittle the efforts of others.

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Above: The very critical and much criticized President Donald Trump

 

But sometimes criticism is unavoidable.

 

I have had colleagues at work who have gone both directions when it comes to negativity and praise.

 

One colleague will hide her light under a blanket, not reminding others enough about her significant accomplishments and good work.

She needs to make sure that the people who count – those with whom she works, those who make decisions, those who have influence on her career – are aware of her accomplishments and contributions.

She is amazingly generous about giving others their due when they deserve it, but I feel she neglects to include herself as meriting praise in the team´s success.

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Above: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910 – 1997)

 

Another colleague can sink a ship with her constant barrage of complaints, negativity and whining about what´s wrong with everyone and everything.

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Above: The RMS Titanic leaving Southampton, 10 April 1912

For her, the glass is always half empty.

Upon arrival at the Pearly Gates, she will invariably ask St. Peter:

“Is that it?”

For her, the worst is about to happen.

She can spot the negative and bad in most everyone at a distance of a thousand paces.

She is Vampirella without the sex appeal, draining energy rather than blood.

Vampirella reclining. She has dark black hair, red lips, and is wearing her red sling suit costume and black high heel boots

And there is not a whole hell of a lot a person can do about her.

She is genetically predisposed to her way of thinking, so she is avoided whenever possible.

 

A tourist attraction gets both types of these visitors:

Those inclined to see the best in the place, not realizing that it is their attitude that influences their positive opinion of the place.

And there is the type who will find negative in the place no matter what.

In this blog, which has become over time a series of travelogues and essays, I am trying to find a balance between these two extremes.

I will try not to wax too poetically about a place, unless it truly is a wonder of wonders that one must see before “kicking the bucket”.

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By the same token I am trying consciously not to let the negative experience I might have had, often through no fault of the place´s own, keep me from seeing the positive aspects of the places I have visited.

 

London, England, 25 October 2018

Take my wife.

Please!

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Above: Comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921 – 2004)

She is a lovely woman but she has special ways about her that make each travel experience with her an adventure.

Her Swabian soul (think of a German version of a Scot´s stereotypical thriftiness) was working overtime on our week´s sojourn in London.

We only had a week and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to see EVERYTHING.

She bought us London Passes and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to use them efficiently.

The London Pass

As she had less time for sightseeing than I did, because her reason for visiting London was to attend an international doctors symposium, she was stressed, grim and determined for us to be the ultimate tourists.

Running, not walking, between attractions.

Viewing museum exhibits without reading their descriptions, unless the museum particularly interested her.

In marrying her I sowed the winds of change.

And as a result there are many times I am swept away by the whirlwind that is my wife.

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Today we visited the Museum of London akin to the way a tornado visits a town: without lingering long in any location, choosing our own path and method of passing through.

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She Who Must Be Obeyed hated it.

I still reserve judgment.

 

The neighbourhood of the Museum is, at first glance, brutal, concrete, unwelcoming.

The city´s only large residential complex is a maze built upon a bombed borough, a labyrithine dystopia of listless pedestrian paths and anonymous apartments straitjacketed by three 400-foot towers.

Barbican Towers

To appreciate this section of city known as the Barbican, one must ignore first impressions of promethian prison and imagine instead that beyond the boundaries of natural hesitation lies a land of soft sensitivity and cool cultural crossways.

Here is an amazing arts centre set along side an artificial oblong lake within and home to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

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Here be bars, cafés and restaurants.

The Barbican complex is indistinguishable for most folks from the Barbican Centre, whose seven floors feature a concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas, a rooftop garden and an art gallery.

The Barbican Centre is home to one of the top venues in London for jazz, classical and world music and, surprisingly, one of the most affordable (by London standards) places in the city for quality theatre and dance.

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As well as being a champion of young and new artists, playwrights, performers and filmmakers, the Barbican Centre is home to the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as one of the largest public libraries in London.

The Barbican Centre has plenty of places to eat and drink.

There are art and design shops and, unexpectedly, a giant conservatory teeming with tropical flora.

 

Here in the Barbican are two of the most neglected spots in London.

 

The church of St. Giles Cripplegate is the Barbican´s solitary prewar building.

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Above: St. Giles-without-Cripplegate Church

A heavily restored early Tudor church, St. Giles is bracketed between a pair of artificial lakes and overlooks an impressive corner bastion of an old Roman fort.

It was here in St. Giles that Oliver Cromwell was married in 1620.

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658)

It was here in St. Giles that the poet John Milton was buried in 1674, then unburied in 1793.

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Above: John Milton (1608 – 1674)

His teeth were knocked out as souvenirs and his corpse exhibited to the public until the idea of a putrifying poet no longer appealed.

 

Opposite the former General Post Office, south of the Museum, lies Postman´s Park, one of the most curious and least-visited corners of the city.

Circle of green grass about 10 yards in diameter, with a roughly 3 yard brown central area containing low bushes. Outward-facing park benches are at the circle's rim, and a multistorey brick building with an awning is in the background, across a sidewalk.

Above: Postman´s Park

Here, in 1900, in the churchyard of St. Botolph Aldersgate, the painter and scupltor George Frederick Watts paid for a national memorial to “heroes of everyday life”, a patchwork wall of majolica tiles protected by a canopy and inscribed with the names of common folk who died in the course of some act of uncommon bravery.

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Above: George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904)

It is the classic Victorian morbid sentimental fascination with death.

It is macabre masterpiece literature.

“Drowned in attempting to save his brother after he himself had just been rescued….”

“Saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal Station, but was himself run over by the train….”

Edgar Allan Poe would have loved and Stephan King would love this place.

Flowerbeds and crowded benches stand in front of a long dark wooden structure. On the wall of the wooden structure, parallel rows of pale tiles are visible.

Above: The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, Postman´s Park

 

Hidden in the southwestern corner of the Barbican is the Museum of London, whose permanent galleries are meant to be an educational excursion through London´s past from prehistory to present, as seen through archeological artifacts and massive scale models.

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The Museum was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 2 December 1976, as the first new museum building to open in London since the end of the Second World War.

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Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Museum tries to tell the story of London´s development as a city over hundreds of thousands of years: from stone age settlements in the Thames Valley, through the founding of Londinium by the Roman army, to the great world city that London is today.

I use the word “tries” deliberately, because the Museum is a victim of its own success.

It attracted 370,000 visitors in its first six months and has attracted millions since then.

Above: Christopher Le Brun´s Union (Horse with two discs), Museum entry

It has acquired a reputation for excellence as a museum that sees itself as “not simply of or about London, but also for London” and thus seems to encompass a tourist population the size of London that visit it.

The Museum´s mission is to play a part in the lives of all Londoners, to inspire a passion for London, but it is hard to feel passionate about the history of London when half of London congregates within the Museum.

 

The Museum attempts to answer the questions:

How did London come to be such an extraordinary place?

 

(Which begs the unasked question:

What exactly is ordinary and extraordinary?

Can a place be either/both?)

 

Who were the Londoners who lived here in the past?

What does the future hold?

 

The Museum has around one million items in its core collection, plus an additional six million “finds”.

It holds 25,000 items of clothing and fashion, 100,000 paintings, prints and photographs, 17,000 excavated skeletons, 50,000 prehistoric and Roman objects, 50,000 objects from Tudor and Stuart London, 110,000 objects from modern London, 1,800 life stories from individual Londoners, half a million historic documents and a growing collection of items from the yet-unfinished 21st century.

 

Imagine if you will herds of mammoths here where crowds now gather.

Or see if you can a Londinium that boasts a thriving Roman port, a large forum and basilica, public baths, barracks, amphitheatre and temples.

Then imagine a battleground where one civilization replaces another to be itself subseded by yet another: Angles and Saxons, Vikings and Normans, the splendour, hustle and bustle of medieval times with merchants and craftsmen….

Imagine a city that survives the Black Death, Civil War, a Great Fire, the Blitz.

A city where once walked Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare, where a King was publicly executed.

Imagine a city that grows from being the capital of a country to become the centre of an empire.

A busy chaotic place filled with both amusement and hardship, fabulous fortunes and pathetic poverty….

Stroll down the Victorian Walk with the look and feel of London in the year 1900.

The shop fronts, fixtures and fittings are all original.

Peek through the windows of the tobacconist, the barber´s, the chemist´s, the tailor´s, the pawnbroker´s….

See a city that has seen overcrowding and lack of sanitation, failing health and lack of housing.

Where customs changed as technology developed….

Electricity, telephones, motor vehicles and moving pictures that heralded modern times….

 

And what of the future?

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Above: The Shard, London

How can the city reduce its carbon footprint?

Where will the jobs of the future come from?

Should London build higher skyscrapers or deeper Tube lines?

 

The Museum of London could be a great place.

But the Museum suffers from an overabundance of overabundance.

Too many artifacts, too many stories, too many visitors, too much of too much.

The screaming children, the harried parents, a warehouse of the walking weary….

A Museum with a too well-worn welcome mat….

A Museum that one regrets visiting, because one cannot linger undisturbed to absorb all that one sees, because the mass and mob make tranquil contemplation and progressive study of all that can be seen damned difficult and downright discouraging.

And it was this Museum, this overabundance of overabundance, this overwhelming overgrowth, that made me see the Museum as the actual model of what London means to me.

Too much and too many.

I could never live in London, though visiting it from time to time is a pleasant idea.

London is too crowded, too complex and complicated for a wee lad such as I am who came from a wee village and lives in another wee village today.

London is too expensive and expansive.

It is as unnerving as the Museum that exhibits it.

The Museum tries to be everything to everyone but it is everyone that diminished everything the Museum has tried to accomplish.

I don´t belong in London.

Take me home, rural routes, to the place where I do belong.

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Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / The Museum of London

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

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I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.

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And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

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On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.

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It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

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Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

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Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

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Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.

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Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.

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Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.

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Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

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Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

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Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

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Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

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She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

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The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

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Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum / http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk

 

Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 December 2017

This week I returned back to work after being absent at home for the past two weeks.

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It was a warm welcome with hugs and expressions of delight.

So much so that one witnessing customer commented:

“I want to work here!” 

Back home after work:

First World problems.

Ah, the problem of having too many choices!

I don´t own (and happily don´t owe) much in this world.

What I possess is an (over)abundance of books and DVDs for a man of my modest income.

If I had to estimate I would say that I probably have at least 1,000 or more DVDs.

Of these I would safely say that there are only about a dozen films that I find myself watching again and again.

For example, I recently watched for the nth time the 1974 Billy Wilder film The Front Page starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau.

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Director Wilder, a newspaperman in his younger days recalled:

“A reporter was a glamourous fellow in those days, the way he wore a hat and a raincoat and a swagger, and had a camaderie with fellow reporters and with local police, always hot on the trail of tips from them and from the fringes of the underworld.”

Wilder set the movie in 1929, because the daily newspaper was no longer the dominant news medium in 1974.

(Even less so in 2017….)

The movie has reminded me of the old idea that there are basically only two types of people: those who make the News and those who follow the News.

Those who are remembered by history are those who have made history, who have made the News.

And if there is one place where a person´s legacy seems to matter is within the confines of a famous cathedral.

The decision to create a mausoleum or memorial for a person is determined by what the person accomplished in their life.

Especially for the Christian West it seems the bigger the mausoleum, the grander the grave, the more remarkable the memorial, the more attention and recognition is paid (or should be paid) to the legacy a person left behind.

The downside of this thinking is the presumption that those without a mausoleum, those lacking a memorial, those without a grave, must then be undeserving of respect, unworthy of memory, unloved and forgettable.

First World thinking and materialist obsessiveness carry on even beyond one´s life and onwards in the legacy of those who no longer live.

This kind of thinking was quite evident in our visit to London in October….

 

London, England, 24 October 2017

The Houses of Parliament overshadow a much older neighbour, Westminster Abbey.

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Westminster Abbey has stood in London longer than any other building and embodies much of the history of England.

It was so named to differentiate it from the “east minster“, St. Paul´s Cathedral.

It is the finest Gothic building in London, the most important religious building in England, with the highest nave of any English church.

Over the centuries Westminster Abbey has meant many things to many people.

The Abbey has been the venue for every Coronation since the time of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087)

It has been the site of every royal burial for some 500 years between the reigns of Henry III (1207 – 1272) and George II (1683 – 1760).

Scores of the nation´s most famous citizens are honoured here and the interior of the Abbey is cluttered with hundreds of monuments, reliefs and statues.

With over 3,300 people buried beneath the Abbey´s flagstones and countless others commemorated here, Westminster is, in essence, a massive mausoleum, more tourist attraction than house of God.

Would a modern day Jesus´ visit to this temple result in His repeating:

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, Washington version, by El Greco

Above: Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (El Greco)

“Make not My Father´s house a house of merchandise.” ?

Would the Black Adder of the first BBC series wherein his father makes him the Archbishop of Canterbury (Episode 3)(transplanted to today) gleefully rub his hands together at all the modern wealth to be generated by the faithful and the curious?

"Prince Edmund, Baldrick and Lord Percy in purplse clerical cassocks"

Above: Tony Robinson / Baldrick (left), Tim McInnery / Lord Percy Percy (middle), and Rowan Atkinson / The Black Adder / Prince Edmund / The Archbishop of Canterbury

“Holy Moses! Take a look!

Flesh decayed in every nook!

Some rare bits of brain lie here,

Mortal loads of beef and beer.”

(Amanda McKittrick Ros, “Visiting Westminster Abbey”)

No one knows exactly when the first church was built on this site, but it was well over a thousand years ago.

At its genesis, this area was a swampy and inhospitable place on the outskirts of London.

The church stood on an island called Thorney Island, surrounded by tributaries of the River Thames.

In 960, Dunstan, the Bishop of London, brought 12 Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster.

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Above: Dunstan (909 – 988)

One hundred years later King Edward the Confessor founded his church on the site.

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Above: Edward the Confessor of England (1003 – 1066), King (1042 – 1066)

Edward was driven from England by the Danes.

During his exile in Normandy, Edward vowed that if his kingdom was restored to him, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome.

When Edward did eventually reclaim his throne in 1042, there was so much unrest in the kingdom that he was advised not to make the perilous journey in case a coup occurred while he was away.

The Pope absolved Edward of his vow on condition that he raise or restore a church in honour of St. Peter.

Edward´s Abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065, but the King was too ill to attend.

He died a few days later and was buried before the high altar.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Edward´s body being carried into the Abbey for burial.

After Edward´s death his reputation as a holy man grew.

Miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb.

In 1161, Edward was made a saint.

King Henry III held the Confessor in such reverance that he resolved to build a new shrine for Edward in a yet more glorious church.

Manuscript picture of Henry III's coronation

Above: Henry III of England (1207 – 1272), King (1216 – 1272)

The new church was consecrated on 13 October 1269.

In 1539, England´s monastries faced a crisis.

Henry VIII had fallen out with the Pope because the Pope refused to annul the King´s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

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Above: Henry VIII of England (1491 – 1547), King (1509 – 1547)

Henry declared himself supreme head of the Church of England.

In 1540, Henry dissolved the monasteries and seized their assets.

Westminster Abbey fared better than most religious houses, because of its royal connections, so instead of being stripped and aband0ned it was refounded as a cathedral, with a Bishop and a Dean.

In 1553 Queen Mary succeeded Henry´s son, Edward VI, and Roman Catholicism became once more the approved religion.

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Above: Mary I of England (1516 – 1558), Queen (1553 – 1558)

Mary made the Abbey a monastery again and the monks returned.

Her successor, Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne just five years later, in 1558, reversed Mary´s changes and refounded the Abbey yet again, this time with a Dean and a Chapter.

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Above: Elizabeth I of England (1533 – 1603), Queen (1553 – 1603)

The Dean was answerable to no one but herself as sovereign, and it is in this form, not subject to the jurisdiction of a Bishop, as are most churches, but as a special church under the Queen – an institution known as a Royal Peculiar.

During the English Civil War, which culminated in the execution of Charles I and the establishment in 1649 of Oliver Cromwell´s Commonwealth, the Abbey was damaged when Puritans smashed altars, destroyed religious images and the organ, and seized the crown jewels.

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), Lord Protector (1553 – 1558)

The Puritans were keen to rid the Abbey of all symbols of religious “superstition”.

Although the Abbey escaped wanton destruction better than many churches, it still bears the scars to this day.

The Abbey faced new peril during the Second World War.

Westminster miraculously survived, although bombs destroyed parts of it.

Walk with me through the Abbey.

Edward the Confessor´s church was the first in England to be built in the form of a cross, with the North and South Transepts forming its arms.

Most visitors, as did my wife and I, enter the Abbey via the North Transept.

The first impression one gets is of the soaring height of the vaulting.

At 102 feet, it is the highest in Britain.

The rose window above the entrance dates from 1722 and depicts the Apostles, excluding Judas Iscariot.

The rose window in the opposite transept depicts a variety of religious and other figures.

The North Transept is also known as the Statesmen´s Aisle, because it is littered with overblown monuments to long-forgotten empire builders and 19th century politicians, including Prime Ministers Viscount Palmerston (1784 – 1865), Robert Peel (1788 – 1850), Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) and William Gladstone (1809 – 1898) who are buried nearby.

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Above: William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), UK Prime Minister (1868 – 1874 / 1880 – 1885 / 1886 / 1892 – 1894

Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder (1708 – 1778) is featured in a 30-foot memorial, buried alongside his son Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), who became Prime Minister at the age of  just 24 and whose monument is over the Abbey´s west door.

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Above: William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), Prime Minister (1783 – 1806)

The North Transept leads down to the crossing – the centre of the church.

To the west is the Quire – an intimate space forming essentially a church within a church.

This was where the monks worshipped and this is where the Choir sits for the eight regular Choral Services (Matins, Holy Communion (4x), Eucharist, Evensong and Evening Service) each week.

The Choir consists of 12 men, known as Lay Vicars, and 24 boys, who come from the Abbey´s own choir School, now the only school in England exclusively for the education of choristers.

In the Middle Ages the Quire was the scene of a horrible murder.

In those days criminals could seek sanctuary in the Abbey.

Once they were within the walls, the law could not reach them.

But in 1378 fifty of the King´s men, ignoring the right of sanctuary, chased a prisoner into the Quire.

One of the soldiers “clove his head to the very brains” and also killed a monk who tried to rescue the poor man.

From the Statesmen´s Aisle, go straight to the central Sanctuary, site of the royal coronations.

Look down at the floor.

This precious work of art is the 13th century (1268) Italian floor mosaic known as the Cosmati Pavement, which consists of about 80,000 pieces of red and green porphyry, glass and onyx set into marble.

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The swirling patterns of the universe were designed to encourage the monks in their contemplation.

Look for the inscription in brass letters, which foretells when the universe will end – 19,683 years after the Creation.

On the north side of the Sanctuary is an important group of medieval tombs.

Nearest the steps is the tomb of Countess Aveline of Lancaster.

In 1269, aged just 12, she was married to Edmund Crouchback, the youngest son of Henry III, in the Abbey´s first royal wedding.

Above: Royal seal of Edmund Crouchback (1245 – 1296)

Aveline lived only five more years and died in 1274.

Nearest the altar screen is the tomb of her husband, who outlived his child bride by 22 years, dying in 1296.

Between husband and wife is the tomb of Edmund´s cousin Earl Aymer de Valence of Pembroke, who died in 1324.

These three tombs were originally beautifully coloured and decorated, so that in the candlelight they shimmered with an extraordinary luminescence now lost in time.

The elaborate gilded screen behind the High Altar once protected Henry III´s original altarpiece (“retable”), dating from 1270, the oldest oil painting in Britain and now on display in the Abbey Museum.

The Feeding of the 5000 is an exceptionally important work, and though the centuries have not treated it kindly, what remains gives a tantalising insight into what it must once have been like.

Behind the Altar is St. Edward the Confessor´s Chapel, the spiritual heart of the Abbey.

It was here in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI, making the first ever visit of a Pope to the Abbey, prayed alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Above: Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), Pope Benedict XVI (2005 – 2013)

Around the shrine in the centre, which contains Edward´s body, lie five kings and four queens.

Here is the double tomb of King Richard II (1367 – 1399) and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia (1366 – 1394).

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Above: Richard II of England (1367 – 1399), King (1377 – 1399)

They were married in the Abbey in 1382.

Richard´s body was not allowed to rest in peace.

In the 18th century someone drilled a hole on the side of his tomb through which visitors could put their hand.

A number of bones went missing, including Richard´s jawbone which was only restored to the corpse in 1906.

Here are also buried King Edward III (1312 – 1377) and his wife Philippa (1310 – 1369).

Above: Effigy of Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), King (1327 – 1377)

The Confessor´s devotee King Henry III has his tomb here as well – beautifully decorated, cast in bronze and gilt.

Photograph of Henry's tomb

Here lie the remains of Queen Eleanor of Castille (1241 – 1290), first wife of Edward I.

Above: Statue of Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290), Queen (1272 – 1290)

And here lies Edward I (1239 – 1307), at 6 feet 2 inches, very tall for those days, hence his nickname Edward Longshanks.

A man in half figure with short, curly hair and a hint of beard is facing left. He wears a coronet and holds a sceptre in his right hand. He has a blue robe over a red tunic, and his hands are covered by white, embroidered gloves. His left hand seems to be pointing left, to something outside the picture.

Above: Edward I of England (1239 – 1307), King (1272 – 1307)

And seek here the tomb of Henry V (1387 – 1422) beside that of his wife Catherine de Valois (1401 – 1437).

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Above: Wedding of Henry V and Catherine de Valois

Her coffin and corpse were in full public view for centuries.

Henry V was considered one of England´s greatest monarchs, a fine military commander and an outstanding statesman.

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Above: Henry V of England (1386 – 1422), King (1413 – 1422)

(His archers beat the French at Agincourt.)

The English were devastated when he died suddenly in 1422, aged only 35.

He was buried in the Abbey on 7 November, “with such solemn ceremony, such mourning of Lords, such prayer of priests, such lamentation of the common people as never was before that day seen in the realm of England.”

The diarist Samuel Pepys, on a visit to the Abbey in 1669, kissed Catherine´s leathery lips, wrote:

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Above: Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

“This was my birthday, 36 years old and I did first kiss a queen.”

Henry and Catherine are now protected by an iron grille.

The chairs and footstools in front were given in 1949 by the people of Canada for royal use.

To the south of the Altar are the medieval seats (“sedilia”) for the priests.

Above their heads are the paintings of Henry III and Edward I.

To the west of the sedilia is the flat-topped tomb of Anne of Cleves, the 4th wife of Henry VIII.

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Above: Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Queen (1540)

There are more than 600 tombs and monuments in the Abbey, some of them quite massive.

Many people commemorated here are remembered because of their distinguished careers, but quite a few owe their presence in the Abbey more to their wealth or social status.

Today distinguished figures are still commemorated in the Abbey, but our tributes today are rather muted compared with the flamboyance of previous centuries.

The huge monument in the North Ambulatory to General James Wolfe (1727 – 1759) reflects the 18th and 19th centuries´ glorification of military figures, especially when they have died at the moment of victory.

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Above: James Wolfe (1727 – 1759)

Wolfe was killed, aged 32, while fighting on the Plains of Abraham, Québec City, in order to capture Canada from the French.

His opponent, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, being French who also died on the Plains, is given no mention.

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Above: Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712 – 1759)

Some of the best funereal art is tucked away in St. Michael´s Chapel, east of the Statesmen´s Aisle.

Admire the remarkable monument to Francis Vere (1560 – 1609), one of the greatest soldiers of the Elizabethan period, made out of two slabs of black marble, between which lies Sir Francis.

On the upper slab, supported by four knights, Francis´ armor is laid out, to show that he died away from the field of battle.

Near this a most striking grave, in which Elizabeth Nightingale, who died from a miscarriage, collapses in her husband Joseph´s arms while he tries to fight off the spear aimed at her by the skeletal figure of Death, who is climbing out of the tomb.

Lady Elizabeth & Joseph Nightingale

Above: Tomb of Joseph (1695 – 1752) and Elizabeth Nightingale (1704 – 1731)

In the North Ambulatory, two more chapels contain ostentatious Tudor and Stuart tombs.

One of the most extravagant tombs is that of Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I, which not only dominates the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, it is, at 36 feet in height, the tallest tombs in the entire Abbey.

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Above: Henry Carey, Lord Dunsdon (1526 – 1596)

From the second chapel, the Chapel of St. Paul, climb the stairs and enter the Lady Chapel (or Henry VII´s Chapel), the most dazzling part of the Abbey.

Begun by Henry VII in 1503 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Lady Chapel is beautiful, light, intricately carved vaulting, fan.shaped gilded Pendants and the statues of nearly one hundred Saints, high above the choir stalls decorated with banners and emblems.

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Above: Henry VII of England (1457 – 1509), King (1485 – 1509)

George II, the last King to be buried in the Abbey, lies under your feet, along with his Queen Caroline – their coffins fitted with removable sides so that their remains can mingle.

George sitting on a throne

Above: George II of England (1683 – 1760), King (1727 – 1760)

(Certainly a different idea of necrophilia…)

Beneath the altar is the grave of Edward IV, the single sickly son of Henry VIII.

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Above: Edward IV of England (1442 – 1483), King (1461 – 1470 / 1471 – 1483)

Behind the Chapel´s centrepiece, the black marble sacrophagus of Henry VII and his spouse – their lifelike gilded effigies are perfectly obscured an ornate grille, designed by an artist more famous for fleeing Italy after breaking Michelangelo´s nose than for his own art: Pietro Torrigiano.

Above: Bust of Henry VII by Pietro Torrignano (1472 – 1528)

His funeral on 11 May 1509 was lavish:

“All the heralds cast their coats of armor off and hung them upon the rails of the hearse, crying lamentably in French – ´Le noble roi Henri le septieme est mort.´ – and as soon as they had done so, every herald put on his armor again and cried with a loud voice – ´Vive le roi Henri le huiteme.´”

Here one finds James I as well as James´ lover Duke George Villiers of Buckingham, the first non-royal to be buried in the Abbey.

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Above: George Villiers (1592 – 1628)

Villiers was killed by one of his own disgruntled soldiers.

To the east the Royal Air Force Chapel: stained glass with airmen and angels in the Battle of Britain.

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In the floor, a plaque marks the spot where Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell rested….

Briefly.

Until the Restoration, whereupon his mummified body was unearthed, dragged through the streets, hanged and beheaded.

To the north four maidens hold up a vast bronze canopy and weep for another of James I´s “favourites”, Ludovic Stuart.

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Above: Ludovic Stuart (1574 – 1624)

Before descending the steps back into the Ambulatory, pop into the Chapel´s north aisle.

Here siblings and hated rivals in life now lie side by side reconciled in death, Elizabeth I and her Catholic half-sister “Bloody” Mary.

“All those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions laid down their lives for Christ and conscience´s sake.”

At the far end is Innocents´ Corner.

Here James I´s infant daughters lie: Princess Sophia who died aged 3 days (1607) and Princess Mary who died the same year aged 2 (1605 – 1607)

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Set in the wall between the sisters is the urn containing the bones of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and his younger brother Richard.

Above: Richard (1473 – 1483) and Edward V of England (1470 – 1483)

As you leave the Lady Chapel, look for the Coronation Chair, a decrepit oak graffiti-covered throne which has been used in every coronation since 1308.

It was custom-built to incorporate the Stone of Scone (the Stone of Destiny), a great slab of redstone which acted as the Scottish coronation stone for centuries before Edward I stole it in 1296.

A replica of the Stone of Scone

William the Conqueror was crowned here on 25 December 1066.

Above: Coin of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087), King (1066 – 1087)

It did not go well.

“When Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutences asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their King, all of them gladly shouted out with one voice, if not in one language, that they would.

The armed guard (William´s Norman troops), hearing the tumult of the joyful crowd in the church and the harsh accents of a foreign tongue, imagined that some treachery was afoot and foolishly set fire to some of the buildings.

The fire spread rapidly from house to house.

The crowd that had been rejoicing in the church took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition rushed out of the church in haste.

Only the Bishops and a few clergy and Monks remained, terrified, in the Sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the King, who was trembling from head to foot.”

On 25 February 1308 Edward II´s ceremony was dominated by his boyfriend Piers Gaveston (1284 – 1312).

Above: Edward II and Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone (1872)

“Seeking his own glory rather than the King´s”, Gaveston wore an outfit of royal purple, trimmed with pearls.

Nor should he have walked in front of the King in the procession, nor carried Edward´s crown.

The barons were so annoyed at Galveston´s presumption that there was talk of killing him on the spot.

Both Edward and Piers would be assassinated later.

Henry VIII was only 17 at his coronation on 24 June 1509.

He walked to the Abbey from Westminster Palace along a carpet of royal blue.

The crowd was so enthusiastic that they fell on the carpet and cut it up for souvenirs.

Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII´s six wives, was crowned Queen on 1 June 1533.

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Above: Anne Boleyn (1501 – 1536)

The ceremony lasted 8 hours and at one point Archbishop Cranmer required Anne to lie on her face in front of the altar – not easy, when she was six months pregnant.

William III´s coronation in 1689 was spoiled by having his money pickpocketed.

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Above: William III of England (1650 – 1702), King (1689 – 1702)

To the south is the Abbey´s most popular spot: The Poets´ Corner.

Above: Poets´ Corner with Shakespeare Memorial in the centre

The first occupant, Geoffrey Chaucer, was buried here in 1400.

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Above: Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400)

When Edmund Spenser chose to be buried close to Chaucer in 1599, his fellow poets – Shakespeare among them – threw their own works and quills into the grave.

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Above: Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599)

More than 100 poets, dramatists and prose writers are buried or commemorated here, as well as the composer George Frederick Handel.

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Above: George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759)

(Handel´s funeral on 20 April 1759 was supposed to be private.

3,000 people turned up.)

“Upon the Poets´ Corner in Westminster Abbey

Hail, sacred relics of the tuneful train!

Here ever honoured, ever loved remain.

No other dust of the once great or wise,

As each beneath the hallowed pavement lies,

To this old dome a juster reverence brings….”

Who decides who is to be immortalized in Poets´ Corner?

The Dean of Westminster consults his colleagues in the Chapter and in the literary world, before reaching a decision which, by law, is his alone to make.

It is rare for a recently deceased poet to be memorialized.

The longest period between a poet´s death and memorialization is 1,3oo years: Caedmon (657 – 680), regarded as the first English language poet.

Above: Caedmon Memorial, St. Mary´s Churchyard, Whitby

The Corner has become a Valhalla for poets and a place of pilgrimage for lovers of literature.

The Poets´ Corner´s most famous memorial is that to William Shakespeare, erected 124 years after his death.

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Above: William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

His body remains in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, with the inscription:

“Good friend, for Jesus´ sake, forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here!

Blest be the man that spares these stones

And curst be he that moves my bones.”

Why tempt fate?

The Abbey recalls actors: David Garrick, Henry Irving, William Walton, Laurence Olivier, William Walton and Peggy Ashcroft.

Here one finds a controversy:

Ben Jonson was an arrogant man who did not suffer fools and frequently quarrelled with his fellow dramatists.

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Above: Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637)

He lived apart from his wife, whom he described as “a shrew, yet honest.”

One of his plays caused grave offence by its lewdness and he was imprisoned.

He later killed a man in a duel and narrowly escaped the gallows.

As Jonson grew older he became fat and alcoholic.

He was too poor for a proper grave and said that a two-foot square would be enough for him.

And that´s what he got, as he was buried standing up.

His bones and coffin have been exposed three times since his burial.

His skull is missing.

Christopher Marlowe was memorialized 409 years after his death because it was felt the Poets´ Corner was already overcrowded.

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Above: Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593)

Tennyson called Marlowe the morning star which heralded Shakespeare´s dazzling sun.

Another description called him “intemperate and of a cruel heart.”

In 1593, at a Deptford tavern in South London, aged 29, Marlowe was fatally stabbed above his right eye, over a bill for supper.

John Milton had to wait more than 60 years before being memorialized.

Above: Bust of John Milton (1608 – 1674), Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

Milton, famous for his Paradise Lost, could have used the title for his autobiography.

In 1642 he married.

She left him after a few weeks.

In 1648 he began to go blind.

By 1652 he had lost his sight completely, as well as his wife and his only son.

In 1656 Milton married again but she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter.

He was passionate about what he hated.

Anti-Catholic, he called for bishops to be executed and prophesied that they would spend eternity in hell.

Milton attacked the greed of the clergy, rallied against censorship and wrote passionately against the monarchy.

On the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton went into hiding, his arrest was ordered and his books burned.

He was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was later pardoned and released.

Charles II greatly admired Samuel Butler.

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Above: Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680)

The King enjoyed Butler´s Hudibras so much that he never ate, drank, slept or went to church without having Hudibras beside him.

Despite the King´s adoration, Butler died penniless.

“While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive

No generous patron would a dinner give!

See him, when starved to death and turned to dust

Presented with a monumental bust!

The poet´s fate is here in emblem shown

He asked for bread and he received a stone!”

Here one finds an impressive memorial to Matthew Prior, famous for sayings like:

Above: Matthew Prior (1664 – 1721)

“It takes two to quarrel, but only one to end it.”

“The ends must justify the means.”

“They never taste who always drink.

They always talk who never think.”

John Gay was said to be….

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Above: John Gay (1685 – 1732)

“In wit, a man; simplicity, a child.”

On Gay´s monument, Alexander Pope wrote a long epitaph, but Gay had the last laugh for two lines are Gay´s not Pope´s:

“Life is a jest, and all things show it.

I thought so once, and now I know it.”

Poets´ Corner is a Who´s Who of the English dead: Longfellow, Wilde, T.S. Elliot, Lewis Carroll, Trollope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Austen, Keats, Shelley, Burns, the Bronte sisters, Thackeray, Gray, Goldsmith, Blake, Scott, Dickens, Lear, Browning, Brooke, Dylan Thomas, Auden….

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

(Charles Dickens was buried secretly on 14 June 1870 to avoid crowds, but so many wanted to pay their respects that the grave had to be left open for a time so the public could see him.)

Just to name a few….

Before you enter the Cloisters, check out the South Choir Aisle.

See the tomb of Thomas Thynne that shows how three thugs did him in.

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Above: Tomb of Thomas Thynne (1610 – 1669)

Or consider the ironic fate of Admiral Shovell, who survived a shipwreck, was washed up alive on a beach in the Scilly Isles, only to be killed by a fisherwoman who wanted his emerald ring.

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Above: Cloudesley Shovell (1650 – 1707)

Or that of the court portrait painter Godfrey Kneller who declared:

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Above: Geofrey Kneller (1646 – 1723)

By God, I will not be buried in Westminster – they do bury fools here.”

Kneller is the only artist to be commemorated in the Abbey.

Enter the Cloisters where Parliament once met, beneath the southern wall where the Whore of Babylon rides the scarlet seven-headed beast from the Book of Revelations.

See the Pyx Chamber which acted like a medieval high security safety deposit box.

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Robbers broke in on 24 April 1303 and stole jewels and riches.

Some of them were hanged the following March.

The ringleader of the Pyx robbery was whipped and nailed to the door of the Pyx Chamber as a warning to others.

500 years later pieces of human skin could still be found in the door hinges.

Before you leave the Cloisters enter the Nave itself.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior with his garland of red poppies recalls the million British soldiers who died in World War One, with an equivalent number of women dying unmarried because there were no husbands for them.

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A tablet in the floor near the Tomb marks the spot where George Peabody, the 19th century philantropist whose housing estates in London still provide homes for those in need, was buried for a month before being exhumed and removed to Massachusetts.

Above: George Peabody (1795 – 1869)

Peabody remains the only American to have been buried in Westminster.

Above the Nave´s west door, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger at just 25 teaches Anarchy while History takes notes.

With all I have described it certainly is no wonder why Westminster Abbey is so popular with tourists.

So much to see, so much to learn and yet Westminster left me with a sense of disappointment.

Not so much with the Abbey itself as much as what the Abbey represents.

Death has become a spectacle and a source of profit.

Does a life have no value if it is not commemorated grandly after death?

Does this mean that the Hindus value life less by burning the bodies of their dead?

And what of the poor who lie in anonymous mass graves unmarked and forgotten?

What of the millions who have died in war or in prison or by dread disease?

Did all these lives have no value because there are no markers to show where their bones are piled?

Does a life have no value if it is not historically significant?

Did all these lives lose their value once their bodies turned to ashes and dust?

I believe that the value of life is in the living, in the apppreciation of the moment, in the appreciation of the Now.

I believe that as long as my life is without extreme pain – physical or psychological – and I am not causing pain to others, then my life has value, at least to myself and hopefully beyond myself.

I don´t require assurance that my remains be assigned some grand memorial in some magnificent cathedral.

I don´t require a cemetery plot or even a funeral.

(Though a drinking party where folks dance with joy celebrating that they continue to live on without me would please me greatly.)

I don´t require a dim unprovable hope that some form of existence awaits me after death.

Am I suggesting that the visitor avoid Westminster Abbey?

No.

It is truly a magnificent structure and is peculiar in its own ways.

But I would be more satisfied with plaques that spoke to me of who a deceased person was, both as a person and someone who accomplished great things.

Epitaphs sound grandiose when read aloud but they speak little about what a person was like when they were alive.

Byron´s monument:  “But there is that within me whuch shall tire torture and time and breathe when I expire.”

But who was Byron?

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Above: Lord George Byron (1788 – 1824)

T. S. Eliot: “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”

Fine words, but what of the poet who wrote them?

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Trollope: “Now I stretch out my hand and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words I have written.”

Wouldn´t it be more respectful to read the actual words Trollope wrote then to just simply view his gravesite?

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Above: Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1965)

D. H. Lawrence is labelled as “Home sum! The adventurer…” and G. M. Hopkins as “priest and poet, immortal diamond”.

But these words say nothing of who these genetlemen were.

The honour is in appreciating them for what they wrote and the life captured within their words.

Otherwise despite the fine artistry of the graves of Westminster, without an appreciation of who the dead were, what lies beneath slabs of stone is nothing but dust and ashes and the merest whisper of existence.

It would be better to show those that we love that they are loved, rather than mourn their passage which our dead cannot appreciate.

Westminster shows me that death is the great equalizer of us all, no matter how one wishes to decorate the tombs of kings and queens or poets and generals.

If while I live, others are happy that I do so….

“Wouldn´t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

And they´re always glad you came.

You want to go where you know troubles are all the same.

You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

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With a place like this, where everybody knows my name while I am still alive, I don´t need to be buried in some great cathedral.

A great grave doesn´t make a life great.

Great love does.                                                 

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Oliver Tearle, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape / http://www.westminster-abbey.org

Canada Slim and the Queen´s Horsemen

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 December 2017

There are moments in life – and isn´t travel truly a microcosm of life? – when a person realizes that his internal indecisiveness on certain issues will always remain.

“Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself. 

I am large. 

I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”, Leaves of Grass

A black-on-white engraving of Whitman standing with his arm at his side

Above: Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

I find myself particularly contradictory when I visit places that remain ruled as monarchies, duchies or principalities.

Do people actually need a monarchy?

To maintain the life and lifestyle of someone such as Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and the British Commonwealth is horrendously expensive.

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Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (born 1926, reigning since 1952)

For example, a seven-day visit to Canada by Her Majesty will cost both British and Canadian taxpayers undisclosed millions of British pounds and Canadian dollars to ensure that Her Person is protected, that strict protocols are followed and that She will appear regal and majestic wherever She goes.

Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre

To the average Joe like me, all that is seen seems to be naught but pomp and ceremony, and if hard pressed to define exactly what it is a monarch, especially one in a constitutional democracy, actually does with his/her working day I would be at a loss to explain it.

As Head of State, we are told that Her Majesty is meant to be the last bastion of sober second thought before a bill can be approved as law.

As Head of State, the Queen´s very presence commands reverance and respect as it is presumed that She has spent Her entire life preparing Herself for Her role, while Prime Ministers generally only learn how to do their jobs once they have acquired them.

As an English Canadian I have often defended the Queen as a sign of tradition, if for no other reason than to annoy French Canadians who lean more towards France´s republican system of government simply because they are French.

Flag of Quebec

I dare say that Her Majesty may brave a cold Ottawa winter´s day, but She would be most foolish to attempt a warm summer´s night in Chicoutimi, Québec!

If the mosquitoes didn´t get Her, the mobs of disgruntled Francophones would!

In my lifetime, Her Majesty has visited Canada at least ten times.

Since 2000, members of the Royal Family other than Her Majesty have visited Canada at least 50 times.

Somehow I never seem to get an invitation to these events.

And the only correspondence I might expect from the House of Windsor might be a card of congratulations for reaching my 100th birthday if I am resident in a Commonwealth country at the time.

Member states of the Commonwealth

Above: Member states of the British Commonwealth (green)

My wife, my own personal Queen, She Who Must Be Obeyed, remains extremely unsupportive as to my chances.

I have resigned myself to never meeting Her Majesty for I lack, and – short of events I cannot foresee – will continue to lack, both fame and power meriting time with Her Majesty.

I am a commoner.

My eating habits find wild animals gathering to watch the spectacle.

My clothing choices would hurt the eyes of the blind.

My education enables me to tie my shoes without consulting a manual.

My salary and bank account are envied only by the homeless.

My voice would stop traffic and I have a face perfect for radio.

Still I am sure that the invitations simply got lost in the mail.

Yet there´s a part of me that would be absolutely thrilled if I ever did have a chance to spend time with royalty, for though I know rationally that their consumption of Ricola cough drops would cause them to fart as they cause me to do, and that they are mortals such as I am, they exist in a stratosphere far elevated and far removed from my own.

Sometimes I think that Americans are so obsessed with their movie and music stars to the degree that they are, because in their heart of hearts there remains a regret that the Revolution cost them the right to have regents.

Flag of the United States

Say what you will about this collection of interbreeding overprivileged misfits, the Royal Family captures our hearts and imagination simply because they are the Royal Family.

Yet the socialist within, the wee anarchist beneath, wonders how truly deserving they are of such attention and admiration.

This conflict, this whirling dervish of devilish contradiction, was quite strong during our London visit….

London, England, 24 October 2017

To visit London is to be bombarded and blitzed by reminders royal.

From the National Portrait Gallery – a sort of two dimensional, high browed Madame Tussaud´s – with propaganda pictures of kings and Queens since Tudor and Stuart times, to the parade of palaces that seem to be found everywhere one goes, London is a royal place.

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Palaces, though I will visit them out of obligation to seeing them where I happen to be, generally leave me cold, for I simply cannot imagine living in such decadent luxury while there exists so many others less fortunate.

I did not visit Buckingham Palace.

Above: Buckingham Palace

I did not join the throngs of tourists watching one of the two Changing of the Guard ceremonies outside this Palace.

To be fair, I had seen the Changing of the Guard both in Quebec City´s Citadel and on Ottawa´s Parliament Hill, so I honestly don´t expect there to be any significant differences between these and London´s.

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

Above: Centennial Flame / Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Avoiding things royal in London actually takes a concerted effort.

We started the day with good intentions.

We began our tourist day, after breakfast at our Paddington B & B and the Tube to Charing Cross, by walking from Trafalgar Square to St. James´s Park and the Churchill War Rooms (which I highly recommend).

(For more on the Churchill War Rooms, please see Canada Slim and the Right Man of this blog.)

Trafalgar Square is London´s finest architectural set piece and one of the easiest parts of London to reach most of London´s major sights within a half-mile of each other.

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Above: Trafalgar Square

So, yes, this is a well-trodden tourist centre.

As one of the few large public squares in London, Trafalgar Square has not only been a tourist attraction but as well it has often been the focus for political demonstrations for over a century and a half.

The Square has seen Bloody Sunday (13 November 1887) when hundreds of demonstrators were injured, and three killed, by police.

It has seen anti-apartheid demonstrations and Poll Tax riots, but on this day the only mob is that of tourists seeking to see Nelson´s Column, which commemorates the one-armed, one-eyed Admiral who defeated the French at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 but paid for it with his life.

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Above: Battle of Trafalgar

Even though his sandstone statue atop the Column is three times lifesize, it appears miniscule when compared to the massive height (151 feet) of the Column itself.

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Above: Nelson´s Column, Trafalgar Square

Above: Nelson´s statue atop his Column

Everyone knows the four bronze lions that guard the base of Nelson´s Column, but few people realise that the lions appeared 25 years after the Column was built.

The Column itself was completed in 1843 and William Railton´s design included four lions to set it off, but a lack of funds and arguments over the choice of sculptor delayed the project.

The Board of Works in charge of the whole monument finally chose Sir Edwin Landseer – a controversial choice.

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Above: Sir Edwin Landseer (1802 – 1873)

Even though Landseer was Queen Victoria´s favourite painter with an unrivalled reputation for painting animals, he had never sculpted anything.

The project was further delayed by Landseer´s health problems so that four years after accepting the commission he was still drafting sketches.

He asked to be supplied with copies of casts of a real lion made by the Art Academy in Turin.

He spent hours studying lions in the London Zoo.

Finally he asked the Zoo for a dead lion as a studio model, but had to wait two years for one to die.

Unfortunately the lion started to rot before Landseer could finish the work, so he had to improvise, using a domestic cat as a model for the paws and a dog for the tongue.

These hybrid lions were finally installed in 1868.

On the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square is Britain´s smallest police station, unseen by the hordes of tourists posing before Nelson´s Column, a one-man sentry box fashioned from a hollowed-out granite lamp post.

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The secret police box was installed by Scotland Yard in 1926 so that the cops could keep an eye on the demonstrators and agitators who routinely gathered in the Square.

With narrow slits for windows and claustrophobic proportions, this human CCTV camera was equipped with a telephone with a direct line to Canon Row Police Station in case things got out of hand.

Originally installed in 1826, the ornamental light on the top would flash whenever the police officer trapped inside picked up the telephone, alerting his fellow officers in the vicinity to come to his rescue.

Today, the lookout post is used to store street cleaning equipment.

The only clue that links this post to the police is a faded list of bylaws hanging outside.

For the record, offences in Trafalgar Square included feeding the birds, camping, parking a caravan, public speaking, playing music, washing or drying clothes, exercising, bathing, boating or canoeing in the fountains, flying a kite or using any foot-propelled device – unless you have written permission from the Mayor.

(The devil in me would love that challenge!)

(As previously mentioned Trafalgar Square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar when 33 English ships defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet of 41 ships.)

We followed The Mall – London´s nearest equivalent to a Parisian boulevard – through the Admirality Arch….

(The Admirality Arch, once the official residence of the First Sea Lord overseeing all maritime operations, then an extension building of the Cabinet Office (2000 – 2002), and finally Prime Minister Tony Blair´s Strategy Unit (2002 – 2010), is now a property of real estate developer Rafael Serrano who is presently converting the building into a luxury Hotel slated to open in 2020.

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The Arch has often been used for ceremonial affairs such as royal weddings and coronations, state funerals and Olympic Games processions.)

….to the Victoria Memorial – King Edward VII´s 2,300 ton marble tribute to his Mama, at 25 metres/82 feet the tallest monument to a monarch in England….

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Above: The Victoria Memorial, London

…..to St. James´s Park.

The 23 hectare / 57 acre St. James´s Park is the oldest of London´s parks, having been puchased by Henry VIII in 1532, and drained and turned into a deer park by James I in 1603.

Above: St. James´ Park Lake, looking toward Buckingham Palace

It was redesigned and opened to the public by Charles II, who used to stroll through the grounds with his mistresses and courtiers, feed the ducks and even take a dip in the canal.

By the 18th century, when some 6,500 people had access to night keys for the gates, the Park had become a byword for robbery and prostitution.

Diarist James Boswell was among those who went there specifically to be solicited “by several ladies of the town”.

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Above: James Boswell (1740 – 1795)

From the diary of James Boswell:

25 March 1763: 

As I was coming home this night, I felt carnal inclinations raging through my Frame.  I determined to gratify them.  I went to St. James´s Park and like a brute I picked up a whore.  For the first time did I engage in Amour which I found but a dull satisfaction.  She who submitted to my lusty embraces was a young Shropshire girl, very good-looking.

The Park was a busy place in the 18th century.

Travelling condom salesmen did a roaring trade.

The condoms were made of animal gut, intended to protect men from venereal disease rather than to prevent pregnancy.

Giacomo Casanova frequented the Park in the same year as Boswell.

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Above: Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798)

Casanova went to the Park “to watch the great beauties parading”, but was disconcerted to see People defecating in the bushes instead.

Today the banks of the tree-lined lake are a favourite picnic spot for the civil servants of Whitehall and an inner-city reserve for wildfowl, which flock to West Island and Duck Island.

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James I´s two crocodiles left no descendants, but the pelicans (which have resided here since a pair was presented to Charles II by the Russian ambassador in 1664) can still be seen at the eastern end of the lake.

Here there are exotic ducks of every variation imaginable.

Just in time for the twelve days of Christmas (26 December – 6 January), the visitor can find many more than two calling birds, six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming, but, alas, no turtledoves, no pear trees for partridges, and no French hens, as far as fowl and feathered life goes in the Park.

The Canadian in me was thrilled to see Canada geese in the Park.

Surprisingly some writers have seen fit to use the Park as the setting for battles:

In Charlie Higson´s post apocalptic young adult horror novel The Enemy, two groups of children battle for control of the Park after a worldwide sickness has infected adults and turned them into zombies.

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In Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett´s Good Omens, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crawley frequent the Park and feed the ducks.

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Our walk led us to the abovementioned Churchill War Rooms, but after leaving this excellent Museum we quickly became disoriented – fresh air smells funny! – and somehow found ourselves at the Household Cavalry Museum.

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Above: The Household Cavalry Regiment building

Thus my internal conflict regarding the Monarchy began….

During the day two mounted sentries and two horseless colleagues are posted at the Horse Guards Building.

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The sentries are part of the Queen´s Life Guard, provided by the Household Cavalry Regiments, who are more than just the Changing the Guard´s ceremonies (for 350 years) but are actual fighting soldiers who have served and fought for England since the Restoration (1660), in the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674) , the Glorious Revolution (1688), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years War (the world´s first global conflict)(1756-1763), the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882), the Second Boer War (1899-1902), both world wars (1914-1918/1939-1945), the Falklands War (1982), the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), the Gulf War (1990-1991), the 2003 invasion of Iraq and various operations in Afghanistan, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

The years after the English Civil War (1642-1651) saw King Charles I (1600-1649, King: 1625-1649) executed….

(The black dot over the number 2 on the Building´s clock face denotes the hour at which he was executed in 1649.)

….and Oliver Cromwell replace him as Lord Protector of a republican Commonwealth (1653-1659).

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658, Lord Protector: 1653-1658)

Upon Cromwell´s death, his Commonwealth failed and in 1660, King Charles II returned to England in triumph.

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Above: Charles II (1630-1685), King: 1660- 1685

Just before his Restoration, the King created a mounted bodyguard which would expand and incorporate other regiments to form what we recognise today as the Household Cavalry Guards.

Back in Charles II´s day, the King insisted that he be regularly accompanied by one of the Guards wherever he went.

While Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II remains as the Household Cavalry´s Colonel-in-Chief, I am not privy to whom guards Her security these days.

Back of the Horse Guards Building, which remains a military headquarters commanding army units in London, is the Household Cavalry Museum.

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Here you can try a trooper´s elaborate uniform, complete a horse quiz and learn about the regiments´ history.

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See swords and walking sticks, playing cards, paintings and uniforms, skulls and prosthetic legs, cuirasses and chocolate boxes, trophies and medals, trumpets and drums.

Learn of men of legendary status:

Colonel John Manners, the Marquess of Granby: He carried passionately about the welfare of his soldiers and was compulsively generous.  In 1760, in the Battle of Warburg, he led 8,000 men to victory over a French army three times larger.  His headress lost in the Battle, he saluted his commander bare headed, highly unusual at the time.  The Household Cavalry have the unique privilege in the British Army of saluting without headdress.

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Above: John Manners (1721 – 1770)

Colonel John Shaw: At over 6 feet, 3 inches / 1.9 metres and weighing 95 kg / 210 lbs, he earned money as a prizefighter.  At the Battle of Waterloo, he smashed at the enemy´s faces using the hilt of his sword as English swords were shorter than the French´s.  Then he killed more of the enemy before his sword broke and valiantly fought on with only his helmet as a weapon until he fell in battle.  His skull is on display at the Museum.

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

Colonel Fred Burnaby: An enormous and very strong man, he once carried two ponies down the stairs of the officers´ mess in Windsor, a pony under each arm.  He travelled to Khiva, deep in the Tsar´s troubled Asian territories, because the Russians had forbidden foreigners from going there. The book he wrote became a best seller.  He campaigned in Bulgaria, joined a revolt in Spain, crossed the English Channel by balloon, and was both a journalist and politician. Lionised by his soldiers, he was not meant to have been in the Sudan when he was killed at Abu Klea in January 1885.  He met his end in a manner in which he would have approved, facing overwhelming odds in hand to hand fighting.

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Above: Fred Burnaby (1842 – 1885)

Colonel David Smiley: He was parachuted behind enemy lines many times in eastern Europe and Asia.  It is suggested that both Ian Fleming´s James Bond and John le Carré´s George Smiley were modelled after the Colonel.

Colonel David Smiley has died aged 92

Above: David Smiley (centre)(1917 – 2009)

These stories are just a sampling of the courage, professionalism and distinction shown by soldiers in all military services in all nations, but of course this Museum focuses on the men (and women?) of the Household Cavalry.

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Above: Logo of the Household Cavalry Regiment

With the stables immediately adjacent, it´s a sweet-smelling place(!) and you can see these beasts of burden in their stalls through a glass screen.

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The horses are big: a minimum height of 5 feet, 4 inches / 1.65 metres high at the shoulder.

Bought as four or five year olds, most of them are black.

Only the trumpeters ride white steeds.

From arrival to taking part in ceremonial occasions, the training of a horse takes six months.

The horses are exercised each morning, compete in annual competitions and are given holidays (“sent out to grass”) twice a year.

Horses generally retire at around 18, though some serve into their 20s.

As fascinating as the history of the Cavalry is and as much as a spectacle of colour and pagentry that the Changing the Guard ceremony is, I could not stop thinking about the endless amount of money and effort that goes into maintaining the mounted tradition: 280 horses, an army of riding instructors, farriers (horseshoe blacksmiths), vets, saddlers, tailors, musicians (kettle drummers and trumpeters) and cavalry men.

I thought of the many countless hours of preparation that are needed for a Parade: the polishing of breastplates, helmets and swords; the scrubbing and whitening of buckskins, gauntlets, belts and slings; the cleaning and polishing of jackboots; the grooming of the horses; the polishing of saddles; then inspection of the troop with obsessive-compulsive attention to detail adhering to the highest possible standards of perfection.

The combined weight of the horse´s equipment and the mounted rider´s gear is 62 lbs / 28 kg, an unforgiving and punishing practice for both man and beast.

It makes me question the sanity of a man who chooses to join the Household Cavalry.

How cruel it is to have the sentry boxmen remain motionless and emotionless for an hour at a time!

Where is the logic, the sanity, the humanity in this activity?

All in the name of honour and tradition or simply base entertainment for tourists?

It makes me question the assumption of privilege and pomp of individuals whose only claim to honour and respect was the accident of being born into the right family.

How deserving is a person of a palace or crown, of the sacrifice of young persons´ lives and vitality to ensure that the royal is treated better than a commoner?

Are the lives of the common people improved by the gleam of metal spokes on royal carriages, the sheen of horse flesh, the precision of military movement and spectacle?

As much of a show that the mounted ceremonies offer the throngs of tourists, is it worth all the work and expense that these ceremonies cost?

I do understand and sympathise with the need for military forces.

I do understand the need to protect both heads of government and heads of state.

But I must admit I remain dissatisfied at the alarming discrepancy the royal lifestyle has when compared to the average commoner.

I can appreciate that royals are trained to serve, but excess displays of wealth and privilege make it seem that the world exists to serve them instead.

I can accept that there will always be people better than me, but by the same token there are some things I am better at than others.

I can learn from others and others can learn from me.

I can appreciate that the recognition of quality and talent should exist, but I rally against the idea that these fortunate few are thus somehow superior to everyone else, that we are somehow less worthy of our existence than they are of theirs.

As a Canadian I can appreciate when talented Canadians are recognised for their contributions to society, but singers, for example, insult their public admirers when they have ostentatious homes and weddings or act as if the laws and mores of society somehow do not apply to them, as in the case of Celine Dion or Justin Bieber.

I respect Her Majesty Elizabeth II and her wisdom in her role as the world´s longest serving monarch, but the price tag is too damn high.

I felt nothing but sadness for the sacrifice of the Household Cavalry – a sacrifice unceasing since 1660 and one ongoing unceasingly.

The horses are beautiful, the soldiers proud, the gestures meaningless.

I guess tourists shouldn´t think too much.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / http://www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

This is a question I have often asked myself when considering both my life and the lives of the famous.

I ask myself this question recently as I am, once again, forced to remain at home in bed with, yet another cold that has made both barista work and teaching impractical as I have been reduced to a coughing, sneezing, aching, quivering jellyfish of a man unfit and undesirable for public encounters.

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My voice sounds tortured and hoarse as if it is painfully emerging from a long tunnel.

My appearance is akin to a homeless street person and our apartment reflects this.

The wife mocks the man cold, but hers is a gender that endures menstruation on a monthly basis and usually survives the incredible ordeal of child birth with little hesitation to repeat or memory of the event.

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Hers is a mind of multiplicity handling every moment and memory simultaneously, while my mind is a series of boxes which are opened only one at a time, so when illness strikes all my focus is upon how truly horrid I feel.

A woman with a cold is simply a woman with yet another complication in her life, for she will incorporate the cold as part of life´s burdens she must bear and will further complicate her life with tortured emotions about the selfishness of her having a cold keeping her from doing her other duties.

A man, though he is aware of the selfishness of having others assume his duties, will moan and groan impatiently focused on his recovery, even so his conscience is little disturbed about staying at home until he deems himself fit to tackle the world again.

I think about work, of course, and consider what my absence will mean to my students and colleagues.

I know that there are other teachers who could teach in my place and that a barista can be replaced.

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

For though I am far from being the most competent or qualified barista or teacher, I possess an entertaining and compassionate personality that I believe my students and colleagues value.

But short of historical accident thrusting me into greatness, I am self aware enough to realise that my eventual absence from existence will not impact history or much of humanity that significantly.

Though the life of my wife might have been greatly different without me in it, would she have been happier or sadder had we never met?

If I had not survived an accident with an axe during my teenage years, or if I had perished on the side of the mountain when I was stranded overnight three years ago, would the world have noticed my absence?

My social circle was and remains small.

I would have been missed by a few people, but I believe they would have found the strength to carry on without me.

I don´t believe I need an angel Clarence to show this George Bailey how It´s a Wonderful Life and how vastly different reality would be had I never existed.

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Above: Henry Travis as angel Clarence Oddbody (left) and James Stewart as George Bailey (right), from It´s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Certainly each man leaves his mark on the world by how his actions have affected others.

A man´s greatness could even be said to be measured by how many others his actions affected.

My mind often wonders how reality might be had certain great men never existed or didn´t exist at the time when they were most influential.

The recent resurgence of interest in Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) – with this year´s movies Darkest Hour (starring Gary Oldman) and Churchill (starring Brian Cox) and last year´s Churchill´s Secret (starring Michael Gambon) – have led me to wonder would the world of today be different had Churchill not been present at those moments of yesterday when he made the most impact?

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This hypothetical “What If?” exercise is not so far fetched….

On a holiday in Bournemouth in January 1893, Churchill fell and was knocked unconscious for three days.

Churchill saw action as a soldier and war correspondent and risked his life in India, the Sudan and South Africa.

Above: Battle of Omdurman, Sudan (2 September 1898), where Churchill took part in a cavalry charge

It remains uncertain whether Churchill´s life was in any danger when he was present at the January 1911 Siege of Sidney Street when Latvian anarchists wanted for murder holed up in a house and resisted arrest.

Above: Winston Churchill (highlighted) at Sidney Street, 3 January 1911

And it is also unclear whether Home Secretary Churchill gave the police any operational orders during the Siege, though it has been suggested that when the house caught fire Churchill prevented the fire brigade from dousing the flames so that the anarchists burnt to death.

“I thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”

On 12 December 1931, during a lecture tour for his writing, Churchill, while crossing New York City´s Fifth Avenue, was knocked down by a car.

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

Had Churchill not survived these events to become Prime Minister (1940 – 1945 / 1951 – 1955), would Britain have remained resolute against Germany during the Second World War?

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

This question was certainly paramount in my mind when my wife and I visited the Churchill War Rooms six weeks ago….

Above: An external view of the New Public Offices building, the basements of which were chosen to house the Cabinet War Rooms

London, England, 24 October 2017

In 1938, in anticipation of Nazi air raids, the basement of the Treasury building on London´s King Charles Street was converted into “war rooms”, protected by a three-foot-thick concrete slab, reinforced with steel rails and tramlines.

It was here that Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed operations and held cabinet meetings for the duration of World War II.

By the end of the War, the six-acre site included a hospital, canteen and shooting range, as well as sleeping quarters.

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

It is rumoured there are also tunnels to Buckingham Palace itself, allowing the Royal Family a quick getaway to exile in Canada (via Charing Cross Station) in the event of a Nazi invasion.

Above: Buckingham Palace

Walking the corridors of the Churchill War Rooms and exploring its adjacent Churchill Museum are experiences that live long in the memory.

Every corner tells a story.

Today we take for granted the idea of an underground command centre.

How else can political and military leaders run a country and control armed forces, safe from enemy bombardment?

But the Second World War was the first time that Britain faced such a concentrated aerial threat.

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

Most of these questions began to be answered only in the final fraught months before Britain went to war.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

Many of them were still being answered during the War itself, even as bombs rained down over London and the threat of invasion loomed.

The story of the Churchill War Rooms is therefore one of improvisation in the face of deadly necessity.

After the First World War (1914 – 1918), the British government adopted a “ten-year rule”.

Until instructed otherwise, all departments should assume that the country would not go to war again for at least a decade.

Even so, some thought was given to how a future war might be fought.

In 1924, government experts predicted that London would be bombarded by up to 200 tons of bombs in the first 24 hours of a world conflict.

Casualities would be high and the country´s political and military command structure could be severely disabled.

Partly due to the ten-year rule, little was done to heed this warning until 1933 when a belligerent Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

It came as a complete shock when Hitler declared his intention to have Germany leave the League of Nations, the forerunner of today´s United Nations.

War within the next decade suddenly seemed much more possible and the question of national defence became a priority.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, adding to international tension.

General Hastings Ismay, Deputy Secretary of Britain´s Committee of Imperial Defence, immediately organised a search for an emergency working refuge to house the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff in case of a sudden attack.

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

Plans were still in a confused state in late May 1938, when the alarming news was received that German troops were massing on the Czechoslovakian border.

There might be war any day, but still no war room.

On 31 May 1938, the site was confirmed, a site conveniently close to both Downing Street (the Prime Minister´s residence) and Parliament.

It was thought that the steel structure of the Treasury building above the War Rooms would provide extra protection against bombs, but a direct hit on the site would have been catastrophic.

From June to August 1938, work on the War Rooms involved clearing rooms, sandbagging alcoves, replacing glass doors with teak, building brick partitions, installing telephone lines and estabishing a connection with the BBC.

As the site was situated below the level of the Thames River, flood doors had to be fitted and pumps installed.

By the end of August, the Map Room was manned and tested and plans were underway for airlocks and steel doors to defend against gas attack.

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

Hitler had sparked a new crisis on the Continent by threatening to annex part of Czechoslovakia.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to defuse the situation by diplomatic means.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

Above: Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940), British PM (1937 – 1940)

On 30 September, Hitler signed the Munich Agreement – heralded by Chamberlain as a guarantee of “peace for our time”, but the Central War Room was theoretically ready for use.

Above: Neville Chamberlain showing the Anglo-German Declaration, aka The Munich Agreement. guaranteeing “peace for our time”, Heston Air Force Base, England, 30 September 1938

It would have been desperately uncomfortable for anyone working there, as the ventilation system was poor, there were no overnight accommodations, no bedding, no kitchen, no food, no toilets or washing facilities.

Work continued on the War Rooms.

On 23 August, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Russia, leaving the way free for him to attack Poland.

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Above: Soviet Premier Stalin and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, after the signature of the (Vyacheslav) Molotov – Ribbentrop German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, 23 August 1939

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

Above: Adolf Hitler reviewing the troops on the march during the Polish campaign, September 1939

Two days later, Britain was at war.

The immediate bombardment of London that had been expected for so long failed to materialise in the first nine months of the War, though the War Rooms were operational.

A botched land campaign in Norway in April 1940 and Germany´s sudden attack on the Netherlands on 10 May caused Chamberlain to resign and Churchill to take his place.

A few days later, as British Forces were driven back towards the French coast, the new Prime Minister visited the Cabinet War Room and declared:

“This is the room from which I will direct the war.”

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Above: Cabinet War Room

In the summer of 1940, as the fall of France was followed by the Battle of Britain for aerial supremacy over southern England, Britain stood at risk of imminent invasion.

Above: German Heinkel HE 111 bombers over the English Channel, 1940

On 7 September 1940, Germany launched the Blitz – a sustained bombing campaign against British towns and cities, with London the chief target.

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

When the Blitz failed to secure victory over Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the east, launching an invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

When, on 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, the United States entered the War, changing the fortunes of Britain.

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Above: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, USA

The War Rooms began deception plans intended to divert enemy resources away from genuine Allied operations.

This would play a crucial role in the success of Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

The success of the D-Day landings helped to turn the tide of war against the Nazis, but they were not finished in attacking Britain.

On 13 June 1944, the first V1 flying bomb hit London, bringing a new threat to the capital.

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Above: A V1 guided missile

Over the winter of 1944 – 1945, the V1 flying bomb attacks were gradually superseded by the more destructive V2 flying bombs.

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Above: A V2 rocket

By the end of March 1945, most of the V2 production factories had been overrun by the unstoppable Allied advance towards Berlin.

Adolf Hitler spent the final weeks of the War sheltering in his bunker as  Berlin came under attack from Stalin´s armies.

After the fall of Berlin, the Allies declared victory in Europe on 8 May 1945.

By the time Japan surrendered on 15 August, Churchill was no longer Prime Minister having lost the General Election on 26 July.

On 16 August, after six years of continuous use, the War Rooms were simply and suddenly abandoned.

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

The preserved rooms were declared a national monument in 1948, with free guided tours given to people who had written to the Cabinet Office.

This practice continued until 1984 when the Imperial War Museum was asked to turn the site into a formal Museum.

Millions of visitors have since walked its corridors, tracing the steps of Churchill and the many men and women – both military and civilian – who helped run this underground complex.

The Churchill Museum was added to the Cabinet War Rooms in 2005 and this expanded Museum was later renamed the Churchill War Rooms.

It has to be said that the Churchill War Rooms is a fascinating place for it is filled with intimate details that bring home the immediacy of those times…

  • The sugar cubes hoarded by a Map Room officer
  • The noiseless typewriters that Churchill insisted be used by his staff
  • Accounts of what it was really like to eat, sleep and work below the streets of London as German bombs fell all around.
  • The coloured lights in the Cabinet War Room that signalled an air raid and the ashtrays positioned within easy reach around the table and the scratch marks on the arms of Churchill´s chair that show how strained the Cabinet Room could become
  • The multi-coloured phones where the men of the Map Room could follow every thrust and counterthrust of the War
  • The actual door that Churchill walked through at 10 Downing Street
  • The tiny Transatlantic Telephone Room where Churchill used to speak in secret to the US President
  • Churchill´s famous “siren suit”, a zip-up coverall that Churchill began wearing for comfort from the 1930s onwards
  • The Union Flag which was draped over Churchill´s coffin during his State Funeral which was broadcast around the world

Above: Grave of Winston Churchill, St. Martin´s Church, Bladon, England

(“I am ready to meet my Maker – but whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”)

  • The weather indicator in the main corridor that would read “Windy” when a heavy bombing raid was in progress
  • The story of how one of the women who worked at the War Rooms had a short relationship with James Bond author Ian Fleming and would be the inspiration for the character Miss Moneypenny
  • One of the Royal Marines guarding the entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms took up embroidery to pass the time.
  • To alleviate the health problems of working underground, staff were made to strip to their underwear and stand in front of portable sun lamps
  • Wartime graffiti on a map in the Cabinet Room showing Hitler fallen on his ass
  • A cat named Smoky that used to curl up on Churchill´s bed
  • A typist who learned that the ship carrying her boyfriend had perished with all lives lost

So, so much to see and learn and discover….

But what of the Great Man himself?

This man of contradictions, this man who took over as Prime Minister when Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, who is remembered for his trademark bowler hat and half-chewed Havana cigars, who is famous for his morale-inspiring speeches and clever wit….

“It is better to be making the news than taking it, to be an actor rather than an critic.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat.”

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“….We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

“This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

“Everywhere I went in London, people admired Churchill´s energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose.  People said they didn´t know what Britain would do without him.  He was obviously respected, but no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the War.  He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time, the time being a desperate war with Britain´s enemies.”

Without this man´s uplifting spirit, would Britain have surrendered against the overwhelming odds of Hitler´s mighty war machine?

I am convinced that Churchill´s uniqueness of character means that its absence would have lead to Britain´s surrender.

Whether Britain´s surrender would mean Hitler wouldn´t ultimately still turn against Russia, or whether America wouldn´t come to Britain´s aid with or without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour remains a point of conjecture and the province of alternate history / science fiction writers.

But I think a visit to the Churchill War Rooms is well worth the while, because there are several lessons to be learned here under the streets of London.

We are where and who we are because of what came before.

We need to recall the wars that lead us to where we are today, not to glorify in our victories but rather to somberly recall our losses and learn from them so to avoid future war or at least prepare ourselves for another dark future of bloodshed and destruction.

We are a product of our time and place.

It is doubtful whether Churchill could have accomplished what he did had time and circumstances been different.

In examining Churchill´s past carefully, one can see that he was quite an imperfect man, at times rash, impulsive, egocentric and foolish, sometimes to the cost and risk of others.

Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.

But at a moment when Britain needed a man of courage and conviction, Churchill was indeed in the right place at the right time.

Let us not worship this man, but do offer him our thanks and respect.

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

As legacies go, this museum and how he is remembered by so many even after so long a time has passed and so many have sacrificed so much blood, tears, toil and sweat then and now, this monument to the dark days of a vicious conflict and a man who steered a nation through them is truly fitting.

This is a living museum, commemorating the lives of those who make our lives possible.

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Alan Axelrod, Winston Churchill, CEO / Dominique Enright, editor, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill / Martin Gilbert, editor, Churchill: The Power of Words / Roy Jenkins, Churchill / Imperial War Museums, Churchill War Museum Guidebook

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Above: The Roaring Lion, Yousuf Karsh photo of Winston Churchill, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, Canada, 30 December 1941

 

 

Canada Slim and the Calculated Cathedral

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 November 2017

It is a season of grey days and black, almost eternal, nights.

Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre

As much as I comprehend why Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving in October rather than November because the growing seasons are shorter up there, I occasionally wonder if the Americans might not be onto something by celebrating life at a time of darkening skies and colder temperatures.

Flag of the United States

Thanksgiving, celebrated every third Thursday of November in the US, is meant to convey thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon self, friends and family through the bountiful harvest received and shown by a fully laden dining room table.

It is a New World celebration meant to commemorate the Pilgrims´ first year in America when they gave thanks to God that through the help of native tribes they learned how to produce food to survive and thrive as a transplanted people.

Above: The First Thanksgiving, 1621, by Jean Farris (1899)

Above the Equator, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are many countries who have similar seasonal changes and similar harvest times, and to be fair Americans did not invent the concept of praising divinity for blessings received as this ritual has been celebrated in one form or another for millennia.

As the weather turns colder than even Donald Trump´s soul, I find myself thankful that I am still alive, that I have a roof over my head and regular food in my belly, that I am of (relatively) sound mind and body and that I have people in my life whom I love and by whom I am loved.

I am truly a fortunate man.

That having been said I am not unaware that there are those who don´t feel so fortunate.

I have known people, good people, for whom reality seems to them to be cruel and unkind, for whom life seems to be a never-changing cycle of sadness, of eternally grey days and black ink evil evenings with slim hope for the dawn.

I cannot begin to imagine what life must be like for those who feel illness within their minds, who feel an emptiness within their souls.

I cannot but feel sympathy for those who feel death is a release, a relief, from the hell of their perceived existence.

I know just enough, and yet far too little, that changing one´s perspective is not simply emotional determination but could also be both a product of one´s history and chemical make-up.

It is easy to condemn humanity´s monsters, like the recently deceased Charles Manson, for they made life decisions that brought extreme pain and suffering to others.

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Above: Charles Manson (1934 – 2017)

It is impossible and frightening to imagine how on God´s green Earth that the murder and torture of others can be justifiable in the minds of these rare abominations of the mentally unwell.

I say rare abominations, for I believe that the vast majority of those hurting members of the psychologically unhappy are more victims to their condition than they are bent on taking others down with them in their descent into darkness.

We, the seemingly rational and arrogantly confident in our inappropriately felt superiority, blame the illness on the ill victims, not sensing nor caring that they too wish to feel welcome by a humanity that does not understand them and thus struggles, often in vain, to assist them, or, failing that, remove them from the general populace.

I watch in silent frustration when those I love hurt themselves and others as they blindly grope their way through illogical reality simply trying to survive.

Life has somehow injured them and they have selfishly sought solace in safer corners of their minds where no one else can go.

I have seen wonderful, compassionate friends and family victimised by their own private pain and there seems nothing I can do or say to help, because the everpresent fear of swimming into psychologically insecure deep waters instinctively instills a fear that we too might be swept along in and dragged down by the wake of their thrashing.

We judge them by standards we understand, rather than by their standards we can´t understand.

I want to hold each one of them and tell them in a way they might truly believe, that their lives matter, that they are worthy of love and dignity, but sometimes I am scared by my inability to do so.

I want to tell them that though there truly is a vast amount of pain in this vale of tears that we share, there is also the potential for great joy.

Perhaps here is the value of Thanksgiving, of giving thanks to something or someone beyond ourselves, of prayer to whatever or whomever may be either within or from outside ourselves.

In the brutal honesty of a sleepless night, I reject my rational analysis of the folly of believing in a God whose only proof of existence is that His non-existence has yet to be proven and hope beyond reason that God does exist whether or not His existence is a creation or a manifestation of my own making.

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Above: Michelangelo´s The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

And this I think is the value of faith, of religion – finding hope and comfort in that which might exist.

To somehow believe that pain can be endured, that there will be a dawn beyond the darkness, even if it is unclear how this can happen.

Mankind has built mighty edifices in an attempt to enclose the divine and bend it to our will for our benefit….

Sheer folly.

Yet the symbolic gathering together of humanity into congregations, bound by faith and traditions, giving meaning to the passages of life in its forms of birth, maturity, matrimony and death, gives purpose to the construction of shrines of worship.

Though cathedrals and churches, monasteries and mosques, temples and tabernacles, by the very act of enclosure create a division of people between those within and those outside and have caused those within to feel both a superiority and a zeal to extend the choir invisible beyond the ecclesiastical doors with some even willing to break the taboos of religion in the name of religion, nonetheless these places of illogical and irrational faith sustain and console us.

I am reminded this morning of the places of worship I visited while I was in London last month and though the seeds of the religious fell mostly on mentally stubborn and stone hard ground, my visit to these places still left their impression upon me.

A visitor walking around London cannot help but be impressed by the number of churches in this city more renowned for trade and commerce, but, as we know from the remains of the Temple of Mithras at Walbrook discovered in 1954, religious buildings have always been an integral part of the fabric of London.

Some of London´s most breathtaking modern structures are religious buildings dedicated to many faiths, whose communities form a strong part of the social fabric of modern London.

As hard as it is to imagine London without its many churches, it is even harder still to imagine London without its many faiths.

Our discovery of the faithful of London began on our first night in town….

London, England, 23 October 2017

My wife, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, wanted to take pictures of the Thames River before we headed back to our B & B in the Paddington district.

It had already been quite the full day: pre-dawn departure from our beds and dash down the highway to Zürich, the bureaucratic exit from one designated country and the bureaucratic entry into another, the search and finding of our week´s accommodations, the navigating of the nefarious nightmare beneath called the Tube, and a mad race through one of the world´s most famous museums – the Tate Modern.

A large oblong brick building with square chimney stack in centre of front face. It stands on the far side of the River Thames, with a curving white foot bridge on the left.

Above: The Tate Modern, London

But my wife wanted to see more while she could with what remained of her day´s energies.

I had no objections.

We, like many before, crossed the London Millennium Footbridge, or as it is affectionately known by Londoners “the wobbly bridge”, the steel suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing the River Thames, linking Bankside on the south bank with the City of London to the north.

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Above: Millennium Bridge, as seen from St. Paul´s Cathedral

The Bridge, 1,066 feet/325 metres long, 13 feet/4 metres wide, officially opened on 1 June 2000 and quickly was closed again shortly thereafter as the 90,000 people crossing it on its opening day felt that the Bridge was wobbling and lurching dangerously.

It reopened in 2002 after engineers refitted 37 energy dissipating dampers to control horizontal movement and 52 inertial dampers to control vertical movement to solve the wobble effect.

You may have seen the Bridge and not realised it….

The Millennium collapsed following an attack by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007).

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The Bridge also appeared as part of the climatic battle scene on the planet Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

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And the Bridge was in the video of the Olly Murs song “Heart on my Sleeve”.

To the south the midpoint standing pedestrian on the Bridge sees the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern.

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Above: The Globe Theatre, London

To the north the red brick City of London School (actor Daniel Radcliffe / “Harry Potter” ´s old alma mater) can be spotted nestling below the magnificence that is St. Paul´s Cathedral.

How strange and yet familiar St. Paul´s appeared to me in the fast-approaching darkness.

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral

The enormous lead-covered dome of St. Paul´s Cathedral has dominated the City skyline for generations and will probably continue to do so for generations to come if Star Trek: Into Darkness is any accurate omen to go by.

The poster shows the USS Enterprise falling toward Earth with smoke coming out of it. The middle of the poster shows the title written in dark gray letters, and the film's credits and the release date are shown at the bottom of the poster.

The Cathedral facade is particularly magnificent, fronted by a wide flight of steps – seen in Mary Poppins (1964) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) – and a two-storey portico and two towers, and is said to be amongst the finest examples of Baroque architecture in London.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in-character. The background is a window display, featuring shelves containing miscellaneous objects relating to the story. The poster reads "Sherlock Holmes" across the top, with the tagline "Holmes for the holiday" centered at the bottom. The poster is predominately turquoise coloured.

The west front of St. Paul´s shows the Saint surrounded by others of his ilk as he is dazzled by the glory of God whilst on the road to Damascus.

In the northeast churchyard, a plaque marks the location of Paul´s Cross, a popular centre of fake and real news and contemporary commentary, where during the Reformation William Tynsdale´s New Testament was burned because it was sinfully an English translation.

While it can´t compete with Westminster Abbey for celebrity corpses, royal remains and awesome atmosphere, St. Paul´s is nevertheless a perfectly calculated architectural space, a burial place for captains rather than kings, artists not poets, and a popular wedding venue and favoured funeral locale for the privileged few.

The current Cathedral is the fifth on this site, including Old St. Paul´s, a huge Gothic cathedral built by the Normans, with a 489 foot spire that once was part of the longest and tallest Christian church in the world.

During the English Civil War and the Republic which followed the execution of King Charles I in 1649, St. Paul´s was allowed to become dilapidated and was used for stabling horses and as a marketplace with a road running through it.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, King Charles II threw out the traders and began to return the scarred Cathedral to the status it once had, but before work could begin the Great Fire of London intervened.

The blaze started on 2 September 1666 and destroyed 2/3 of the City of London.

It burned for four days and nights, destroying 13,200 houses and 87 parish churches, including Old St. Paul´s.

Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

In 1668, Christopher Wren was asked to produce a new Cathedral.

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Above: Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

Wren was not only an architect, he was also an astronomer, scientist and mathematican.

Wren was a founding member in 1660 of the Royal Society, a national academy for science, but he was also a man of profound Christian faith.

He came from a family of clergy who had been loyal to the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and it was faith which inspired him.

He once explained: “Architecture aims at eternity.”

As an architect favoured by royalty and state, Wren´s commissions varied widely, including the Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich Hospital, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, as well as some magnificent buildings in Oxford, where he studied and worked as Professor of Astronomy from 1661 to 1673.

St. Paul´s was just one of over 50 church commissions Wren received in the wake of the Great Fire.

Sir Christopher Wren

Said, “I´m going to dine with some men.

If anyone calls,

Say I´m designing St. Paul´s.” (Edmund Clerihew Bentley)

Hassles over his initial plans and wrangles over money plagued the project throughout, but Wren persevered and England´s first Protestant cathedral was completed in 1711 under Queen Anne, whose statue stands below the steps.

Above: Statue of Queen Anne (1665 – 1714), St. Paul´s Cathedral

Opinions of Wren´s Cathedral differed.

Some loved it.

“Without, within, below, above, the eye is filled with unrestrained delight.”

Some hated it.

“There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches.  They were unfamiliar, un-English…”

Until his death, at the age of 91, Wren regularly returned to St. Paul´s to sit under its dome and reflect on this masterpiece of faith and imagination.

For over 300 years this particular reincarnation of St. Paul´s has been a place where both the individual and the nation can express those feelings of joy, gratitude and sorrow that are so central to our lives.

St. Paul´s has borne witness to the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805)(buried in the centre of the Cathedral Crypt), the funeral of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852)(buried also in the Crypt)(13,000 people filled the Cathedral.), the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria (1897) and Queen Elizabeth II (2012), the bombs of the Blitz (1940), a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), the funerals of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1965) and Margaret Thatcher (2013), and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana (1981).

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Above: Queen Elizabeth II

Services have also been held to mark the valuable contributions made by ordinary women and men involved in armed conflicts in the Falklands, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland.

A vast crowd also gathered at St. Paul´s following the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001, as London expressed its solidarity with Americans at a time of great grief.

A montage of eight images depicting, from top to bottom, the World Trade Center towers burning, the collapsed section of the Pentagon, the impact explosion in the south tower, a rescue worker standing in front of rubble of the collapsed towers, an excavator unearthing a smashed jet engine, three frames of video depicting airplane hitting the Pentagon

People of other faiths also have a place in national services at St. Paul´s.

The memorial service for King Hussein of Jordan in 1999 was the first Christian service in St. Paul´s to include a reading from the Qur´an.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

In 2005, at the service of remembrance following the terrorist bombings in London in June of that year, young people representing different faith communities lit candles as a shared sign of hope during turbulent times.

Take a journey through this place mortal designed to evoke the divine.

We took our own calculated journey through St. Paul´s two days later.

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

Begin with the Nave, the font of baptism, marking the beginning of the journey of faith that Christians believe leads from Earth to Heaven.

Here is the final stop, the last resting place, of the Duke of Wellington, best known for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

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Above: Wellington (1769 – 1852)

Wellington died 37 years later and is buried in the Crypt beneath the Monument.

Nearby in the All Souls´ Chapel is the Kitchener Memorial, dedicated to the servicemen who died in World War I and to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener who died at sea and whose body was never recovered.

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Above: Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)

Kitchener is best known for his restructuring of the British Army and for his most effective recruitment campaign reminding Britons that “Your Country Needs You”.

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Quietly light a candle for those you wish to have remembered inside St. Dunstan´s Chapel, a place of prayer and stillness.

The silver pyx that hangs above the altar in this chapel contains the sacrament – the consecrated bread that Christians believe is (or represents) the body of Jesus, shared at services of Holy Communion.

The Chapel of St. Michael and St. George honours those who have rendered important service overseas.

It takes only a modicum of observation to see that St. Paul´s is built in the shape of a cross with a large dome crowning the intersection of the cross´s arms.

At 365 feet / 111.3 metres high, the Dome is one of the largest cathedral domes in the world and weighs approximately 65,000 tons.

The area under the Dome is the space where congregations congregate for the Cathedral´s most important rituals of faith – the Liturgy, the worship of God.

The altar is the focus, the place where the Eucharist (mass) is celebrated every day, where people of all ages of many different languages and nationalities, gather to eat bread and drink wine that symbolise the body and blood of Jesus Christ sacrificed by God the Father to save mankind from itself.

Or so the story goes.

The Dome is actually not one dome but three: the outer dome shell is seen prominently on the London skyline, while the painted dome that the congregated sees from the cathedral floor conceals an inner layer of brick which provides the structure strength and support.

Within the Dome´s construction there are three gallery levels.

The Whispering Gallery runs around the interior of the Dome, 257 steep steps up from ground level.

There is a charming acoustical quirk in the gallery´s construction which makes a whisper spoken against the walls on one side audible on the opposite side.

Two higher galleries encircle the outside of the Dome – the Stone Gallery and the smaller Golden Gallery offering superb views across London….

Or so we were told as they were closed the day of our visit.

Upon our descent from the Whispering Gallery, further exploration of the Cathedral reveals many aspects of what makes St. Paul´s unique unto itself.

To the north of the interior is the Chapel of Saints Erkenwald and Ethelburga, with a statue of Dr. Johnson.

Man staring intently at a book held close to his face

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

Above the altar is William Holman Hunt´s painting The Light of the World, showing Jesus holding a lantern as He knocks at the handleless bramble-strewn door of the human Soul which must be opened from within, above the caption that reads:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 

If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.”

Close by the Chapel is Henry Moore´s Mother and Child, a sculpture he made when he was recovering from an illness so it is heavily indolent in religious meaning.

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Above: Mother and Child by Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)

By Moore´s Mama Madonna with child are two pairs of wrought-iron gates made by Jean Tijou.

Inside the gates at the top northern part of the architectural cross is the Quire, the first part of the Cathedral to be built.

The organ within, built in 1694 and rebuilt several times, is the third largest in the UK with 7,256 pipes.

The 1694 version of this organ was much loved by the composer George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759).

The organ case and the stalls on both sides of the Quire are decorated with exquisitely delicate carvings by the Anglo-Dutch sculptor Grinling Gibbons, whose work can still be seen in many royal houses and great houses.

One contemporary commentator wrote:

“There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers with the free disorder natural to each species.”

Yet free disorder seems particularly ironic here, as each of the canopied stalls has a designated occupant and definitively determines how the Cathedral is to be governed.

It is within the Quire where choir, clergy and congregation gather to sit for Evensong, the service that draws the day to a close.

As dusk descends, we the people are to be remanded and reminded of the proper calculation of our place in the universe, both manmade and celestial.

Queen Victoria, she of the inaccurately attributed “We are not amused.”, is said to have complained that St. Paul´s was “dull, dingy and undevotional”, so in response William Blake Richmond decorated the ceilings and the walls of the Quire with mosaics depicting the story of Creation and the story of the angel Gabriel´s visitation to the Virgin Mary with the news that she is pregnant with the Son of God.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

(That had to be quite the shock!)

Behind the alter stands the Jesus Chapel, commemorating the 28,000 Americans who were killed on their way to, or while stationed in, the UK during the Second World War, their names recorded in a 500-page roll of honour glass enclosure.

“Defending freedom from the fierce assaults of tyranny they shared the honour and the sacrifice. 

Though they died before the drum of victory, their names and deeds will long be remembered wherever free men live.”

So reads the American roll of honour, but as the Canadian descendant of Commonwealth soldiery I cannot help but cynically observe that the Cathedral today is funded by multitudes of tourists, the majority of whom are American.

A cynical attitude that is met with a punch in the arm by my loving spouse whose German ancestors were conscripted soldiers of the aforementioned tyranny.

In the south is the statue of John Donne, which somehow survived the Great Fire of London intact.

Above: Statue of John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Donne, a former Dean of St. Paul´s, wrote passionate love poems and eloquent odes expressing with eloquence his zeal for God.

He is perhaps best remembered for his meditation on the human condition:

“No man is an island, entire of itself….

 Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Fourteen bells of St. Paul´s toll for thee: Great Tom tolls to mark the death of a sovereign; Great Paul, the largest swinging bell in Europe, strikes the hours; the remaining twelve bells sound the peal.

And here one finds a statue of Nelson, a cloak covering the area where Nelson´s right arm should be – amputated in 1797.

Three skulls guard the entrance to the Crypt.

Nelson lies buried in a coffin made from the timber of a French ship he defeated in battle, atop a black marble sarcophagus.

Would he have thought his memorial truly “humanity after victory“?

Keeping him company across from him in the Crypt, the Iron Duke, Lord Wellington, rests in a casket of Cornish granite.

Wellie would have hated it, for he was said to be a man not prone to bask in his own glories:

“Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”

Why do places of worship glorify those who murder in the name of a flag?

Beside the Crypt, close to the foundations of the former church, is the Chapel of St. Faith, created in recognition for the contribution made by women during the First World War.

Surrounding the Chapel are memorials celebrating the remarkable of the arts and sciences: painters Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) and John Guille Millais (1865 – 1931); composer Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900) and poet William Blake (1757 – 1827); scientist Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955).

Sir Christopher Wren himself is buried here, his tomb marked by a simple stone which translated from Latin reads:

Bildergebnis für christopher wren s tomb inscription

“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

And, so we did.

“I was glad when they said unto me:

Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

St. Paul´s has stood here defiantly unscathed amid the carnage of the Blitz and was defended by the St. Paul´s Watch – volunteers who patrolled the Cathedral´s roof every night to combat the incendiary bombs and died carrying out their duties.

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Time and choice did not permit us to see the worship of God at work, or listen to virgin boys attempt in song to reach within us to find something beyond ourselves, or ponder important issues ranging from global economy to climate change by prominent speakers, such as Kofi Annan or Bianca Jagger.

As we leave St. Paul´s, I recall the words of Mary Poppins:

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Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes.
In her own special way to the people she calls:
“Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
 
Come, feed the little birds.
Show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do.
The young ones are hungry.
Their nests are so bare.
All it takes is tuppence from you.
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds.”, that’s what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies.
 
All around the Cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
 
Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”

No, we didn´t feed the birds, for security measures no longer permit little old bird women to feed assemblies of pigeons on the steps of St. Paul´s.

Poverty is very offputting for the tourists and, after all, charity begins at home.

The tourist entry fee at the door is 18 pounds per adult.

In October 2011, the anti-capitalism Occupy London encampment was established in front of St. Paul´s, after failing to gain access to the London Stock Exchange on Paternoster Square nearby, costing the Cathedral revenue of 200,000 pounds per day.

The encampment was evicted at the end of February 2012, by court order, without violence, by the City Corporation.

Our visit to St. Paul´s made me ask, as St. Paul´s Cathedral Arts Project and its artistic installations have asked:

What makes life meaningful and purposeful?

What does St. Paul´s mean in that contemporary context?

Those questions, much like questions of faith themselves, can only be answered by individuals themselves.

Should one care to ask.

Black and White photograph of the dome of St Paul's, starkly lit, appearing through billowing clouds of smoke

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / St. Paul´s Cathedral / http://www.stpauls.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Wonders on the Wall

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 November 2017

I just had my first viewing of a DVD I had never seen before last evening: The Lady in the Van, starring Dame Maggie Smith as “The Lady in the Van Miss Mary “Margaret ” Theresa Shepherd” and Alex Jennings as “Alan Bennett” upon whose memoirs the story is taken.

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This is a powerful movie with wonderful performances and some quiet thought-provoking moments that cause a person to ponder and think about life, compassion, responsibility and creativity.

Something said in the movie sticks with me this evening as I search for a way to describe a world famous London attraction and my reactions towards it:

Alan, at the end of the film, says the adage that a writer puts himself into his writing isn´t true.

Instead a writer discovers who he is by the act of writing, that the writing brings out himself.

I am more and more discovering this for myself since I started this blog on 18 May 2015.

I also believe that how we approach art and how it affects us also says a lot about who we are.

I am reminded of the extremely irreverant but surprisingly perceptive geniuses that formed the British comedy group Monty Python´s Flying Circus.

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A skit in their first season´s Episode 4 (“Owl-stretching time”) called “Art Gallery”:

(Interior of art gallery.  Two figures enter.  They are both middle-aged working mothers.  Each holds the Hand of an unseen Infant who is beneath the range of the camera.)

Janet (John Cleese):  ´Allo, Marge!

Marge (Graham Chapman): Oh hello, Janet, how are you love, fancy seeing you.

Janet: How´s little Ralph?

Marge: Oh, don´t ask me!  He´s been nothing but trouble all morning.  Stop it Ralph! (she slaps at an unseen infant)  Stop it!

Janet:  Same as my Kevin.

Marge: Really?

Janet: Nothing but trouble …. leave it alone!  He´s just been in the Florentine Room and smeared tomato ketchup all over Raphael´s Baby Jesus. (shouting off sharply)  Put that Baroque masterpiece down!

Marge: Well, we´ve just come from the Courtauld and Ralph smashed every exhibit but one in the Danish Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition.

Janet:  Just like my Kevin.  Show him an exhibition of 18th century Dresden Pottery and he goes berserk.  No, I said no, and I meant no!  (smacks unseen infant again)  This morning we were viewing the early Flemish Masters of the Renaissance and Mannerist Schools, when he gets out his black aerosol and squirts Vermeer´s Lady at a Window!

Marge: Still, it´s not as bad as spitting, is it?

Janet (firmly): No, well Kevin knows (slaps the infant) that if he spits at a painting I´ll never take him to an exhibition again.

Marge:  Ralph used to spit – he could hit a Van Gogh at thirty yards.  But he knows now it´s wrong – don´t you Ralph? (she looks down) Ralph! Stop it! Stop it! Stop chewing that Turner!  You are … (she disappears from shot)  You are a naughty, naughty, vicious little boy. (smack, she comes back into the shot holding a copy of Turner´s Fighting Temeraire in a lovely gilt frame but all tattered) Oh, look at that!  The Fighting Temeraire – ruined!  What shall I do?

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Janet (taking control): Now don´t do a thing with it love, just put it in the bin over there.

Marge: Really?

Janet: Yes take my word for it, Marge.  Kevin´s eaten most of the early 19th century British landscape artists, and I´ve learned not to worry.  As a matter of fact, I feel a bit peckish myself.  (she breaks a bit off the Turner)  Yes…. (Marge also tastes a bit.)

Marge:  I never used to like Turner.

Janet (swallowing):  No… I don´t know much about art, but I know what I like.

London, England, 23 October 2017

All the guidebooks absolutely rave about the place, commanding everyone that the Tate Modern is an absolute must for anyone visiting or living in London.

A large oblong brick building with square chimney stack in centre of front face. It stands on the far side of the River Thames, with a curving white foot bridge on the left.

Designed as the old, oil-fired, Bankside power station by Giles Gilbert Scott, this austere, brick “cathedral of power” was closed down in 1981 and reopened as a modern art gallery in 2000.

The masterful conversion, by the Swiss duo Herzog and de Meuron, still has the feeling of original industry, yet provides wonderfully light and spacious galleries to show off the museum´s impressive collection of international 20th century artists, such as Monet, Duchamp, Hepworth, Matisse, Mondrian, Dali, Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and Warhol.

Most impressive of all is the stupifying vastness of the main Turbine Hall, which rises to a height of 115 feet from below the Thames.

Tate Modern receives more than five million visitors a year, more than double what had been envisaged.

The Tate´s extension, the Switch House, opened last year, is a distorted prism of latticed bricks rising to 215 feet, housing three new floors of gallery space.

The Tate sits above the old power station´s subterranean oil tanks, which have been converted into rough-edged hard spaces for live work, video installations and performance art.

Today´s permanent collection dates back to 1900, but the curators have rejected a chronological approach and have gone instead for hanging works according to themes or individual artists.

The displays are changed frequently.

The visitor must decide for him/her self whether their groupings are the best manner of discovering the art or whether it makes the incomprehensible incoherantly unapproachable.

The best entrance is via the ramp at the West Entrance to the Turbine Hall, where you will find the information desk, the museum cloakroom and the giant bookshop with more than 10,000 titles that claims to be London´s largest art bookshop.

There are free guided tours as well as free admission, except for some temporary exhibitions.

There is a reasonably priced café on Level 1, an espresso bar on Level 3, and a pricey restaurant and bar on Level 7 with a great view over the river.

Of all the creations that mankind has invented I think art museums are the most unnatural.

A person walks into an artificial arena of deep dark suspicion as to what exactly are visitors´ intentions for visiting them.

Are they here to steal the artworks, like Pierce Bronson at the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in the film The Thomas Crown Affair?

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Are they here to vandalise the works in protest or in spite?

I somehow doubt that museum managers or security personnel find the Python “Art Gallery” skit even slightly amusing nor would they understand how identifiable Jack Nicholson´s (as “Jack Napier / the Joker”) visit to the Gotham City Art Museum (in Tim Burton´s film Batman) and his resulting vandalism is to the average man.

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For the urge to do the forbidden lies within all of us.

It would be sinfully delightful to be like the drunken man who walked into the Birmingham City Art Gallery in 1989 and took the Henry Wallis painting The Death of Chatterton off the wall, staggered out carrying the 25,000-pounds worth art piece out into the street and made his escape on a double-decker bus.

We want the tactile experience of feeling the paint strokes of the hanging pictures or caressing the marble contours of some Grecian goddess (or god, depending on which way you swing).

Denied this interactivity, which for the preservation of these masterpieces is sensible, the average visitor, especially with limited time to see absolutely as much as one can while in the Big City, is uninspired to do much more than rush past the painstakingly created masterpieces, retaining little or nothing of the art within their memories.

A museum as immense as the Tate Modern should require a half-day or even a full day to truly immerse the visitor in the awe and inspiration the artists wished to instill within their voyeurs.

How enviable and remarkable are those who have the time and patience to sit for long periods of time in front of just one canvas just to soak into their souls the passion and thought behind each brushstroke and colour choice.

I love watching artists trying to reproduce the wonders on the wall, like Clint Eastwood´s retired thief “Luther Whitney” in front of a canvas in Washington DC´s Corcoran Gallery of Art reproducing the delicate hands of a masterpiece in the film Absolute Power.

A angry man looks to the viewer while the US Secret Service logo and a dead woman is in the bottom with the film's title

Yet I think there is a great deal of irony in artists trying to reproduce modern art, for many 20th century artists tried to reach the parts of our brains that other art doesn´t reach and felt that imitating the art of the past would cripple the ability to produce anything truly new.

Some, like Salvador Dali, were really interested in the world of dreams and the weird and bizarre thoughts that float around the darkest corners of our minds.

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Above: The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali

They wanted to open our subconscious cupboards and make art about the things lurking within.

Modern artists felt themselves to be outsiders who were increasingly dissatisfied with the aims and the methods of the art that pleased the public.

For some, “new” meant recapturing nostaglia for the uniqueness of the “old” as they were unhappy about the general decline in craftsmanship caused by the Industrial Revolution and hated the sight of cheap and tawdry imitations of what once had meaning and nobility.

But the uniqueness of the individual mind reflected on canvas is not some dim carbon copy of what has come before but instead was fresh, novel and thought-provoking even if the public thought the artist insane or the works mystifyingly elusive to grasp.

Perception of art is also as individual as the artist him/her self.

Art means very different things to different people in different times and different places.

There are no wrong reasons for liking (or disliking) a statue or a picture.

People see (or don´t want to see) what they want (or don´t want) to see in reality.

In fact, it is often the expression of reality, conscious or subconscious, which makes us either love or loathe a work of art.

Some people like an expression which they can easily understand and which therefore moves them profoundly.

But herein lies the difficulty for the unartistic in trying to embrace art….

We want to admire an artist´s skill in representing the things we see, but we also want the artwork to generate a feeling from within us.

We don´t just want to see reality reproduced as much as we want to experience the feelings the reproduction is meant to convey.

Don´t just show me a rooster, but rather bring out in the image a sense of its aggressiveness, its cheekiness and its stupidity.

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Above: The Rooster, Pablo Picasso

I think it must be a real challenge for the older generation, as well as for modern art museum managers, to distinguish passing fashions from lasting achievements.

Nor can we predict whether a crazy, middle-aged Dutchman working away in southern France, or a retired gentleman of independent means who refuses to send his art to exhibitions, or a stockbroker who has become a painter late in life and has fled to paint far away in the South Pacific, whether they will later be much-appreciated artists that Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin became.

A painting of a scene at night with 11 swirly stars and a bright yellow crescent moon. In the background there are hills, in the middle ground there is a moonlit town with a church that has an elongated steeple, and in the foreground there is the dark green silhouette of a cypress tree and houses.

Above: Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

Above: Pyramid of Skulls, Paul Cézanne

Above: Ta Matete, Paul Gauguin

Still my wife, (a far more cultural creature than I – the simple country bumpkin she married – poor lamb!) – and I, torn between wishing to linger indefinitely and hearing our mental clocks ticking out the dwindling precious hours remaining in both our vacation time and the museum´s opening hours, probably did not give the Tate Modern the proper full attention and reverance it deserved.

Nor did time permit us to see more than a whirlwind peek of the permanent collections, so sadly we missed the “Red Star Over Russia” exhibition with its rarely seen artworks by Russian and Soviet artists over the five decades from the Revolution of 1905 to the death of Stalin.

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(Anyone in London before 18 February 2018 can still catch it.)

Still, nonetheless, some artworks remain in my mind: Henri Matisse´s The Snail (I tried but my imagination couldn´t discern the snail.), the Guerilla Girls´ US dollar entitled Women in America Earn Only 2/3 of What Men Do, the neon words of Bruce Naumann, the energy and emotional violence of Picasso´s The Three Dancers, Roy Lichtenstein´s Whaam! with the comic book dramatic power of live action, and Constantin Brancusi´s bronze Fish, which is simultaneously both as abstract as a baby´s drawing and as real as the fire extinguisher and the guard in the gallery room.

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Above: The Snail, Henri Matisse

Above: Women in America, The Guerilla Girls

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Above: The Three Dancers, Pablo Picasso

Sadly, for many visitors, including the wife and I, the museum´s structure and clarity is lost in the visitors´ energy and process.

We see, but we don´t observe.

We momentarily reflect, but we don´t remember much or any of what we saw and reflected upon.

The decades a blur and the many hours of love and devotion the artists sacrificed of their lives unappreciated and unacknowledged, such is the result of whirlwind exploration in this age of instant communication and selfish sudden gratification.

We are as children in a playground, lost in the worlds of our own making, using what is seen only as a backdrop to what we want to see.

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Above: Fish, Constantin Brancusi

Still, I will be as a guidebook and recommend the Tate Modern and will caution the visitor to not rush by the landscapes like a high speed train but rather absorb the artwork and let it seep into your soul like a sponge resting on the ocean floor.

Stop and see the artwork.

Stroll past the wonders on the wall like a man without a care in the world rather than like a harried maniac wishing to quickly check off the Tate Modern as just another item seen on some “To Do” list.

I promise you the time spent fishing for enlightenment will generate bounty for both the senses and the emotions.

Allow the art to inspire you.

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Above: Whaam!, Roy Lichtenstein

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / The Complete Monty Python´s Flying Circus: All the Words / E.M. Gombrich, The Story of Art / Michael Cox, The Knowledge: Awful Art / http://www.tate.org.uk