Canada Slim and the Elastic Novice

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 17 September 2019

Damn that man!

One man’s writings has had and continue to have a major effect on my life and this has been reflected in my travels and I have already spoken of the man previously in this blog.

 

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens, New York, 1867

 

(Please see Canada Slim and the Dickensian Moment – first published as “Goodbye, Charles” on 9 June 2015.)

 

(As one of the shortest and woefully inadequate posts I have ever written, expect to see an updated version of “Goodbye, Charles” as soon as possible and the addition of another post that continues the chronicle of my first travels in Europe last described in Canada Slim and the Promised Land – first published as “That which survives 3: The promised land“.)

 

It was he who made me decide to first enter Britain via Broadstairs.

 

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Above: Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs

 

It was he who compelled me to convince my good friends Samantha and Iain to visit his birthplace in Portsmouth.

 

Above: Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, Portsmouth

 

It was he who inspired me to first find the courage to write.

 

It was he whose footsteps I was determined to trace during my visit to London in the last week of October 2017.

 

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My wife had purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, on the Tube, and on trains.

She strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the time when she was attending her medical conference.

 

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26 October was the first day that I would have a chance to view London on my own.

I had, following the Passbook alphabetically, already visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir that morning, so my next goal was the Charles Dickens Museum in the Bloomsbury district.

 

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Above: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

 

(For previous posts on London, please see….

Canada Slim….

  • and the Paddington Arrival
  • and the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • and the Outcast
  • and the Wonders on the Wall
  • and the Calculated Cathedral
  • and the Right Man
  • and the Queen’s Horsemen
  • and the Royal Peculiar
  • and the Lamp Ladies
  • and the Uncertainty Principle
  • and the Museum of Many
  • and the Breviary of Bartholew
  • and the Body Snatchers
  • and the Freudian Slippers
  • and the Mandir of Nose Hill )

 

 

London, England, 26 October 2017

Few cities are as closely associated with one writer as London is with Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870).

The recurrent motifs in his novels have become the clichés of Victorian London (though Dickens was active and successful before Queen Victoria came to the throne) – the fog, the slums and alleys, the prisons and workhouses and the stinking river.

Drawing on his own personal experience, Dickens was able to describe  the workings of the law and the conditions of the poor with an unrivalled accuracy.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

Born in Portsmouth (Please see Canada Slim and the Dickensian Moment.), Dickens was the second of eight children.

His father, John Dickens, was a clerk who worked for the Navy and had set up home in Portsmouth with his wife Elizabeth.

 

A view of Old Portsmouth taken from the viewing deck of the Spinnaker Tower. Old buildings, cobbled streets and a small island can be seen in the frame.

Above: Old Portsmouth

 

In 1817 John was posted to the dockyard in Chatham.

John and his family took a full part in the life of the community.

They were friendly with neighbours and with the family of a local landlord.

 

Charles and his sister Fanny were frequently set up by their father atop a table in the Mitre Inn to entertain the tavern with songs and ballads of the day.

It was in Chatham that Charles began his education.

 

Above: Chatham Dockyard

 

His widowed aunt Mary Allen married for a second time while the Dickens family were in Chatham.

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Above: 2 Ordnance Terrace, Chatham (Dickens’ home: 1817 – 1821)

 

This was to a widowed doctor, Matthew Lambert, who had a son Matthew, a little older than Charles and became a great influence upon this early part of Charles’ life, for it was Matthew who introduced Charles to the wonders of the theatre.

This was the beginning of a lifelong passion.

I tried to recollect whether I had ever been in any theatre in my life from which I had not brought away some pleasant association, however poor the theatre, and I protest, I could not remember even one.

In fact, Charles always had a great relish for bad theatre.

 

Allow me to introduce myself—first negatively.

No landlord is my friend and brother.

No chambermaid loves me.

No waiter worships me.

No boots admires and envies me. 

No round of beef or tongue or ham is expressly cooked for me.

No pigeon pie is especially made for me.

No hotel advertisement is personally addressed to me.

No hotel room tapestried with great coats and railway wrappers is set apart for me.

No house of public entertainment in the United Kingdom greatly cares for my opinion of its brandy or sherry. 

When I go upon my journeys, I am not usually rated at a low figure in the bill.

When I come home from my journeys, I never get any commission. 

I know nothing about prices, and should have no idea, if I were put to it, how to wheedle a man into ordering something he doesn’t want. 

As a town traveller, I am never to be seen driving a vehicle externally like a young and volatile pianoforte van, and internally like an oven in which a number of flat boxes are baking in layers. 

As a country traveller, I am rarely to be found in a gig, and am never to be encountered by a pleasure train, waiting on the platform of a branch station, quite a Druid in the midst of a light Stonehenge of samples.

And yet—proceeding now, to introduce myself positively—I am both a town traveller and a country traveller, and am always on the road. 

Figuratively speaking, I travel for the great house of Human Interest Brothers, and have rather a large connection in the fancy goods way. 

Literally speaking, I am always wandering here and there from my rooms in Covent Garden, London—now about the city streets: now, about the country by-roads—seeing many little things, and some great things, which, because they interest me, I think may interest others.

These are my chief credentials as the Uncommercial Traveller.

 

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In The Uncommercial Traveller, he revisited Rochester where he enjoyed the somewhat shaky productions he saw there.

He does not spare the company:

Many wondrous secrets of Nature had I come to the knowledge of in that sanctuary:

Of which not the least terrific were, that the witches in Macbeth bore an awful resemblance to the Thanes and other proper inhabitants of Scotland, and that the good King Duncan could not rest in his grave, but was constantly coming out of it and calling himself somebody else.

 

Above: High Street, Rochester

 

John Dickens’ job entitled him and his family to regard themselves as middle class, but the middle classes had little money behind them if things went wrong or if they couldn’t support their large families in seizing the opportunities they had anticipated.

Prosperity could unravel very quickly.

By the time John was recalled to London in 1822, the debts were considerable and his new post meant a drop in salary.

 

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Above: John Dickens (1785 – 1851)

 

Such was the family situation in 1823 that the young Charles, age 11, had to go out to work, finding employment in a boot-blacking factory, Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, on the north bank of the Thames, near the site of the modern Charing Cross Station.

Charles and his colleagues had to cover pots of boot polish (blacking) and paste on to them paper labels.

He was paid six shillings a week.

Great numbers of children in early 19th century England would have done similar work – and many, much, much worse.

 

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It was a crazy, tumbledown old house, abutting, of course, on the river, and literally overrun with rats.

Its wainscotted rooms and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and the decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again.

The counting house was on the first floor, looking over the coal barges and the river.

There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work.

 

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This episode affected Charles profoundly.

He thought his parents had given up on him.

It is amazing to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.

It is amazing to me, that, even after my descent into the poor little drudge I had been since we came to London, no one had compassion enough for me … to suggest that something might have been spared, as certainly it might have been, to place me at any common school ….

No one made any sign.

My father and mother were quite satisfied.

They could hardly have been more so, if I had been 20 years of age, distinguished at a Grammar School and going to Cambridge.”

 

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Above: Cambridge University coat-of-arms

 

On 20 February 1824 John Dickens was arrested and imprisoned in Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison.

 

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Above: Marshalsea Prison Gate

 

Charles was deeply ashamed of his family’s circumstances and hurt further when his mother forced him to keep his blacking job even after his father’s release.

 

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Above: Elizabeth Dickens (1789 – 1863)

 

This influenced Dickens’s view that a father should rule the family, and a mother find her proper sphere inside the home:

I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back.

His mother’s requesting his return was a factor in his dissatisfied attitude towards women.

 

Righteous indignation stemming from his own situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived became major themes of his works, and it was this unhappy period in his youth to which he alluded in his favourite, and most autobiographical, novel, David Copperfield:

I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone, that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to Heaven!

 

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In the end, a number of circumstances brought an opportunity for change.

John inherited some money, began receiving a pension from the Navy and started working as a journalist, thus enabling the family to dispense with the few shillings Charles was adding to the family income.

 

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Dickens got to school eventually.

He spent two years at Wellington House, which he remembered with little affection.

He did not consider it to be a good school:

Much of the haphazard, desultory teaching, poor discipline punctuated by the headmaster’s sadistic brutality, the seedy ushers and general run-down atmosphere, are embodied in Mr Creakle’s Establishment in David Copperfield.

 

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When he left, at age 15, he was ready for work.

An acquaintance of the family found Charles work as a lawyer’s clerk with the firm of Ellis and Blackmore, which lasted 18 months.

Dickens worked at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore, attorneys, of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn, as a junior clerk from May 1827 to November 1828.

 

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Above: Gray’s Inn Square, London

 

Charles was a gifted mimic and impersonated those around him: clients, lawyers, and clerks.

He went to theatres obsessively—he claimed that for at least three years he went to the theatre every single day.

His favourite actor was Charles Mathews and Dickens learnt his monopolylogues (farces in which Mathews played every character) by heart.

 

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Above: Charles Matthews (1776 – 1835)

 

Then, having learned Gurney’s system of shorthand in his spare time, he left to become a freelance reporter.

 

Above: Example of Thomas Gurney (1705 – 1770) shorthand

 

A distant relative, Thomas Charlton, was a freelance reporter at Doctors’ Commons and Dickens was able to share his box there to report the legal proceedings for nearly four years.

 

Above: Doctors’ Commons in the early 19th century

 

This education was to inform works such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, and especially Bleak House—whose vivid portrayal of the machinations and bureaucracy of the legal system did much to enlighten the general public and served as a vehicle for dissemination of Dickens’s own views regarding, particularly, the heavy burden on the poor who were forced by circumstances to “go to law“.

 

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Charles had family in journalism.

His father wrote occasional pieces, but Charles also had a maternal uncle, John Henry Barrow, who in 1828 launched The Mirror of Parliament.

It was not long before Charles was part of Barrow’s parliamentary reporting team and was soon striking out writing for other publications, including the radical newspaper The True Sun.

 

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Sometime before 1830, Dickens fell in love with a young woman called Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker.

The relationship between them flashed on and off for around four years, despite hostility from her parents, interference from friends and Maria’s own capricious nature.

The letters that survive show how thoroughly Dickens was absorbed in pursuing her.

Maria’s parents disapproved of the courtship and ended the relationship by sending her to school in Paris.

When the end finally came, he wrote to her, claiming:

I have never loved and I can never love any human creature breathing but yourself.

 

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Above: Maria Beadnell (1810 – 1886)

 

She is thought to be the model for the character Dora in David Copperfield.

 

Above: David Copperfield and Dora Spenlow

 

Many years later, Dickens got a letter from Maria out of the blue and a short correspondence between them began in which he proclaimed the intensity of his original feelings for her.

The tone of these letters soon changed after he arranged to see her and she turned out to be “toothless, fat, old and ugly” (her words).

 

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Above: Miriam Margoyles as Maria Beadnell Winter

 

The Maria romance is interesting because of the marked contrast it makes with Dickens’ engagement and marriage.

Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of his boss at the Evening Chronicle, could hardly have been a more different young woman.

At least Dickens looked at her in a completely different way.

His letters to her are affectionate but occasionally overbearing, as if he was asserting himself to ensure that no more nonsense got in the way of his own ambition.

He was particularly careful to outline the primacy of his work and its demands.

His commitments at this time were extremely heavy.

Catherine and Charles married on 2 April 1836 and went for a week’s honeymoon to Chalk in Kent (during which, true to form, Dickens was busy with The Pickwick Papers).

 

Above: Catherine Hogarth Dickens (1816 – 1879)

 

In August 1834 Charles was given a permanent position on The Morning Chronicle, a liberal paper, to report on all parliamentary matters.

This included elections (there were two in 1835) and political meetings – all around the country, before there were railroads.

Deadlines were nevertheless overwhelmingly important and Dickens experienced many freezing, wet stagecoach journeys, bouncing about, writing on his knees, racing back to London to get his account in before the rival reporters on The Times.

 

 

Dickens’ first published piece of creative work appeared in the Monthly Magazine in 1833.

It was called “A Dinner at Poplar Walk“.

The publication had a circulation of 600 and the young author wasn’t paid, but he knew what it all meant.

 

Above: Monthly Magazine (1796 – 1843) issue, 1 February 1810

 

In the preface of the cheap edition of The Pickwick Papers, Dickens tells us that he practically smuggled the piece into the magazine’s offices:

It was dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet Street.”

The piece’s emergence into print was an occasion of some emotion:

I walked down to Westminster Hall and turned into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street and were not fit to be seen there.

 

Pickwickclub serial.jpg

 

More pieces for the Monthly Magazine followed.

These were comic stories, which owed a lot to the theatrical farces so common on the London stage.

It was at the end of one of these pieces, published in May 1834, that he signed his name as “Boz“, the nom de plume by which he first began to establish his reputation and indeed his brand.

Boz being a family nickname he employed as a pseudonym for some years.

Dickens apparently adopted it from the nickname “Moses“, which he had given to his youngest brother Augustus Dickens, after a character in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield.

 

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Above: Augustus Dickens (1827 – 1866)

 

When pronounced by anyone with a head cold, “Moses” became “Boses“—later shortened to Boz.

As “Boz“, Dickens began to collect readers.

He was given further opportunities to please them.

 

Dickens began to write occasional pieces for the Morning Chronicle in addition to his reporting.

These were his “sketches” – informal surveys of parts of London, London themes or observations of London people, held together by a conversational tone rather than a narrative: a Londoner talking to Londoners.

When an evening sister paper to the Morning Chronicle was launched, Dickens obtained a salary to continue his writing explorations in the same vein.

 

Above: London, 1886

 

The increasing exposure brought Dickens to the attention of Harrison Ainsworth, a writer not much read today, but a real star of the literary scene at this time.

Ainsworth admired Boz‘s work and introduced Dickens to his own publisher John Macrone.

 

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Above: William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882)

 

Soon a collected volume of the newspaper and magazine pieces with drawings of George Cruikshank, the leading illustrator of the day, was published in February 1836.

Sketches by Boz sold so well that a second edition was needed that year and two more in 1837.

 

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As the first edition of Sketches by Boz emerged in 1836, Dickens was approached by the publishers Chapman and Hall.

They came with an idea that had been proposed to them in turn by a well-known illustrator, Robert Seymour.

The plan went like this:

Seymour would produce a series of engravings depicting the amusing mishaps attending a club of Cockney sportsmen – men from the new middle classes, with money to spend on the aristocratic pursuits of previous generations: hunting, shooting and fishing.

These illustrations would be published as a monthly serial.

Would Dickens care to write some text to help string the images together?

Fourteen pounds a month might be possible.

No one really knows what or how much Dickens saw in this offer at the time.

He liked the money.

He was told that serials were a “low, cheap form of publication” that would ruin him.

The fact that he kept all his other irons in the fire suggests that he did not count too much on the new venture establishing his reputation.

But that is exactly what it did.

He claims, in the preface to The Pickwick Papers, that he recognized that the idea wouldn’t do:

I objected, on consideration, that although born and partly bred in the country I was no great sportsman, that the idea was not novel, and had already been much used, that it would infinitely better for the plates to arise naturally out of the text, and that I should like to take my own way….

At first sales were disappointing, but by the end of its run in November 1837,  The Pickwick Papers was selling 40,000 copies per month, it had been adapted for the stage many times over and the words of its characters  seemed to be on everyone’s lips – as was the name of its young author.

 

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After their 1836 wedding, Charles took Catherine to a set of chambers he was renting in Furnival’s Inn, one of the inns of court, the traditional home of English law practice and accommodation for many non-lawyers too.

 

 

As The Pickwick Papers started bringing in a more secure income, Charles set his sights on more substantial living quarters.

These turned out to be at 48 Doughty Street, into which Catherine and Charles moved with their son Charley in March 1837.

 

Above: 48 Doughty Street, London

 

They took in Catherine’s younger sister Mary Hogarth, who had supported Catherine during her first pregnancy.

It was not unusual for a woman’s unwed sister to live with and help a married couple.

Dickens became very attached to Mary.

She inspired characters in many of his books.

Mary is seen as the inspiration for Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist.

She is also seen as the inspiration for Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Nell had many traits that Dickens associated to Howarth, including describing Nell as “young, beautiful and good“.

Other characters believed to have been inspired by Mary include:

  • Kate Nickleby, the 17-year-old sister of the hero of the novel Nicholas Nickleby
  • Agnes Wickfield, the heroine in David Copperfield
  • Ruth Pinch from Martin Chuzzlewit
  • Lilian, the child who appears in Trotty Veck’s visions in The Chimes
  • Dot Peerybingle, the sister in The Cricket on the Hearth.

 

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Above: Mary Hogarth (1819 – 1837)

 

Unlike Mary, Dickens’ wife Catherine does not appear to have been the inspiration for any of his characters.

 

Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London, famed as a fashionable residential area and as the home of numerous prestigious cultural, intellectual and educational institutions.

It is bounded by Fitzrovia to the west, Covent Garden to the south, Regent’s Park and St. Pancras to the north, and Clerkenwell to the east.

Bloomsbury is home of the British Museum, the largest museum in the United Kingdom, and numerous educational institutions, including the University College London, the University of London, the New College of the Humanities, the University of Law, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and many others.

 

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Above: The British Museum, London

 

Bloomsbury is an intellectual and literary hub for London, as home of world-known Bloomsbury Publishing, publishers of the Harry Potter series, and namesake of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of famous British intellectuals, including author Virginia Woolf and economist John Maynard Keynes, among others.

 

Photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford

Above: Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)

 

Bloomsbury began to be developed in the 17th century under the Earls of Southampton, but it was primarily in the 19th century, under the Duke of Bedford, which the district was planned and built as an affluent Regency era residential area by famed developer James Burton.

The district is known for its numerous garden squares, including Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square and Tavistock Square, among others.

Notable residents of Bloomsbury have included J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Ricky Gervais, Vladimir Lenin, Bob Marley, Catherine Tate (Donna Noble, Doctor Who) and William Butler Yeats.

 

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Above: Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924)

 

Despite a plethora of blue plaques, Bloomsbury boasts just one literary museum, the Charles Dickens Museum, the only one of the writer’s fifteen London addresses to survive intact.

 

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Doughty Street was a well-to-do gated Georgian street when Dickens – flush with the success of his first two published works – moved here in 1837.

The family lived in this light and airy house for two years, during which he completed Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby and worked on Barnaby Rudge.

Catherine gave birth to two children in the bedroom here.

 

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On Saturday, 6 May 1837, Charles took Catherine and Mary to the theatre.

They returned home in good spirits, enjoyed some supper and a drink together and went to bed at one in the morning.

A few moments later Charles heard a cry from Mary’s bedroom and hurried in to find her still in her day clothes and visibly ill.

Catherine came to see what was wrong.

Charles said afterwards that they had no idea there was anything seriously the matter with Mary, but that they sent for medical assistance to be on the safe side.

Whatever Dr. Pickthorn did had no effect, yet still there seemed no cause for alarm.

Mary was, after all, only 17 years old and until then had been in perfect health.

Fourteen hours went by before Mary sank under the attack and died – died in such a calm and gentle sleep, that although Charles had held her in his arms for some time before, when she was certainly living (for she swallowed a little brandy from his hand) Charles continued to support her lifeless form, long after her soul had fled to Heaven.

This was about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.

Thank God she died in my arms and the very last words she whispered were of me.“, Charles told fellow reporter and friend Tom Beard.

Before Charles laid Mary’s body down he was able to remove a ring from her finger and put it on one of his own.

And there it stayed for the rest of his life.

 

Above: Mary’s bedroom, Charles Dickens Museum

 

Mary’s death is fictionalized as the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

 

 

The building at 48 Doughty Street was threatened with demolition in 1923, but was saved by the Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, who raised the mortgage and bought the property.

The house was renovated and the Dickens House Museum was opened in 1925, under the direction of an independent trust, now a registered charity.

 

Above: Study, Charles Dickens Museum

 

48 Doughty Street is presented as far as possible in its inhabited state, the idea being to give the impression that the Dickens family is still resident.

Much of the house’s furniture belonged, at one time or another, to Dickens, and the house also owns the earliest known portrait of the writer (a miniature painted by his aunt Mary Allen in 1830).

 

Above: Charles Dickens

 

Perhaps the best-known exhibit is the portrait of Dickens known as Dickens’s Dream by R. W. Buss, an original illustrator of The Pickwick Papers.

This unfinished portrait shows Dickens in his study at Gads Hill Place surrounded by many of the characters he had created.

The painting was begun in 1870 after Dickens’s death.

 

Above: Dickens’ Dream, Robert William Buss

 

(Gads Hill Place in Higham, Kent, sometimes spelt Gadshill Place and Gad’s Hill Place, was the country home of Charles Dickens.

Today the building is the independent Gad’s Hill School.

The house was built in 1780 for a former Mayor of Rochester, Thomas Stephens, opposite the present Sir John Falstaff Public House.

Gad’s Hill is where Falstaff commits the robbery that begins Shakespeare’s Henriad trilogy (Henry IV: Part 1, Henry IV: Part 2 and Henry V). )

 

Above: Gad’s Hill Place, Rochester

 

Other notable artefacts in the Museum include numerous first editions and original manuscripts as well as original letters by Dickens, and many personal items owned by Dickens and his family.

 

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The only known item of clothing worn by Dickens still in existence is also displayed at the Museum.

This is his Court suit and sword, worn when Dickens was presented to the Prince of Wales in 1870.

 

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The Charles Dickens Museum also owns the adjacent house, #49, where they stage special exhibitions, house the bookshop and have a lovely café with free Wifi.

 

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There runs within both London and Rochester (where Charles spent the last years of his life) a Dickens Trail.

On London’s Dickens Trail, there is:

  • the Old Curiosity Shop (currently a shoe shop) on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the inspiration of Dickens’ novel of the same name
  • the atmospheric Inns of Court (once the headquarters of the Knights Templar) which feature in several Dickens novels
  • Nancy’s Steps, where Nancy tells Rose Maylie Oliver’s story in Oliver Twist
  • the evocative dockland area east of Shad Thames where Bill Sykes (also of Oliver Twist) had his hide-out.

 

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(This dockland area, known as China Wharf – today very photogenic with its stack of semicircular windows picked out in red – was once dubbed “the very capital of cholera“.

In 1849, the Morning Chronicle described it thus:

Jostling with unemployed labourers of the lowest class, ballast heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children, and the very raff and refuse of the river, the visitor makes his way with difficulty along, assailed by offensive sights and sounds from the narrow alleys which branch off.

This was the location of Dickens’ fictional Jacob’s Island, a place with “every imaginable sign of desolation and neglect“, where Bill Sykes met his end in Oliver Twist.)

 

Above: China Wharf, London

 

Charles John Huffam Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic.

He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.

His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius.

His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed readings extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education and other social reforms.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1842

 

Dickens’s literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers.

Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society.

His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication.

Cliffhanger endings in his serial publications kept readers in suspense.

The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback.

For example, when his wife’s chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield seemed to reflect her disabilities, Dickens improved the character with positive features.

His plots were carefully constructed and he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

Masses of the illiterate poor chipped in ha’pennies to have each new monthly episode read to them, opening up and inspiring a new class of readers.

His 1843 novella A Christmas Carol remains especially popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre.

 

Brown book cover bearing the words "A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens" in gold.

 

Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London.

 

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His 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities (set in London and Paris) is his best-known work of historical fiction.

 

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The most famous celebrity of his era, public demand saw him undertake a series of public reading tours in the later part of his career.

 

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Dickens has been praised by many of his fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell, G. K. Chesterton and Tom Wolfe—for his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations and social criticism.

However, Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing and a vein of sentimentalism.

 

Above: Dickens’ chair, Charles Dickens Museum

 

The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

 

There is much in Charles Dickens’ life before and up to his residency at 48 Doughty Street that I can relate with.

Charles came from a large family, as did I, but like the titular hero of Oliver Twist it was not until later in my life did I come to realize that I was neither an orphan (nor an only child) as far as my biological heritage went.

 

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My first work during my school years was labour intensive like Charles’ was.

While his was labouring in a blacking factory, mine was summer employment as a farmhand.

(A position I occasionally returned to when financing my travels.)

 

 

Like Charles, I spent much of the early years of my life outdoors when I wasn’t reading voraciously.

The boy Charles read Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding and The Arabian Nights.

I read Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stephenson and the adventures of the Hardy Boys.

 

 

Charles was separated from his family by mounting debts and living beyond one’s means.

It is said that these were the cause of my biological parents’ break-up and it was the prevention of these to my foster parents that led to my being taken in for the provincial support the government provided for my care.

 

Canadian Provinces and Territories

 

Unlike Charles, I was never small for my age and I would by the age of 14 surpass Charles’ adult height of 5’9″ to reach my current height of 6’4″, but, like Charles, I had felt that I was a “not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy“.

 

After my secondary and post-secondary studies, I, like Charles, worked as a clerk, but what for him would be a brief two years would be for me always a position to return to between my travels.

I have worked as a clerk for a customs broker, federal government departments and for a registered charity.

 

 

More akin to George Orwell, I would later work as a teacher and a restaurant worker, but in a Dickensian vein, I have written (sometimes for money, sometimes for exposure) for local newspapers and school publications.

 

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I have never achieved great fame, but then neither have I greatly sought it to the extent that Dickens did.

 

What I have always admired about Dickens and his works are:

  • his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society.
  • his carefully constructed plots wherein he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives.
  • his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations and social criticism.
  • his walking which led to his descriptions of the neglected and forgotten corners of London.

 

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Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night.“, wrote the poet Rupert Brooke.

London’s own Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, William Blake and Thomas De Quincey were all night time perambulators, but of those who walk the streets at night the supreme nightwalker was Charles Dickens.

 

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In Great Expectations (1861), Pip at one point visits Miss Haversham in her home in Kent in order to inform her and her ward Estella, with whom he is still madly in love, that he has finally discovered the identity of his benefactor, the convict Magwitch.

Pip confirms that, because he knows Miss Haversham was not responsible for his transformation into a gentleman, he realizes that she and Estella have all along treated him not as their protegé but “as a kind of servant, to gratify a want or whim“.

It is on this occasion, too, that Estella admits she is to be married, as Pip feared, to the odious and oafish aristocrat Bentley Drummle.

Thus discarded, and in a deeply disconsolate state of mind, Pip escapes from Satis House and, as the afternoon light thickens, hides himself for a time “among some lanes and bypaths“.

Then, in a moment of decision, he strikes off “to walk all the way to London“.

I could do nothing half so good for myself as tire myself out.”, he decides.

It is “past midnight” when he eventually crosses London Bridge.

 

 

Four years later, Dickens made roughly the same journey on foot, in reverse.

 

One night in October 1857, when he was in his mid-forties, Dickens retired to bed in the family home in Bloomsbury, but found himself completely unable to get to sleep.

He had suffered from intermittent insomnia throughout his adult life, but on this occasion he felt particularly agitated.

He did not feel at home at home.

So at 0200 Dickens climbed out of bed, dressed in warm clothes and set off through the gaslit streets of the city.

 

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Dickens had written more than two decades earlier:

The streets of London, to be beheld in the very height of their glory, should be seen on a dark, dull, murky winter’s night.

When the heavy, lazy mist, which hangs over every object, makes the gas lamps look brighter.

 

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In the damp silence of the autumn night, beneath the scuffing sound of his boots on the stone pavements, Dickens would have heard the gas whispering its secrets in the softly rasping pipes.

Heading south in the direction of the Thames, Dickens walked through London directly to Gad’s Hill Place, his country residence in Kent.

Like Pip’s journey through the night, it was a distance of some 30 miles.

 

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Catherine and Charles had been….prolific – ten children – “the largest family ever known with the smallest disposition to do anything for themselves” as Dickens later described them – and 15 novels, each published in monthly (or weekly) installments, which were awaited with baited breath by the public.

Then in 1857, at the peak of his career, Dickens fell in love with the actress, Ellen Ternan.

Charles was 45, Ellen just 18.

 

Above: Ellen Ternan (1839 – 1914)

 

On the evening of his nightwalk, Catherine and Charles quarrelled.

They were becoming inrcreasingly estranged, partly because of his relationship with Ellen.

For this reason, Charles visited Tavistock House, their home at this time, only rarely.

 

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Above: Tavistock House, London

 

Charles spent most of the autumn of 1857 at Gad’s Hill Place.

When he needed to be in central London, he tended to stay in a bachelor flat at the offices of his periodical, Household Words.

It was shortly after Charles insisted on partitioning the bedroom he shared with Catherine so that they could sleep separately.

 

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The nighttime journey on foot to Gad’s Hill Place, driven by an acute sense of anguish and guilt, took Dickens little more than seven hours.

(According to present day Google Maps, the same journey normally takes 9.5 hours.)

 

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Above: Google Maps logo

 

Dickens was a fast walker, who took pride in the fact that he could sustain a pace of at least four miles an hour across long distances.

(In my walking days my average pace was 3 mph and on a descent 5 mph.)

 

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Above: Canada Slim, The Dutton Advance, 6 March 1991

 

His friends frequently complained of the speed and impatience with which he walked.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

Edward Johnson, one of his biographers, wrote:

Sometimes his perspiring companions gave way to blisters and breathlessness.

 

Charles himself was boastful of his feats as a pedestrian.

He professed in 1860:

So much of my travelling is done on foot that if I cherished betting propensities, I should probably be found registered in sporting newspapers as the Elastic Novice, challenging all 11-stone mankind to competition in walking.

 

No doubt he secretly harboured dreams of bettering Captain Barclay, a celebrated athlete who, in 1809, when pedestrianism first became a sporting activity, walked a thousand miles in a thousand hours for a thousand guineas.

 

Above: Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce (1779 – 1854), the celebrated pedestrian

 

In the late 1850s, Dickens remained a fit man precisely because he insisted on walking, both in London and in the countryside, whenever he could find the opportunity.

Even so, he was increasingly afflicted with ill health at this time.

His symptoms included neuralgic and rheumatic pains.

His feet also troubled him.

 

According to biographer Claire Tomalin:

First his left foot, and then his right, took to swelling intermittedly, becoming so painful that during each attack he became unable to take himself on the great walks that were essential part and pleasure of his life.

 

Dickens had gout, though he was reluctant to accept the idea, claiming instead that he contracted the pain because he had incautiously walked in snowy conditions.

This did not deter him from walking in all conditions, clement or inclement.

 

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G.K. Chesterton, identifiying a “streak of sickness” in Dickens, which he detected in the novelist’s “fervid” intelligence, nonetheless confirmed that “he suffered from no formidable malady and could always through life endure a great deal of exertion, even if it was only the exertion of walking violently all night.

 

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Above: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

 

For John Hollingshead, who had been apprenticed to Dickens on Household Words, and who therefore saw a good deal of him in the 1850s, this proclivity for “violent walking” was itself a malady.

Hollingshead recalled in retrospect that “when Dickens lived in Tavistock House he developed a mania for walking long distances, which almost assumed the form of a disease.”

When he was restless, his brain excited by struggling with incidents or characters in the novel he was writing, he would frequently get up and walk through the night over Waterloo Bridge, along the London, New Kent and Old Kent Roads, past all the towns on the old Dover High Road, until he came to his roadside dwelling (Gad’s Hill Place).

His dogs barked when they heard his key in the wicket-gate. 

His behaviour must have seemed madness to the ghost of Sir John Falstaff.

(Gad’s Hill Place stood opposite the Falstaff Inn, formerly a notorious haunt of robbers and highwaymen.)

 

Above: John Hollingshead (1827 – 1904)

 

It is likely, then, that Dickens conducted his 30-mile nightwalk to Kent on more than one occasion.

But Dickens’ celebrated feat on that night in October 1857 was less about overcoming physical afflictions than capitulating to his psychological ones.

This was a flight both from his everyday life and from his self.

 

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From an early age Charles had been running away from something, or walking “fast and far” from something.

Going astray“, he called it.

In an article entitled “Going Astray“, printed in Household Words in 1853, Dickens described how he had “got lost one day in the City of London” as an 8-year-old child and roamed and strayed and strolled through London’s precincts all day and into the night, until he found a watchman.

I have gone astray since, many times, and farther afield.“, Dickens concludes with a certain sad pride.

 

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Chesterton argued that Dicken’s originality and genius resided in the fact that he possessed, “in the most sacred and serious sense of the term, the key of the street.

Few of us understand the street.

Even we step into it, as into a house or a room of strangers.

Few of us see through the shining riddle of the street, the strange folk that belong to the street only – the street-walker or the street Arab, the nomads, who generation after generation, have kept their ancient secrets in the full blaze of the sun.

Of the street at night many of us know even less.

The street at night is a great house locked up.

But Dickens had, if ever man had, the key of the street.

His stars were the lamps of the street.

His hero was the man in the street.

He could open the inmost door of his house – the door that leads into that secret passage which is lined with houses and roofed with stars.”

 

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Night Walks, first published in All the Year Round in 1860 and then reprinted in The Uncommercial Traveller in 1861, was Dickens’ finest, most haunting piece of non-fictional prose.

At once impressionistic and replete with intensely related detail, it relates his experiences on the streets of the capital between half past midnight (0030) and the moment when “the conscious gas begins to grow pale with the knowledge that daylight is coming.”

A sense of solitude echoes through his sentences, empty and hollow as the midnight streets through which he walks.

 

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When a church clock strikes, on homeless ears in the dead of the night, it may be at first be mistaken for company, but as the spreading circles of vibration echo out into eternal space, the mistake is rectified and the sense of loneliness is profounder.

Dickens confesses to have discovered a lonely sense of community in the cold depths of the London night, among men defined by “a tendency to lurk and lounge, to be at street corners without intelligible reason“.

My principal object being to get through the night, the pursuit of it brought me into sympathetic relations with people who have no other object every night of the year.

 

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These are the everyday casualities of life in the capitalist metropolis – the victims of unemployment, addiction and other symptoms of social and spiritual alienation.

The homeless must conquer time and defend themselves against its blank emptiness, from minute to minute, moment by moment, the shame, desertion, wretchedness and exposure of the great capital, the wet, the cold, the slow hours and the swift clouds of the dismal night.

For the police, the proof of a home, a legal nocturnal place to stay, is the precondition for the recognition of existence.

So the situation of homelessness, roaming the night without aim, without rest, represents exclusion from society.

It is a form of non-existence, non-being, the outer limits of society’s psychological and sociological borderland, the hinterland of humanity, the dark hollow interior of human nature.

 

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London is a city where 55% of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40% were born abroad, and 5% are living illegally in the shadows.

Every week 2,000 migrants unload at Victoria Coach Station, tens of thousands of migrants arriving here every year.

But who can trust statistics?

 

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You will never understand what it means to be a beggar until you have slept on the streets.

They sleep in front of the glare of shop windows, for the light lends a sense of safety.

Crackheads and Roma, street life, disorientation, a jumble of faces, an eternal rumble of traffic, where working girls sell their bodies and throw in their souls for free, the rhythm of the streets, a never sated drumbeat.

 

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Ute (my wife) and I on London evenings are one of many after-dinner couples strolling along.

I hear others with their contempt and disgust regard the beggars who congregate upon the concrete like lost church mice, like mangy parasites, cosmopolitan cockroaches, best belittled than assisted.

 

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They are the invisible, because we choose to ignore them.

They are painful reminders of our privileged life that they cannot imagine having or, if once had, reacquiring.

They are the old and the prematurely aged, shuffling and stumbling, snuffling and sniffing, pleading for pennies from those whose hearts are void of compassion.

Washed-up soiled souls marooned, listless and almost lifeless, easy prey to those who would use them for cruel sport, they lie beneath walls smeared in blood and feces upon flattened cardboard boxes that soften the sidewalk.

Human rubbish amidst human refuse, they are gaunt faces with sunken eyes, needing to beg to survive, to live, to exist, but to beg is to break the law.

What is earned is confiscated.

Law and order trumps love and outreach.

They see the beggar as an offense not as a fellow human being.

Those without homes are an invisible city deliberately unseen by the lucky with lodgings.

 

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Charles Dickens’ home is remembered as I hold my wife’s hand tightly to lend ourselves courage to encounter what we do not comprehend.

Charles feared poverty, was obsessed with money, felt that unease that only those who have raised themselves out from poverty can truly understand.

But his talent, hard work, perseverance and good fortune never required a return to a hand-to-mouth, payment-to-payment survival.

He encountered the homeless and destitute during his night walks but was never reduced to joining their ranks.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

My wife and I have London lodgings during our sojourn here and a warm comfortable flat awaiting our return to Switzerland.

 

Coat of arms of Switzerland

 

I too have known a poverty of sorts, though my begging was limited to government assistance and hitching rides and seeking emergency overnight shelter in the places where rides left me.

In my long-distance walking days I slept wherever I could and rarely needed the tent I carried upon my backpack.

 

Like those migrants of London for whom hope remains despite their desperate circumstances, I worked where and when I could, sometimes in the safety of the law, sometimes not.

Though I have never been much of an evening perambulator I have nonetheless encountered the homeless in more than a few cities I have visited.

I see it regularly amongst the Roma in Konstanz and I give as prudently as I can when I encounter the beggar Bruno in St. Gallen.

I remember the helpless and hapless of London and Paris, Seoul and Istanbul, Naples and New York.

 

Above: The Old Beggar of Bordeaux, Louis Dewis, 1916

 

I think of Oliver Twist.

Advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

 

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Above: Mark Lester as Oliver Twist, Oliver!, 1968

 

Everyone’s hungry for something.

 

Sources: The Rough Guide to London / Matthew Beaumont, Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London / Jeremy Clarke, The Charles Dickens Miscellany / Charles Dickens, Night Walks / Ben Judah, This Is London / Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life

 

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Canada Slim and the Voices without Echo

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Monday 2 June 2019

Thursday was Ascension Day, a holiday commemorated in both Thurgau Canton (where my wife works) and in St. Gallen Canton (where I work), and, to our mutual surprise, we found ourselves both free from the obligations of employment simultaneously.

A miracle almost as spectacular as someone rising to Heaven in a cloud!

 

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We decided to visit the Hundertwasser Exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Lindau, Germany, by taking a train to Romanshorn, then another to Rorschach Harbour and then finally a boat across the Lake of Constance to Bavaria’s only port.

This post is not that story, though it is this story that inspires this post.

 

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In thinking about how my wife and I interacted on yesterday’s day trip I invariably compare it to other times we have travelled together.

 

(For previous posts about Porto, please see Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges as well as Canada Slim and the Station Sanctuary of this blog.)

 

The wife and I have been together for 23 years – she IS tough – and we always somehow muddle through.

We forgive one another.

She forgives me for being wrong and I forgive her for pointing out how truly wrong I can be!

Sadly, the amnesia of our conflicts is sometimes not as permanent as it should be….

 

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Porto, Portugal, Wednesday 25 July 2018

It is a warm day in this the most western country of Continental Europe and happily we are in a city we both like.

Porto is more than a twee tourist trap of little more than pomp and ceremony, like Lisboa the Portuguese capital.

Porto is Portugal’s Chicago, a busy commercial centre, whose fascination lies in its riverside setting and day-to-day life.

Make no mistake there are sites in Porto worth seeing….

  • The riverside barrio of Ribeira with waterfront cafés and restuarants
  • The landmark Clérigos Tower
  • The Sé, Porto’s cathedral
  • The contemporary art gallery and park at the Fondacao de Serralves
  • The port wine lodges across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia
  • A Douro River cruise
  • The bridges that span the Douro: the Ponte Dom Luis I, the Ponte Infante, the Ponte María Pia
  • The Salào Árabe of the Palácio da Bosa

 

From the top left corner clockwise: Clérigos Tower; Palácio da Bolsa; Avenida dos Aliados; Church of São Francisco; Porto Cathedral; Porto City Hall; Ribeira

Above: Images of Porto

 

We had walked through the cathedral square the day previously, but this morning we were determined to explore all the sites that surrounded it.

But the morning began badly.

 

A wardrobe malfunction made us return back to our B & B bedroom.

Then we discovered the English language guidebook we were dependent upon had somehow gone missing.

 

Pocket Rough Guide Porto

 

We returned once again to the room, didn’t find it, so we were forced to find a bookshop and buy the book anew.

We made our way back to the Sé and then she discovered her German-language guidebook was not to be found with us.

She rushed back to the room and left me in the bright sunshine waiting her return.

 

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Set on a rocky outcrop, a couple of hundred metres from Sao Bento Station, Porto’s Cathedral, the Sé, commands fine views over the rooftops.

I look up at the Sé’s North Tower, the one with the bell, and my eyes trace the worn bas-relief depicting a 14th century ship – a reminder of the earlier days of Portugal’s maritime epic, when sailors inched nervously down the west Saharan coastline not knowing what dangers were ahead.

Perhaps my wife’s impatience with the morning was partially affected by our cathedral visit, for the Sé’s interior is a disquieting, disastrous doomsday design of Baroque blended with rough Romanesque and gargantuan Gothic architecture that has a spirit as gloomy as a bride and groom forced to wed whom they do not love.

The Sé is redeemed its ghastly first impressions once the senses escape into the cathedral cloisters, with walls lovingly draped with glowing azulejos and a grand staircase that ascends to the breathtaking chapterhouse for panoramic perspectives of the world from the windows.

The Sé is a holy seductress with a mask of beauty that barely conceals a darkness and depth that dares not expose itself to the light.

The Sé is not an intimate ingress of inspiration but rather a stern sorrow-laden scourge of sin and sacrifice designed to intimidate and threaten those unworthy of salvation.

The old dowager lacks teeth, her majesty missing, her glory gone, her gloom inescapable.

 

 

The wife returned to retrieve her German-language Müller Guide which I should have packed in my rucksack and didn’t.

Boys, or men who eternally and internally remain boys, are book-bearing beasts of burden meant to be present but unobtrusive, to be seen but not heard.

I sit in the sun with clear directives to accomplish as set by my bothered bride.

I must plan our progress for the rest of the day.

Planning is never a prospect I embrace, for invariably my plans falls short of her perception of what a perfect plan entails.

I soak the warmth of the sunbaked stone into my already weary bones and tired mind.

I am unmoving and unmoved, immensely immovable.

On the south side of the Sé stretches the grandiose facade of the Paco Episcopal, the medieval archbishop’s palace, where the first King of Portugal was crowned and spent his wedding night.

 

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Like the Sé,  the Paco is a mishmash of architectural elements: a Rococo stairway lined with carved granite flowers, Neoclassical doorways with Baroque decor, priceless furniture of luxurious lifestyle exposed to penny-pinching voyeuristic peasants, a lodging financed by a love of God with 17th century Indonesian cabinets hewed from blood and sweat, toil and tears hatefully demanded by harsh Portuguese taskmasters, religious paintings ironically produced in the secular scene of the first Portuguese Republic (1911 – 1956).

The Palace does not intice nor excite me.

 

 

But the notion of politics and history does, as I read A.H. de Oliveira Marques’ A Very Short History of Portugal and I wonder, as I often do, at what compels a man to demand better from those who would rule him.

The reckless courage that is required to speak truth to power and demand justice from the unjust has always fascinated me.

 

I am a foreigner living in Switzerland and though my lot as a Canadian is far more fortunate than that of other nationalities exiled here, there does exist inequalities and injustices enforced by the Swiss upon those who were not born in the Helvetian Republic.

Just to name a few: taxation without any or only minor representation, difficulty to find employment matching the expat’s experience and the unnecessary requirement that rejects qualifications not obtained within Switzerland, the blatant racial and religious profiling done at border crossings by unsympathetic customs pitbull police, the sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, xenophobia encouraged by the eternally re-elected party in power, the bureaucracy that is bathed with greed and complexity, the fortress mentality of a nation determined to remain neutral yet one that profits from the spoils of war, a people who confuse quality of life by quantity of franks in silent bank vaults and wonder why having it all isn’t so much fun….

I often want to climb the stairs to our apartment building’s roof and shout obscenities down upon the unsuspecting neighbourhood of Landschlacht.

But I lack the courage, for attention garnered may mean expulsion, and, for better or worse, Switzerland has been my home for nine years.

 

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I am a whisper on the Internet, a voice without echo, in a world blind to everything but the square screen of the preset mobile device upon their palms.

 

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I think about what we could tour next.

The house behind the Sé at Rua de Dom Hugo 32 was once the home of the poet and writer Guerra Junquiero whose works reflected the revolutionay turmoil of the Republican era.

Today the Casa Museu Guerra Junquiero exhibits the Iberian and Islamic art, the Seljuk pottery, glassware and glazed earthenwear that he had collected over his lifetime, in rooms that recapture the atmosphere of the poet’s last home.

My guidebooks speak of the Junquiero Museum but none lavishes praise upon it, primarily for the reason that all is written only in Portuguese.

 

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Abílio Manuel Guerra Junqueiro (1850 – 1923) was a Portuguese top civil servant, a member of the Portuguese House of Representatives, a journalist, author and poet.

His work helped inspire the creation of the Portuguese First Republic.

Junqueiro wrote highly satirical poems criticizing conservatism, romanticism and the Church, leading up to the Portuguese Revolution of 1910.

He was one of Europe’s greatest poets.

 

 

Born in Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal to José António Junqueiro Júnior, a supply trader and farmer, and wife Ana Maria Guerra.

His mother died when he was only three years old.

He completed his secondary studies in Bragança and at sixteen, he enrolled at the University of Coimbra to study theology.

Guerra Junqueiro began his literary career in a promising way in Coimbra in the literary journal A Folha, directed by the poet João Penha, of which later he was editor.

 

Above: Bust of Joao Penha (1838 – 1919), Braga, Portugal

 

Here Junquiero created friendly relations with some of the best writers and poets of his time, a group generally known as the Generation of 70.

Guerra Junqueiro from a very young age began to manifest remarkable poetic talent, and already by 1867 his name was included among the most hopeful of the new generation of Portuguese poets.

In the same year, in the book entitled The Portuguese Aristarchus, appreciating the book  Vozes Sem Echo (Voices without Echo), published in Coimbra in 1867 by Guerra Junqueiro, an auspicious future was already foreseen for its author.

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In Porto, on the same date, another work appeared, Baptismo de Amor (Baptism of Love), accompanied by a preamble written by Camilo Castelo Branco.

 

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In Coimbra, Junqueiro published the Lira dos quatorze anos (The Book of Fourteen Years), a volume of poetry, and the poem Mysticae nuptiae.

 

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In Porto, in 1870 the Vitória da Franca (Victory of France) was published, then later republished in Coimbra in 1873.

 

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In 1873, when a republic was proclaimed in Spain, Junquiero wrote the vehement poem À Espanha livre (To free Spain).

 

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Junqueiro concluded his study of law also in 1873.

He became secretary of the governors of Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, and later of Viana do Castelo.

 

In 1874 his poem A morte de D. Joao (The death of D. João) achieved great success.

 

A Morte de D. João (Classic Reprint)

 

Camilo Castelo Branco dedicated an article to him in the Nights of Insomnia, and Oliveira Martins, in the magazine Arts and Letters.

 

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Above: Camilo Castelo Branco (1825 – 1890)

 

In Lisbon, Junquiero was a contributor of prose and verse, for political and artistic journals, such as The Magic Lantern  and António Maria, with the collaboration of drawings by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro.

In 1875 Junquiero wrote O Crime, a poem on the murder of Ensign Palma de Brito, the poem Aos Veteranos da Liberdade (To the Veterans of Freedom) and the volume of Contos para a infancía (Tales for Childhood).

 

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In Diário de Notícias (The Daily News) he also published the poem Fiel e Na Ferra da Ladra (Fiel and the Story of Feira da Ladra).

 

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In 1878 he published in Lisbon the poem Tragédia infantil.

 

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Junquiero collaborated to several periodical publications, namely: Atlantida (1915-1920), Branco e Negro (1896-1898), Brazil Portugal (1899-1914) (1884-1885), The Press, The Universal Illustration (1884-1885), The Portuguese Illustration (1885-1891), Sunday’s Newspaper (1881-1888), The Reading (1894-1896), Light and Life (1879), The West (1878-1915), Renaissance  (1878-1879), The Pantheon (1880-1881), The Portuguese Republic (1901-1911), Azulejos (1907-1909), in the Tourism magazine, begun in 1916 and in the newspaper O Azeitonense (1919-1920).

A great part of the poetic compositions of Guerra Junqueiro is reunited in the volume A Musa Em Férias (The Muse on Vacation), published in 1879.

 

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This year he also wrote the poem O Melro (O Blackbird), which was later included in A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father) of 1885.

 

Image result for o melro guerra junqueiro

 

Idílios e Sátrias (Idylls and Satires) was a translated and collected volume of short stories by Hans Christian Andersen and others.

 

Photograph taken by Thora Hallager, 1869

Above: Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875)

 

After a stay in Paris, apparently for treatment of digestive disease contracted during his stay in the Azores, Junquiero published in 1885, in Porto, A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father), a work that provoked bitter retorts by the clerical opinion, represented in the press, among others, by the canon José Joaquim de Sena Freitas.

 

Image result for José Joaquim de Sena Freitas

Above: José Joaquim de Sena Freitas (1840 – 1913)

 

Controversial with regard to religion, other writings of anticlerical nature by its author have been found in periodical publications like The Lucta and The Light (1919 -1921).

 

When the conflict with England over the “pink map“, which culminated in the British Ultimatum of 11 January 1890, Guerra Junqueiro became deeply interested in this national crisis and wrote Finis Patriae (The end of country) and A Cancao do Ódio (The Song of Hate), to which Miguel Ângelo Pereira wrote the music.

 

Finis Patriae (Classic Reprint)

 

(The 1890 British Ultimatum was an ultimatum by the British government delivered on 11 January 1890 to Portugal.

The ultimatum forced the retreat of Portuguese military forces from areas which had been claimed by Portugal on the basis of historical discovery and recent exploration, but which the United Kingdom claimed on the basis of effective occupation.

Portugal had attempted to claim a large area of land between its colonies of Mozambique and Angola including most of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia and a large part of Malawi, which had been included in Portugal’s “Rose-coloured Map“.

 

 

It has sometimes been claimed that the British government’s objections arose because the Portuguese claims clashed with its aspirations to create a Cape to Cairo Railway, linking its colonies from the south of Africa to those in the north.

 

Above: British colonies (pink), Portuguese colonies (purple)

 

This seems unlikely, as in 1890 Germany already controlled German East Africa, now Tanzania, and Sudan was independent under Muhammad Ahmad.

Rather, the British government was pressed into taking action by Cecil Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company was founded in 1888 south of the Zambezi and the African Lakes Company and British missionaries to the north.

 

Cecil Rhodes ww.jpg

Above: Cecil Rhodes (1853 – 1902)

 

When Portugal acquiesced to British demands, it was considered as a breach of the Treaty of Windsor (1386) and seen as a national humiliation by republicans in Portugal, who denounced the government and the King as responsible for it.

On 14 January, the progressive government fell and the leader of the Regenerador Party, António de Serpa Pimentel, was chosen to form the new government.

 

Serpa Pimentel.jpg

Above: António de Serpa Pimental (1825 – 1900)

 

The progressivists then began to attack the King, voting for republican candidates in the March election of that year, questioning the colonial agreement then signed with the British.

Feeding an atmosphere of near insurrection, on 23 March 1890, António José de Almeida, at the time a student in the University of Coimbra and, later on, President of the Republic, published an article entitled Bragança, o último, considered slanderous against the King and led to Almeida’s imprisonment.

 

Antonio Jose de Almeida (official).jpg

Above: António José de Almeida (1866 – 1929)

 

On 1 April 1890, the explorer Silva Porto (1817 – 1890) immolated himself (set himself on fire), wrapped in a Portuguese flag in Kuito, Angola, after failed negotiations with the locals,  attributed to the Ultimatum.

The death of the well-known explorer of the African continent generated a wave of national sentiment and his funeral was followed by a crowd in Porto.

 

 

On 11 April, Guerra Junqueiro’s poetic work Finis Patriae, a satire criticising the King, went on sale.

 

In the city of Porto, on 31 January 1891, a military uprising against the monarchy took place, constituted mainly by sergeants and enlisted ranks.

The rebels, who used the nationalist anthem A Portuguesa as their marching song, took the Paços do Concelho, from whose balcony, the republican journalist and politician Augusto Manuel Alves da Veiga proclaimed the establishment of the republic in Portugal and hoisted a red and green flag belonging to the Federal Democratic Centre.

The movement was, shortly afterwards, suppressed by a military detachment of the municipal guard that remained loyal to the government, resulting in 40 injured and 12 casualties.

The captured rebels were judged. 250 received sentences of between 18 months and 15 years of exile in Africa.

A Portuguesa was forbidden.

Despite its failure, the rebellion of 31 January 1891 was the first large threat felt by the monarchic regime and a sign of what would come almost two decades later.

 

 

The British Ultimatum was considered by Portuguese historians and politicians at that time to be the most outrageous and infamous action of the UK against its oldest ally.

The 1890 ultimatum was said to be one of the main causes for the Republican Revolution, which ended the monarchy in Portugal 20 years later (5 October 1910) and the Lisbon assassinations of the Portuguese king (Carlos I of Portugal) and the crown prince on 1 February 1908.

 

 

After the British Ultimatum and the political crisis associated, he was involved in the political debate in 1891, writing some best sellers that had huge impact on public opinion, contributing to the discredit of the Portuguese monarchy and the success of the Portuguese Republican Party in the 1910 Portuguese Revolution.

The 5 October 1910 revolution was the overthrow of the centuries-old Portuguese monarchy and its replacement by the Portuguese Republic.

It was the result of a coup d’état organized by the Portuguese Republican Party.

By 1910, the Kingdom of Portugal was in deep crisis: British pressure on Portugal’s colonies, the royal family’s expenses, the assassination of the King and his heir in 1908, changing religious and social views, instability of the two political parties (Progressive and Regenerador), the dictatorship of João Franco and the regime’s apparent inability to adapt to modern times all led to widespread resentment against the Monarchy.

The proponents of the republic, particularly the Republican Party, found ways to take advantage of the situation.

The Republican Party presented itself as the only one that had a programme that was capable of returning to the country its lost status and place Portugal on the way of progress.

 

Estremoz13.jpg

 

(Why does this sound so familiar?)

(Make Portugal great again?)

 

 

After a reluctance of the military to combat the nearly two thousand soldiers and sailors that rebelled between 3 and 4 October 1910, the Republic was proclaimed at 9 o’clock of the next day from the balcony of the Paços do Concelho in Lisbon.

 

 

After the revolution, a provisional government led by Teófilo Braga directed the fate of the country until the approval of the Constitution in 1911 that marked the beginning of the First Republic.

 

Teófilo Braga (ChFl).jpg

Above: Joaquim Teofilo Fernandes Braga (1843 – 1924)

 

Among other things, with the establishment of the republic, national symbols were changed: the national anthem and the flag.

 

Flag of Portugal

 

The revolution produced some civil and religious liberties, although there were no advances in women’s rights  and in workers’ rights, unlike what had happened in other European countries.

The First Portuguese Republic (Portuguese: Primeira República Portuguesa; officially: República Portuguesa, Portuguese Republic) spans a complex 16-year period in the history of Portugal, between the end of the period of constitutional monarchy marked by the 5 October 1910 revolution and the 28 May 1926 coup d’état.

The sixteen years of the First Republic saw nine presidents and 44 ministries and has been described as consisting of “continual anarchy, government corruption, rioting and pillage, assassinations, arbitrary imprisonment and religious persecution“.

The latter movement instituted a military dictatorship known as Ditadura Nacional (national dictatorship) that would be followed by the corporatist Estado Novo (new state) regime of António de Oliveira Salazar.

 

Antonio Salazar-1.jpg

Above: António de Oliveria Salazar (1889 – 1970)

 

Kidnapped and driven off into darkness after Salazar snatched power in 1928, Portugal was absent from the Second World War and through most of the 20th century was economically isolated and politically smothered.

 

Portugal is rich with potential and a certain backwardness adds to the charm.

It is easy to fall in love with this fair land on this final edge of the world, though it could use a bit more self-confidence and a lot more marketing of itself and its heritage.)

 

Junquiero married Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves on 10 February 1880.

The couple had two children: Maria Isabel Guerra Junqueiro on 11 November 1880 and Júlia Guerra Junqueiro in 1881.

He died in Lisbon at the age of 72.

In 1940 Junqueiro’s daughter donated his estate in Porto that became the Guerra Junqueiro Museum.

 

 

Chronology of Guerra Junquiero:

1850:  Born in Ligares, Freixo de Espada a Cinta
1864:  The Book of Fourteen Years
1866:  Studies theology at the University of Coimbra;
1867:  Voices Without Echo
1868:  Baptism of Love. Enrolls in the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra.
1873:  Free Spain. Collaboration to The Leaf of João Penha. He earns a bachelor’s degree in law.
1874: The Death of D. João
1875: First issue of The Magic Lantern to which he collaborates
1878: He is appointed Secretary General of the Civil Government in Angra do Heroísmo.
1879:  The Muse on Vacation and The Blackbird.  Joins the Progressive Party. He is transferred from Angra do Heroísmo to Viana do Castelo and elected to the Chamber of Deputies.
1880: Married on 10 February to Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves. 11  November, their daughter Maria Isabel is born.
1881: Daughter Julia is born. Diagnosed with dementia, hospitalized in Porto.
1885:  The Old Age of the Eternal Father. Creation of the “New Life” movement of which Junqueiro is a sympathizer.
1887: Second trip to Paris
1888: The group “Losers of Life” is formed. The Legitimate.
1889: His wife, Filomena Augusta Neves, dies whom he will mourn until the end of his days.
1890:  Finis Patriae. Guerra Junqueiro is elected deputy by the Quelimane circle.
1895:  Sells most of the artistic collections he had accumulated;
1896:  The Fatherland. Departs for Paris.

1902:  Prayer for Bread
1903:  Lives in Vila do Conde.
1904:  Prayer to the Light
1905:  A visit to the Polytechnic Academy of Porto prompts him to settle in this city.
1908:  He is candidate of the Republican Party for Porto.
1910:   He is appointed Extraordinary Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Portuguese Republic to the Swiss Confederation in Berne
1914:  Exonerated from the functions of Minister Plenipotentiary
1920:  Sparse Prose
1923:  He died on 7 July in Lisbon.
1966: His body is solemnly transferred from the Jerónimos Monastery where it had been interred to the National Pantheon of the Church of Santa Engrácia, Lisbon, in a ceremony held to honor other illustrious Portuguese figures.

 

 

Those are the facts as drily given by Wikipedia and Google, but who was the man?

How should we categorize him?

Should we?

Can we?

Was he a mere bureaucratic drone who dabbled in poetry?

Or a poet who dabbled in government work?

Did his writing incite a revolution or did it merely capture the spirit of the times?

 

 

As I sit in the sun my mind should be planning our travel itinerary for the day so to placate my wife upon her return.

But instead I think of Junqueiro and his Museum I won’t mention to the wife, already unhappy with the start of our first full day in Porto.

 

 

I think instead of the power of the printed word and of the impossibility, even through the written expression of a writer’s thoughts, of truly knowing another person.

Though it may be acknowledged that it is surely difficult for us to know a Portuguese poet long dead from nearly a century ago, it must also be acknowledged that even those we presently love remain unsolved mysteries to us.

 

We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.

And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.”  (Michel de Montaigne, Essais)

 

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne, circa unknown.jpg

Above: Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

 

Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves.

So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them.

In the vast colony of our being, there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.”  (Fernando Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego)

 

Portrait of Pessoa, 1914.

Above: Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935)

 

I think of the mix of contradictory emotions that fill me anticipating my wife’s return, both eagerly awaiting and decidedly dreading her return.

 

I think of how each of us carries around inside ourselves whole worlds.

 

I am more than a sweaty balding head.

I am also a tear-softened soul.

 

I think of how much life I might still have before me, how open my future might be, how much could still happen, how much there might still be experienced.

 

 

Can anyone see beneath my mask that I am a mix of modesty and immodesty, of conformity and eccentricity, that within me lies a silent rage aimed at a pompous world, an unbending defiance against the world of show-offs whose only real accomplishment is their accidental connectivity to realms of power and prestige denied the average man?

 

I sit in the sun, uncertain of what to suggest next, unwilling to face my wife’s disapproval at what she will perceive to be laziness instead of confusion.

 

Perhaps we travel not to experience another world, but to flee from our own experience, simultaneously running to and from life.

 

 

Portugal is a land always in the shadows, a land of foggy fishing villages and tiny hamlets set deep in cork forests.

It is a land of mournful fado wailing and legendary sightings of the Virgin Mary.

 

 

Critics, most of them Portuguese, call Portugal the graveyard of ambition, the kingdom of mediocrity, where the national pastime is complaining and the ambitious leave.

As late as 2005, Portugal still had 13% of women who couldn’t read, less than 50% of children who made it to high school and was the lowest earner of the EU.

 

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

 

Porto, historically the country’s wine distribution centre, is said to be the hardest working part of Portugal:

Lisbon plays, Porto pays, Coimbra prays.

 

I want to visit the archbishop’s palace and the poet’s place, for I take great comfort from the calm of everything past.

 

So often I am alone with my thoughts, even when surrounded by a cacophony of chaotic conversations convulsing from a crowd.

My mind is sealed and my tongue falters in failing to express the vaulted thought.

My wife speaks and my ears hear and my heart listens, but my mind is my own, adrift on its own adventure, lost in its own odyssey.

 

I am reminded of my reading on the flight the day before, of the writing of Amadeu Prado, as invented by Swiss writer Pascal Mercier in his book Night Train to Lisbon:

 

Night Train to Lisbon.jpg

 

Of the thousand experiences we have, we find language for one experience at most and even this one merely by chance and without the care it deserves.

Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its colour and its melody.

Then, when we turn to these treasures, as archaeologists of the soul, we discover how confusing they are.

The object of contemplation refuses to stand still, the words bounce off the experience and in the end, pure contradictions stand on the paper.

 

What benefit is there in being the archaeologist of one’s self, to dig for buried experience?

 

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.jpg

 

Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us, what happens to the rest?

 

The Wikipedia photo of Junquiero shows a man of intelligence and self-confidence and boldness.

Or is what I perceive only an observation of qualities I wish I possessed beneath the mask I wear?

 

 

Yet the contradiction that is a man’s character sometimes wonders could something be made different from my life, that there may be more to me than anyone knows.

 

In the centre of the city, in the centre of my life, I sit in the sun in the square of the cathedral.

I reflect how we live in an age rushing through a timeless universe only appreciated when contemplated quietly and calmly.

 

 

I think of the life of a man I never knew, a poet whose words I never read, who wrote in a language I never spoke.

Is Junqueiro only identifiable by what he did and the words he wrote?

Was there more to the man than anyone besides himself could ever possibly know?

 

Related image

 

Is there a mystery under the surfaces of human action?

Or are human beings utterly what their obvious acts indicate?

 

The words that Junquiero wrote, the words I have never read, are they expressions of eternally, essentially, the same things others have said before?

 

Words are so horribly frayed and threadbare, worn out by being used millions of times.

Do they still have any meaning?

Naturally, the exchange of words functions.

People act on them.

They laugh and cry.

They go left or right.

The waiter brings the coffee or tea.

But that’s not what I want to ask.

The question is:

Are they still an expression of thoughts?

Or only effective sounds that drive people here and there because the worn grooves of babble incessantly flash?

 

Perhaps I should follow the advice of Marcus Aurelius when he writes in his Meditations:

Do wrong to thyself.

Do wrong to thyself, my soul, but later thou wilt no longer have the opportunity of respecting and honouring thyself.

For every man has but one life….

Those who do not observe the impulses of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.

 

Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius. This masterful portrait captures the pensive temperament of the philosopher-emperor and author of the celebrated 'Meditations', reflections on life and the ways of the gods. The smooth, softly modeled carving of the flesh contrasts markedly with the mass of thick, curling hair. The drooping eyelids and detached gaze suggest his contemplative nature.

Above: Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180)

 

She returns to me still sitting in the sun, with little progress on the planning made.

I imagine her thinking:

What is the point of having a husband if he does not do what he is told?

I imagine that she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders having a man about who is so completely useless at times.

I smile foolishly and say pointless words to defend my pointlessness.

 

 

I don’t mention Junquiero’s house and she never asks.

I also know I would be frustrated being in a museum whose signage I couldn’t read, despite the unfair expectation that a Portuguese museum have any other language besides Portuguese for a poet unknown outside of Portugal.

 

With a heavy sigh, she plans for us.

The morning has been shot to hell, so lunch across the Douro River in Gaia might inspire us.

Like the animal I am, I respond greedily to the prospect of food.

I know there is no excuse for my behaviour and no words to justify it, so I don’t bother trying.

 

Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Above: Vila Nova de Gaia

 

As I rise to my feet, carefully – I am just recovering from an accident where I broke both my arms – I think of Prado who never existed and Junquiero who no longer exists, then I focus on matters at hand.

The universe may be timeless but our vacation time is not.

 

But reading Mercier’s novel and learning of Junquiero’s life has inspired me.

I will ask when I can at random bookshops for the poems of Junquiero available in English translation.

 

Above: Livraria Lello, Porto

 

I know that the rhythm and subtlity of his poetry will be inadequately conveyed in translation, but I also know the painfully slow process of translating the original Portuguese into English I understand will somehow destroy the passion with which I started to read.

Nonetheless there is too little poetry in my life and even the muse of love has her limits and I must make amends for this deficiency.

 

I will return from the vacation and do the things I must do.

Work where and when I can.

Meet my obligations to others as best as I can.

I will seek no evil to see, no evil to hear, no evil to speak.

I remain a true husband, a good friend and loyal employee.

But my mind is my own and my words, as imprecise as they can be, will seek to speak my mind.

Perhaps through reading poetry I shall find the means to express myself.

I am my own archaeologist of my own self.

 

So much generated from simply sitting in the sun.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Portugal / Rough Guide Portugal / Pocket Rough Guide Porto / Matthew Hancock, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese / A.H. de Oliveira Marques, A Very Short History of Portugal / Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon / Pedro Rodrigues, Porto and Northern Portugal: Journeys and Stories / Melissa Rossi, The Armchair Diplomat on Europe / Jürgen Strohmeier, Nordportugal

Canada Slim and the Mandir of Nose Hill

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 21 May 2019

This Sunday in Switzerland some folks will attend services in either a Reformed Church or a Roman Catholic Church and both groups will call themselves Christian.

 

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And as the Earth spins around the Sun, from the Dark Continent of Africa to the Canadian tundra, Christians will kneel on this day to receive the elements of their own version of the eternal Eucharist as written in the Bible that speaks of how God sent His Son whose sacrifice somehow saved our wretched souls and whose resurrection conquered death for all of us, despite death being our destiny.

 

 

In Jerusalem and parts of the planet where the Great Diaspora has led them over centuries, others, wrapped in the prayer shawls that their ancestors wore in the desert, recite the Torah, as their Rabbi lovingly guides a wand across sacred text that Yahweh spoke to His Chosen People.

 

 

And within the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and anywhere where the Qu’ran reigns the mind, five times a day, the faithful prostrate themselves towards Mecca, towards Mohammed’s holy city, and show their devotion to Allah, who also remains God the Father of Christianity and Yahweh of the Jews and yet is unrecognizable as the same God of Abraham said to be the originator of all three great religions.

 

 

Same deity, different names, different practices, same intolerance too often seen by those who claim this deity as their own.

 

 

In a tiny house by the Ganges River at the foot of the Himalayas, a Hindu Swami will not speak today, but will continue his devotional silence that, with the exception of three days each year, he has kept for years.

 

 

In Yangon, the monks of Shwedagon sit alone and together with the eternal in the tranquil silence and privacy of their Buddhist shrine, as do the Zen monks in Kyoto, spending most of the day sitting immovable in the lotus position, as they seek to plumb with absolute absorption the Buddha-nature that lies at the centre of their being.

 

 

What a freaky fellowship, an odd misplaced madness, this is, this seeking of something divine that defies description or definition, voices raised in desperate disparate ways, sacrificing precious life to a God of life that cannot be proven not to exist.

Such strange ethereal harmony, each faith claiming superiority over every other belief, no individual religion understanding the others, and yet united in lifting their voices to the heavens in the hopes that what binds the universe will spare a moment for those who are naught more than carbonated stardust.

 

Are the faithful foolish or the unbelieving unredeemable?

 

We cannot know.

 

All we can do is try and listen carefully, with full attention to each voice as it in its turn addresses the divine that lies within and without us.

 

Religions wrap the globe in their comfort, with histories stretching back into the forgotten mists of time, that still motivates more people today than ever before.

Nothing unites us more nor divides us more than religion does.

 

 

Who should we follow?

What should we believe?

 

Should Christians worship in ornate cathedrals bedecked with icons or consider even steeples divine desecrations?

How should Muslims decide between Sunni and Shi’ite or feel about Sufism?

Must a Jew be orthodox to call himself a true Jew?

And let us wonder as Buddhists ponder different traditions of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana philosophies.

 

Millions live by a faith.

More than three quarters of the world’s population consider that they belong to a religion, however little or much they do about it.

Communities of people who share practices and beliefs gather in special buildings for worship or meditation and seek to live lives in special ways in the world.

Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, religion has been the resource and inspiration for virtually all the most enduring art, architecture, music, drama, dance and poetry that the world has known, in search and expression of that which endures when all else passes away.

 

 

We must decide if faith has relevance in these digital days, our modern minds, our computerized lives.

 

As every religion mixes universal truths with local peculiarities we must lift out the former from the latter and embrace that which speaks to what  is generically human in us all.

 

This is not easy for the irreverent, for religion is rich in rites and laden in legends.

This is not simple for those whose lives are reigned by rationalism, for the claim that the universal principles of faith are more important than rites and rituals is like contending that the trunk of a tree is more important than the branches, leaves or roots of that tree.

I know that when I seek to understand the religious impulse, that I myself lack, this is akin to trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

 

The mind that is mine struggles to grasp how Hindu’s holy Kali Temple in Calcutta revers two million cows to the point of nuisance while fakirs offer their bodies to bedbugs as sacrifice.

 

 

I find myself conflicted between the stillness of Bethlehem and department stores blaring “Silent Night” from stereos above plastic reindeer and overweight Santas.

 

 

I seek to define the divine amidst images of crucified Christs and chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs.

 

 

I wallow in a mire of confusion as to how Crusades can be Christian or Jihads holy, or how a God of love co-exists with witch slaughter in Salem, monkey trials in Tennessee and Grand Inquisitions in Spain.

 

 

I, like billions before me and aeons after me, seek the meaning to my existence in the hope that my short span of life has worth.

 

I am reminded of a Faustian fable of a man who climbed to the top of a mountain and seized hold of the Truth.

Satan, suspecting sedition from this mortal upstart, directed a demon to tail the determined seeker.

When the demon reported with alarm the man’s success, Satan was not in the least bothered by the bulletin.

Don’t worry.“, Satan yawned.

I will tempt him to institutionalize the Truth.

 

 

The empowering theological and metaphysical truth of faith is inspirational, but the religious institutions built around this truth are often not.

Religion is constituted of people with their inbuilt frailities, vices and virtues.

When the vices get compounded by masses, the results are horrifying to the point where one might suggest that faith should be left outside the hands of humanity.

But faith without the faithful would have left no mark upon humanity’s history, for better or for worse.

Had faith remained as only aloof disembodied insight and had not embraced institutions and rituals, then faith could not have established traction on history or upon men’s souls.

What is important is to not get lost in the smoke and ceremony of rite and ritual, but instead we need to sift religion for the truths they try to preserve, the wisdom that maintains our world.

 

 

As T.S. Eliot so wisely phrased it:

Where is the knowledge that is lost in information?

Where is the wisdom that is lost in knowledge?

 

Eliot in 1934 by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

 

I categorically reject the premise that one religion is superior to another, for it is this comparison that is the most odious aspect of all institutions, for, as Arnold Toynbee observed:

There is no one alive today who knows enough to say with confidence whether one religion has been greater than all others.

 

Arnold Toynbee.jpg

Above: Arnold Toynbee (1852 – 1883)

 

It must be admitted that though I seek to embrace the world, I am incorrigibly myself and I know that the tale I am about to tell might be quite differently written had I been a Burmese Buddhist, a Turkish Muslim, a Nepalese Hindu, a Serbian Orthodox, a Swiss Catholic or a Polish Jew instead of a Canadian humanist with delusions of fluency.

 

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

 

We live in a world of wonders.

Lands across the planet are our neighbours, China is around the corner, the Middle East is our backyard, my younger colleagues and close companions with backpacks go everywhere, while I – who often remain at home in this wee hamlet of Landschlacht – have access to an endless parade of books and videos and visitors from abroad.

It isn’t so much that East meets West as it is humanity is being flung at one another, hurled across distances at jet speed, information invading our impatient intelligence within the breath between atoms.

 

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

 

Diogenes, twenty-five hundred years ago, exclaimed:

I am not an Athenian or a Greek but a citizen of the world.

 

Above: Diogenes (412 – 323 BC)

 

Today we have the possibility to not only think of ourselves by the nations we found ourselves born in, but rather we have the opportunity to judge our heartbeat by the pulse of the planet.

We need to understand the faiths of others if we are to meet them as allies or antagonists, so that we can avoid military engagement through diplomacy.

We need to understand one another through our faiths so we can enjoy the world vision it offers us.

 

 

Or put another way….

What do they know of England, who only England know?

 

Location of England (dark green) – in Europe (green & dark grey) – in the United Kingdom (green)

 

How can we truly understand our beliefs if we never question them by comparison with others?

How truly enriching our lives become when we truly understand what belonging means to the Japanese, to sense with a Burmese grandmother what passes in life and what endures, to comprehend with the Hindu that our personalities mask the Infinite within, to follow the paradox of a Zen monk who assures you that everything is sacred but refrains from acts that are unholy, to feel the comfort that confession offers the devout Catholic….

For as language opens the mind to understanding other people, faith enlarges the heart to compassion and love for humanity.

 

True faith, not a dull habit but a living passion, confronts the individual with the momentous wisdom that life can offer.

Faith calls a soul to the highest adventure, a journey across the landscape of the human spirit.

It is the siren call to confront reality as it is, to master the self.

It is a lonely journey, a personal quest….

 

A sharpened edge of a razor, hard to traverse,

A difficult path is this – the poets declare!

(Alfred Toynbee, Civilization on Trial)

 

Razors edge 84.jpg

 

Los Alamos, New Mexico, 16 July 1945

Today is the day that the chain reaction of scientific discoveries that began at the University of Chicago and focused here at Site Y has reached the final culmination.

 

 

No one has been more instrumental in this project’s achievement than the director of the Los Alamos Project, Robert Oppenheimer.

All eyes are upon him closely this morning.

 

Head and shoulders portrait

Above: Robert Oppenheimer (1904 – 1967)

 

He grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off.

He scarcely breathed.

He held on to a post to steady himself.

When the announcer shouted “Now!”, there came this tremendous burst of light, followed by the deep-growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed in an expression of tremendous relief.”

The first atomic bomb is a success.

 

 

What flashed through Oppenheimer’s mind during those moments were two lines from the Bhagavad-Gita in which the speaker is God:

I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds;

Waiting that hour that ripens to their doom.

 

Photograph of a bronze chariot. The discourse of Krishna and Arjuna in Kurukshetra is the Bhagavad Gita.

(The Bhagavad Gita is a discourse between Krishna and Arjuna set in a chariot at the start of the Mahabharata War.)

 

Thus began an age in which violence and peace continue to confront each other more fatefully than ever before.

 

In India, Gandhi’s name became, in the middle of the 20th century, the counterpoint to those of Stalin and Hitler, but not just for the British withdrawl from the Subcontinent in peace, but, more importantly, for his lowering a barrier even more formidable than that of race in America.

Gandhi renamed India’s untouchables harijan – God’s people – and raised them to human stature.

In doing so, Gandhi provided the non-violent strategy and the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement in the United States.

Gandhi’s inspiration was revealed in his autobiography:

Such power as I possess for working in the political field has derived from my experiments in the spiritual field.

Truth is the sovereign principle and the Bhagavad-Gita is the book par excellence for the knowledge of truth.

 

Studio photograph of Mohandas K. Gandhi, London, 1931.

Above: “Mahatma“(“the Venerable“) Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

 

On a grey day in October 2017, a stone’s throw from the grim North Circular, that drab ring road that encircles London’s northern suburbs of Neasden, I would follow my curiosity and thirst for truth eternal to a Hindu temple.

A temple both alien and appropriate in the homeland of English, in the heart of an empire that once dominated my own birth country of Canada and whose sovereign remains our head of state, from a religion with roots in the land of India – that living coalition of religions and languages where one billion congregate and of which 80% call themselves Hindu – with 30 million adherants dispersed throughout the world.

On that day I would visit the largest traditional Hindu temple outside India (as recognized by Guinness World Records), Neasden’s 8th Wonder of the World, the Crown Jewel of Hinduism, one of Reader’s Digest‘s 70 Wonders of the Modern World, Time Out London‘s Seven Wonders….

The BAPS Shri Swamirayan Mandir Hindu temple.

It would not make me a Hindu nor make me feel any more knowledgeable about Hinduism than I felt before, but, nevertheless, my morning visit left impressions with me that still remain….

 

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London, England, 26 October 2017

Shri Swaminarayan was not my first visit to a Hindu temple (and I have a feeling that it won’t be my last), for on a visit to Singapore in the spring of 2014, en route to the Perth wedding of friends in Western Australia, I visited Sri Mariamman Temple, paradoxically located in the Lion City’s Chinatown district.

Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and I still remember the temple’s incredible, brightly coloured gopuram (tower) above the entrance, covered in kitsch plaster images of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and (Oppenheimer’s) Shiva the Destroyer, as sacred cow sculptures graze the boundary walls.

 

 

I had a three-day stopover in Singapore and in the process of trying to cram so much into my consciousness in a very short time Sri Mariammen is a blurred memory amongst many that I saw during my short sojourn in the city-state.

I recall also seeing the Peranakan Museum, the Raffles Hotel, the Chinatown Heritage Centre, the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, the Taoist Temple of Heavenly Happiness (Thian Hock Temp), Little India, Changi Prison, the Night Safari, Sentosa Island and Pulau Ubin.

I remember Little India, not for the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple with images of Kali, wearing a garland of skulls and ripping out the insides of her victims, but rather for the Bismallah Biryani Restaurant’s mutton kebab.

Hindu temples in Singapore were, for me at the time of my visit, only part of a tightly squeezed adventure and a list of must-sees rather than research for right or righteous religion.

 

 

(Thinking of Singapore and Perth I see future posts about them….)

 

I might not have bothered with London’s BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir at all had not my wife purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, tubes and trains, and strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the days of the medical conference she would attend that week.

Today would be the first day that I would view London unaccompanied by my spouse during the week.

 

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It was not my first visit to London….

 

 

(I had spent a couple of days on my own in 1995, mostly walking along the Thames rather than doing much exploring as a lack of money dogged my days then.

I spent a day and an evening in 2010 with my good friend Iain and his beautiful companion – now his spouse since the aforementioned Perth wedding – Samantha, visiting Greenwich Observatory and seeing the show Avenue Q in the Theatre District, with time to enjoy life walking well and dining fine.)

 

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But this was the first time I would attempt to deliberately explore London on my own without having to worry excessively about money.

I approached the Project alphabetically from the pages of the London Pass Guide.

As the ArcelorMittal Orbit (London’s tallest sculpture), the All Hallows by the Tower Church (where William Penn was baptized, John Quincy Adams was married and Archbishop William Laud was buried), Apsley House (with the oldest surviving grand piano in the UK) and the Arsenal Stadium Tour & Museum – (Football was never so crucial a sport to me as Canadian ice hockey or American baseball.)(Iain, an Everton fan, would never have forgiven me such a sacrilege.) – didn’t strike me as “must-see-before-I-die” / bucket list attractions, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir seemed the place to start.

 

 

And I must admit the attraction was attractively described:

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a masterpiece of traditional Hindu design and exquisite Indian workmanship in the heart of London. 

Using 5,000 tonnes of Italian and Indian marble and the finest Bulgarian limestone, it was hand-carved in India before being assembled in London in just 2.5 years. 

Since it opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over 400,000 visitors every year. 

Come and marvel at the intricate carvings, experience a traditional Hindu prayer ceremony, or learn about the world’s oldest living faith.

 

 

I took the Tube from our hotel’s neighbourhood way out to Stonebridge Park Station and wandered lost for an hour until I reached Neasden in the London Borough of Brent.

 

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It may seem at first thought that Neasden is an unusual spot for a Hindu temple, but then Neasden has always been an unusual spot in its own right.

Neasden’s name meant “nose hill” and referred to the small promontory at the western end of the Dollis Hill Ridge upon which the hamlet sat.

The countryside hamlet land was once owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral and consisted of only several small buildings around a green near the site of the present Neasden roundabout until the mid-19th century.

In 1823 Neasden was no more than a “retired hamlet” with six cottages, four large farms, a pub and a smithy gathered around the green.

 

The Brent Reservoir (aka the Welsh Harp Reservoir from the name of the aforementioned pub) between Henden and Wembley Park, that straddles the boundary between the Boroughs of Brent and Barnet, was completed in 1835 and was breached in 1841.

The breaking of the dam on the River Brent resulted in folks dying and many fields and meadows under water.

Today the Brent Reservoir is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to the great crested grebe, the gadwall, the shoveler, the common pochard, the tufted duck and the common tern, as well as eight species of warbler – a total of 253 species of bird life.

As well the Reservoir possesses 31 species of butterfly, 15 species of dragonflies and is also the residence of grey squirrels, red foxes and bats.

In 1960 the Reservoir hosted the Women’s European Rowing Championships.

Today the Welsh Harp Open Space surely sees not only rowboats and sailboats but those of the Hindu faith enjoying the magic of this unglamourous corner of suburban tranquillity.

 

 

(Not fishermen though, as fishing is strictly forbidden.)

 

In 1873 Neasden had a populace of 110 and the horse was the main form of transport.

As London grew, the demand for horses in the capital soared, so in the second half of the 19th century Neasden farms focused on rearing and providing horses for the City.

Town work was exhausting and unhealthy for the horses….

 

Two Nokota horses standing in open grassland with rolling hills and trees visible in the background.

 

(It ain’t so wonderful for humans either.)

 

In 1886 the RSPCA formed a committee to set up the Home of Rest for Horses with grounds in Neasden, where, for a small fee, town horses were allowed to graze in the open for a few weeks.

 

The urbanization of Neasden began with the arrival of the railway.

The first railway running through Neasden was opened for goods traffic in 1868 with passenger services following soon after.

 

Neasden station building 2012.JPG

 

In the 1890s change led to a conscious effort to create a village atmosphere.

At this time, the Spotted Dog became a social centre for local people.

By 1891 Neasden had a population of 930, half of whom lived in the village.

Despite the presence of the village in the west, it was the London end that grew fastest.

 

In 1893 the Great Central Railway got permission to join up its main line from Nottingham with the Metropolitan.

The Great Central set up a depot south of the line at Neasden and built houses for its workers.

 

 

The Great Central village was a “singularly isolated and self-contained community” with its own school and single shop, Branch No. 1 of the North West London Co-operative Society.

It is now part of a conservation area.

There was considerable sporting rivalry between the two railway estates and a football match was played every Good Friday.

By the 1930s the two railways employed over 1,000 men.

 

 

Neasden Hospital was built in 1894 and closed in 1986.

 

Apart from the railways, Neasden was dominated by agriculture until just before the First World War.

In 1911, Neasden’s population had swelled to 2,074.

By 1913, light industry at Church End had spread up Neasden Lane as far as the station.

 

In the 1920s, the building of the North Circular Road, a main arterial route round London, brought another wave of development.

It opened in 1923.

 

 

The 1924 British Empire Exhibition led to road improvements and the introduction of new bus services.

Together with the North Circular Road, it paved the way for a new residential suburb at Neasden.

The last farm in Neasden was built over in 1935.

The Ritz Cinema opened in 1935, and Neasden Shopping Parade was opened in 1936, considered then to be the most up-to-date in the area.

All of Neasden’s older houses were demolished during this period, except for The Grange.

The Spotted Dog was rebuilt in mock-Tudor style.

Industries sprung up in the south of the area, and by 1949, Neasden’s population was over 13,000.

 

The Post Office Research Station was located nearby in Dollis Hill.

 

 

There the Colossus computers, among the world’s first, were built in 1943-1944, and underneath them the Paddock Wartime Cabinet Rooms had been constructed in 1939.

 

Colossus.jpg

 

Neasden Power Station, which was built to provide power for the Metropolitan Railway, was closed and demolished in 1968.

 

The post-war history of Neasden is one of steady decline.

Local traffic congestion problems necessitated the building of an underpass on the North Circular Road that effectively cut Neasden in half and had a disastrous effect on the shopping centre by making pedestrian access to it difficult.

The decline in industry through the 1970s also contributed to the area’s decline.

 

But nonetheless Neasden has somehow survived, largely due to a succession of vibrant immigrant communities keeping the local economy afloat.

 

Neasden Depot continues to be the main storage and maintenance depot for the London Underground’s Metropolitan line (and is also used by trains of the Jubilee line).

It is London Underground’s largest depot and as such it is a major local employer.

The Grange Tavern (previously called The Old Spotted Dog) on Neasden Lane was closed in the 1990s and demolished to make way for a block of flats, bringing to an end the inn that had stood there for around two centuries.

Another old pub, The Pantiles, which stood on the North Circular Road was converted into a McDonald’s restaurant.

 

The Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA opened its second UK outlet in Neasden in 1988.

 

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On 14 July 1993, in an MI5 anti-terrorist operation, a Provisional IRA man was arrested in his car on Crest Road carrying a 20 lb bomb.

It came just over a year after the Staples Corner bombing just over 500 yards away, which devastated the junction.

 

 

In 1995, Neasden became the unlikely home of the biggest Hindu temple outside India: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, known locally as the Neasden Temple.

 

In 2004, the shopping centre area was partially redeveloped by the Council in an effort to reverse its fortunes.

The Grange, which had housed a museum about the people of Brent, was closed by the Council in 2005.

The 2004 redevelopment proved to be unpopular with local businesses, as it changed the layouts of parking, thus forcing customers and local trade to pass by due to the parking restrictions of the redevelopment.

Neasden was once nicknamed “the loneliest village in London” and “God’s own borough“.

Neasden has achieved considerable notoriety thanks to the British satirical magazine, Private Eye.

Since early in its history (when the magazine was actually printed in Neasden) the magazine has used Neasden as an exemplar of the suburban environment in pieces parodying current events, personalities, and social mores (for example, the University of Neasden).

Spoof sports reports in the magazine usually feature the perennially unsuccessful football team, Neasden F.C. with their manager, “ashen-faced” Ron Knee and their only two supporters, Sid and Doris Bonkers.

 

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Neasden was one of the locations in the TV documentary Metro-land.

In it, Sir John Betjeman described Neasden as “home of the gnome and the average citizen” (the former a reference to the preponderance of gnome statuettes in suburban front gardens, but possibly also a nod in the direction of the Eye’s fictional proprietor, Lord Gnome).

Background music was provided by William Rushton’s recording of Neasden (1972):

(“Neasden

You won’t be sorry that you breezed in.“)

 

Title card with the title "Metro-land with John Betjeman" in mock Edwardian script - yellow on a deep red background.

 

In a celebrated spoof of the Early Music phenomenon which grew enormously in the late 1960s, Neasden was selected by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer David Cain as the home of a fictional ensemble dedicated to historically-informed performances on authentic musical instruments from an indeterminate number of centuries ago.

It was thus that in 1968, listeners to BBC Radio 3 were given a recital by the Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis whose members performed on the equally fictional Shagbut, Minikin and Flemish Clackett.

 

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Athletico Neasden was an amateur football team of mostly Jewish players, which played in the Maccabi (Southern) Football League in the 1970s and 1980s and were named after the place, though they didn’t actually play in the area.

The team eventually merged with North West Warriors to form North West Neasden.

 

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David Sutherland’s children’s novel A Black Hole in Neasden reveals a gateway to another planet in a Neasden back garden.

 

Diana Evans’s 2006 novel 26a details the experiences of twin girls of Nigerian and British descent growing up in Neasden.

Willie Hamilton reported in ‘My Queen and I‘ that the Victorian Order medals were made on a production line in Neasden from used railway lines.

 

A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR. A crimson ribbon is attached

 

A pirate radio station, Dread Broadcasting Corporation, credited as Britain’s first black music radio station, was broadcast from a Neasden garden between 1981 – 1984.

 

In the Dangermouse episode “Planet of the Machines“, Dangermouse and Penfold arrive back in Neasden from the planet in the Baron’s space time machine.

 

DangerMouseTVtitle.jpg

 

Konnie Huq and Matt Cooke from BBC TV present the Your News programme from Neasden.

 

So all of this begs the question:

 

What in the name of Krishna is a Hindu temple doing here?

 

Lord Krishna with flute.jpg

 

Perhaps there is wisdom to be found in the old Hindu proverb:

The lotus blooms in splendour, but its roots lie in the dirt.

 

Sacred lotus Nelumbo nucifera.jpg

 

Let me be frank.

Neasden is a glum place, especially after the glamour of the City has been seen, thus the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir seems to rise majestically above the dismal, between-the-world-wars housing like a welcome oasis of sight.

So sudden and grandiose does the Mandir appear that the viewer wonders whether it is a mirage, a shimmering dream, conjured up by one’s overactive imagination.

Here in London’s loneliest village is an experience of India’s glorious tradition and faith, a legacy that seems to have evolved over millennia rather than appearing miraculously on the landscape in a mere 30 months.

 

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Since the Mandir opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over half a million visitors a year.

The inventory of visitors, including your humble blogger, has incorporated prime ministers and presidents, royalty and religious leaders, artists and industrialists, school children and journalists, the devout and the merely curious.

 

It is impossible to catalogue all the appelations, emotions, inspirations and experiences that this Mandir has evoked.

On a personal profound level, the Mandir is a pavilion of peace and promise, a dissolver of disquiet, a messenger dispelling misunderstanding, a statement of hope and faith for the future.

 

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I am fascinated by the power of belief and teamwork and the spirit of volunteerism that made the Mandir possible.

In June 1970, the first BAPS Mandir in Britain opened in a converted disused church in Islington, North London, by Yogji Maharaj.

In 1982, having outgrown the Islington temple, the congregation moved to a small former warehouse in Neasden.

The present Mandir was designed by Pramukh Swami, a 92-year-old Indian sadhu (holy man) and is made of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, which was first shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1,526 sculptors.

 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, 2010

Above: Pramukh Swami (1921 – 2016)

 

It was built and funded entirely by the Hindu community.

The entire project took five years, although the Neasden construction itself was completed in a mere 30 months.

 

In November 1992, the temple recorded the largest concrete pour in the United Kingdom, when 4,500 tons were put down in 24 hours to create a foundation mat 1.8 metres / 6 feet thick.

The first stone was laid in June 1993.

Two years later, the Mandir was complete.

 

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Designed according to the Shilpa-Shastras, a Vedic text that develops Hindu architecture to metaphorically represent the different attributes of God, it was constructed almost entirely from Indian marble, Italian marble, Sardinian granite and Bulgarian limestone.

No iron or steel was used in the construction, a unique feature for a modern building in the UK.

From the conceptual design and vision of Pramukh Swami, the architect C. B. Sompura and his team created the Mandir entirely from stone.

 

It is a shikharbaddha (or pinnacled) mandir:

Seven-tiered pinnacles topped by golden spires crowd the roofline, complemented by five ribbed domes.

The temple is noted for its profusely carved cantilevered central dome.

Inside, serpentine ribbons of stone link the columns into arches, creating a sense of levitation.

Light cream Vartza limestone from Bulgaria was chosen for the exterior, and for the interior, Italian Carrara marble supplemented by Indian Ambaji marble.

The Bulgarian and Italian stone were shipped to the port of Kandla in Gujarat, where most of the carving was eventually completed, by over 1,500 craftsmen in a workshop specially set up for the project.

More than 26,300 individually numbered stones pieces were shipped back to London and the building was assembled like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw.

 

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The Mandir was inaugurated on 20 August 1995 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS – the organisation behind the temple.

The entire Mandir complex represents an act of faith and collective effort.

Inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, more than 1,000 volunteers worked on the building, and many more contributed and solicited donations, or organised sponsored walks and other activities.

Children raised money by collecting aluminium cans and foil for recycling – the biggest can collection in English history – 7 million cans collected by 1,500 children.

 

The Mandir serves as the centre of worship.

Directly beneath each of the seven pinnacles seen from the outside is a shrine.

Each of these seven shrines houses murtis (sacred images) within altars.

Each murti is revered like God in person and devoutly attended to each day by the sadhus (monks) who live in the temple ashram.

 

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Beneath the Mandir is the permanent exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism‘.

Through 3-D dioramas, paintings, tableaux and traditional craftwork, it provides an insight into the wisdom and values of Hinduism.

Visitors can learn about the origin, beliefs and contribution of Hindu seers, and how this ancient religion is being practised today through traditions, such as the BAPS Swaminarayan Sampraday.

 

The Mandir is open to people of all faiths and none.

Entrance is free, except to the ‘Understanding Hinduism‘ exhibition where there is a £2 fee, which was covered by the London Pass.

 

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(A note about BAPS….

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) (Bocāsanvāsī Akshar Purushottam Sansthā) is a Hindu religious and social organization within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.

BAPS was established on 5 June 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj after leaving the Vadtal Gadi of the Swaminarayan Sampraday.

It was formed on the founder’s interpretation that Swaminarayan was to remain present on Earth through a lineage of Gunatit Gurus (or Akshar) dating all the way back to Gunatitanand Swami – one of Swaminarayan’s prominent devotees.

Gunatitanand Swami was succeeded by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj.

Due to the organizational emphasis on the Akshar Purushottam doctrine, it essentially forms the organization’s middle name.

The fundamental beliefs of BAPS include the spiritual guidance through the living Akshar (or Guru) who is believed to have attained oneness with Swaminarayan.

Mahant Swami Maharaj is the current Guru and the president of the organization.

As a global, well-established Hindu organization, BAPS actively engages in a range of endeavors aimed at spirituality, character-building, and human welfare.

The activities span religious, cultural, social, and humanitarian domains.

Through these activities, it aims to preserve Indian culture, ideals of Hindu faith, family unity, selfless service, interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence.

55,000 volunteers and 3,300 temples serve 3,300 communities around the world.

As of August 2018, BAPS has approximately 1,560 saints (or sadhus), among the most saints in one sanstha in Hinduism.

As part of its efforts towards community outreach, BAPS also engages in a host of humanitarian and charitable endeavors, by which its volunteers serve neighbors and communities.

With total assets of 17.5 billion USD, BAPS is able to contribute to a lot of welfare and public service works.

Through BAPS Charities, a non-profit aid organization, BAPS has spearheaded a number of projects around the world in the arenas of healthcare, education, environmental causes and community-building campaigns.)

 

BAPS Logo with the symbol of Akshar Deri

 

For the Hindu community, the Mandir is a unifying force that installs pride and dignity with a zeal to serve society.

Every week, hundreds of faithful devotees, young and old alike, gather for prayers and services.

The annual Diwali and New Year’s festivals are witnessed by thousands of devotees and well-wishers.

Diwali is a spectacular celebration that falls in the month of November, a festival of lights and fireworks that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

Every year 35,000 children visit the Mandir.

 

 

What exactly is a Mandir, you ask?

A Mandir is a Hindu place of worship, literally a place where the mind becomes still and the soul floats freely to seek the source of life, bliss and meaning, a place to pause for a moment to pray, reflect and absorb the peaceful ambiance.

 

 

The problem is that the Mandir is a place that takes religion seriously, and though it is listed as a tourist attraction, the Mandir is anything but one.

Here, there is no pandering to curiosity seekers.

It is not a place to go rifling through the Hindu faith to light on what has shock value, for the focus on what is bizarre and outside one’s experience is the crudest kind of vulgarization of faith.

Behind the ceremony and ritual, we seek what is of deepest concern to ourselves, that search for the essential similarity in human nature.

Hinduism is, like true faith, like other religions, not a dull habit but a raging fever, a pounding pulse that gives its adherants all that is startling about life itself.

 

The Mandir in the suburbs of Neasden is as unbelievable to the eyes as a garden in the Sahara.

This spectacular edifice, this the largest Hindu temple outside India, includes seven spires (shikhars), six domes, 193 pillars and 55 different ceiling designs.

The Mandir‘s visual splendour and tranquil atmosphere have spontaneously generated poetic expressions and sentiments.

The media have dubbed the Mandir as “hallucinogenic” and described the profuse carvings as “frothy milk on a cappuccino“.

Deities and motifs representing the Hindu faith spring from the ceilings, walls and windows.

The impressive monument is supported by a 1,070-foot long pageant of extraordinary stone elephants and a 610-foot long ornately carved outer wall.

The Narayan Sarovar, a water body that embraces the monument on three sides, gives the Mandir an aura of a traditional place of pilgrimage.

The Mandir is entered through the richly carved portico of the Grand Haveli (cultural complex), welcoming you into a majestic wooden courtyard with soaring teak columns and oak panels.

Elegant peacocks, delicate lotus flowers and royal elephants beckon in greeting, with the carpet designed to compliment the motifs.

 

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Wood for the Haveli was sourced from sustainable forests, and for each tree felled, ten saplings were planted.

The Haveli Prayer Hall is a pillar-less assembly area that measures 2,750 square metres and seats over 2,500 worshippers.

The Hall incorporates environment-friendly features such as light wells, energy-saving lighting and a heat exchanger which uses thermal energy dissipated by the congregation to heat other parts of the complex.

Here is the venue for weekly assemblies and regular festivals.

 

 

The heart of the Mandir is its murtis (the sacred images of the deities who are revered as living gods), ritually infused with the presence of the divine.

Hindus worship murtis to express and enhance their loving relationship with that which is holy.

Murtis are the soul of the Mandir, making it a sacred place of worhsip wherein God resides – the home of God.

 

 

The shrine’s foundations are His feet, the pillars His knees, the inner sanctum His stomach, the throne His heart, the murti His soul, the shikhars His shoulders, the bell His tongue, the lamp His breath, the lion His nose, the windows His ears, the ringed stone on the shikhar His neck, the golden pot His head and the flags His hair.

The entire Mandir is revered as a divine manifestation.

In total, there are 11 shrines with 17 murtis, including Ganesh, Hanuman and Swaminarayan – this last to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

 

The murtis are ritually served by dedicated sadhus (monks) who live in the Mandir.

Before sunrise, the murtis are awakened by the sadhus and the shrine doors opened for the first of five daily artis (prayers), the Mangala Arti.

 

 

An arti is a ritual wherein a specific prayer is recited to a poetic format with music while the sadhus wave a lighted lamp in front of the murtis.

The sadhus recite some shlokas (prayers), serve the murtis, offer them food and bathe them and close the shrine doors.

Feeding and bathing of the murtis continues throughout the day.

 

The shrines are opened again for the second aarti, the Shangar Arti, and remain open from 0900 to approximately 1100, when the shrines are closed and offered thal (hymns).

At 1145, the shrines are opened for the midday arti, the Rajbhog Arti, and the thal is recited before the murtis.

The shrines are closed after this to allow the murtis to rest during the afternoon.

The shrines reopen at 1600 until 1830 for darshan.

 

 

The Sandhya Arti (sunset arti) follows at 1900.

Thereafter, a selection of prayers are recited by the devotees including dhun (where the names of God are chanted and verses of praise are sung).

The shrines are closed again for approximately one hour so they can be offered their final meal by the sadhus.

The murtis are then prepared for the night and adorned in their evening attire by the sadhus.

The shrines are opened a final time for the Shayan Arti (night-time arti) with the lights dimmed and music lowered.

The devotees recite a few hymns, gently sending the murtis to sleep, before the shrines are finally closed for the night.

 

The elaborately carved pillars, friezes, ornate ceilings and the magnificent dome provide an aesthetic and elevating atmosphere to the sanctum sanctorum of the Mandir.

 

 

The murtis of the Mandir – Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Guru Parampara, the avatars of Sanatan Dharma, Shri Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj, Shri Radha-Krishna, Shri Sita-Ram, Shri Shiv-Parvati, Shri Ganeshji and Shri Hanumanji – exude a heavenly calm and beauty.

 

Don’t despair if you can’t decipher who is who and what is what, for, to understand all of this, one needs to be steeped in Hindu history and Indian heritage.

 

 

Here prayers are whispered, songs of praise are heightened and the soul rejoices beyond the frontiers of mundane existence to experience the divine peace of God.

It is a nucleus of socio-spiritual activities for the benefit and elevation of individuals, families and society.

It inspires a society free from violence, crime and addiction.

It infuses people with a spirit of selfless service, to live in tune with God and in harmony with humanity.

 

Or at least these are the Mandir’s intentions.

 

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An hour of lost and bewildered walking finally led me to a procession of French teenagers who were scrutinized carefully by the burly security that met us.

 

Here at 105 Brentfield Road, as in most places that devote time and attention to unearthly divinity, apparently God has a strict dress code that must be adhered to before you will be allowed to worship Him.

Clothing must be respectable, respectful.

Shorts and skirts must be below knee-length and footwear removed upon entering the Mandir complex.

No one smokes on the premises.

Video and photography are forbidden upon entry.

Mobile phones must be turned off and no food or beverages are allowed on the premises.

 

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By the time I reach the security shed where backpacks are stored upon long shelves and make my way into the Mandir I am immediately summoned by personnel into the Prayer Hall where row upon row of folding chairs support a large collection of English senior citizens let loose here on this most unusual excursion.

The film is agonizingly long and as I am not officially a part of this senior set, despite the balding pate and silver mane that is mine, I extrude myself as quietly as I can and find myself lining up to enter the Inner Sanctum with the aforementioned French and some Indian devotees.

 

Hindu worship (puja) involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras).

The simplest yantra is a circle within a square within a rectangle, with four gates to represent the four directions of the universe.

Hindu temples are based on this design, although still open to endless additions and variations in decoration.

Central to worship is the icon, or sacred image, which together with the temple, is believed to both house and represent a manifestation of God.

An icon can be worshipped at home or in a temple.

Most Hindu worship at home more often and the majority of Hindu homes have a shrine, where at certain times different members of the family make offerings and say prayers.

Most Hindus worship individually, not in a communal service.

Worship involves mantras (vibrating sounds that summon the murti) and prasad (the offering of gifts).

While many prayers and offerings are made for the fulfillment of wishes, the ultimate objective is the offering of the self to become one with God.

Central to this worship is darshan (seeing and being in the presence of the central murti).

 

 

The best time to visit the Mandir is just before 1145, when the rajbhog arti ceremony is performed.

Lit candles are waved in front of the embodiments of the murtis, accompanied by a musical prayer performed by drums, bells, gongs and a conch shell.

 

It is truly a haunting and uplifting experience.

 

Abhishek is the ancient Hindu practice of pouring water over the sacred image of God to honour Him and to attain His blessings.

In this Mandir, abhishek of the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni (or Bhagwan Swaminarayan) is performed daily to the chanting of Vedic verses, including the ancient prayer of peace (the Shanti Paath) and the recital of the 108 auspicious and liberating names of Varni (the Janmangal Namavali), in a ceremony that lasts 15 minutes.

The abhishek is done by devotees on days of special significance to them or to seek blessings for personal reasons.

 

 

The Abhishek Mandap is a marble chamber on the lower floor of the Mandir, housing the sacred image of Shri Nilkanth Varni, the teenage form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

The chamber is clad in Brazilian and Italian marble and embellished with intricate traditional designs.

At the chamber’s heart lies the murti of Varni in gilded brass.

He is depicted in mid-step, emaciated, yet looking calm and resolute.

With matted hair and a small gutko (handwritten manuscript of excerpts from sacred texts) wrapped in a kerchief around his neck, Varni is wearing nothing but his loincloth tied at the waist by a jute cord.

In his left hand, Varni carries a dand (a wooden staff) and a kamandalu (a drinking pot made from dry gourd), both common marks of Hindu ascetism.

 

 

Who was Varni?

After renouncing his home at the tender age of 11, Bhagwan Swaminarayan embarked upon an epic journey of spiritual awakening that took him around India, into Nepal and Tibet, and through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

During this time, he became to be known as Nilkanth Varni.

Barefoot and alone, Nilkanth walked almost 8,000 miles over seven years, blessing the land and liberating numerous spiritual aspirants along the way.

Carrying no maps, no food and no money, Varni crossed raging rivers, faced ferocious animals and survived the freezing heights of the Himalayas.

His solitary journey is a story of courage, kindness and enlightenment, and the inspiration for the naming of the Mandir.

 

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But can the non-believer understand Hinduism?

I have tried and what I have concluded is the following….

 

Hinduism is the world’s oldest ongoing living religion, practised as early as 6500 BC.

It has, unlike Christianity or Islam, no one single founder, but is rather a collective of experiences of ancient seers over the centuries.

According to Hinduism’s adherents, Hinduism teaches one to see the presence of God in everything and thus honour the whole of creation.

You can find God in the world of everyday affairs as readily as anywhere else.

 

Shiva

 

With this perspective, there are no heathens nor enemies.

Many Hindus acknowledge Christ as a divine man, while believing that there have been many as such, including Rama, Krishna and the Buddha.

 

Everyone, even Canada Slim your humble blogger, has the right to evolve spiritually and will, at some time, realise the truth.

 

Hindus believe that souls are not limited to one life – many lives offer many chances for spiritual elevation.

 

 

Like many religions, this faith has rigorous rules.

People are responsible for every action they perform, through the Law of Karma.

 

Hindus believe in one supreme, all-powerful God, the Creator, who has a divine form, is immanent (eternal), transcedent and the grantor of spiritual liberation (moksha).

Jews, Christians and Muslims view the worship of God in the form of one chosen ideal.

Hindus view and represent God in innumerable forms.

 

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Each form (avatar) is but a symbol that points to something beyond.

No one form can truly encapsulate God’s actual nature, so an entire array is needed to complete the picture of God’s aspects and manifestations.

Each representation’s vocation is to introduce the human heart to what it represents but what it itself is not.

Though each representation points equally to God, the Hindu devotee tends to form a lifetime attachment to one, the ishta, the form of the divine the devotee wishes to adopt.

This worship of sacred images of God is called murti puja.

After all, love assumes different nuances according to the relationship involved.

 

Hindus believe in Karma that the soul reaps fruit – good or bad – which is experienced either in this life or in future lives.

They believe in reincarnation (punar-janma), that the soul is immortal, repeatedly born and reborn in one of millions of lifeforms until it attains spiritual liberation (moksha).

Moksha is the release of the soul from this perpetual cycle of births and deaths, remaining eternally in the blissful presence of God.

 

 

Dharma is how we choose to live our lives according to divine law, which values service, sacrifice, humility, duty, devotion, purpose, fidelity, respect and integrity among other positive practices and virtues.

This divine law is believed to be revealed by the authority of the Vedic scriptures, the four Vedas – the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyaka and the Upanishad.

And in a model of efficiency these are encapsulated in the Shikshapatri, a book of moral conduct in 212 succinct Sanskrit verses.

 

 

In a nutshell of simplicity:

  • Do not steal.
  • Do not eat meat.
  • Do not consume alcohol or other intoxicants.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Maintain purity of conduct.

 

Hindus claim a proud heritage:

  • the world’s first university (700 BC), Takshashila, India
  • the invention of the Zero, which makes the binary system and computers possible
  • the invention of the decimal system
  • the invention of geometry and trigonometry
  • the value of pi – the ratio of the circumference and diameter of a circle
  • the prior formulation of the Pythagorean Theorem (which says that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the square of the two sides)  (For me, mathematics is as arcane and mysterious as faith.)
  • a theory of the revolution of the Earth 1,000 years before Copernicus
  • a formulation of the law of gravity 1,200 years before Newton
  • an idea of the smallest and largest measures of time from a kratl (34,000th of a second) to a kalpa (4.32 billion years)
  • the practice of surgery 2,600 years ago with 125 types of surgical instruments for 300 different operations

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I did not leave the Mandir of London as a convert to Hinduism, but what my visit showed me was worth the effort.

 

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Life holds more than what one is experiencing now.

People need to live for something which makes life worthwhile, a quest for meaning and value beyond oneself.

Life holds other possibilities beyond our own experience.

 

Hinduism holds that underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss.

Hinduism sees the mind’s hidden continents as stretching to infinity, infinite in being, infinite in awareness, infinite in joy.

Hindus believe that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for a distinctive mode of travel, each starting from the kind of person one is.

 

Lakshmi

 

We all play the roles our personalities dictate, cast in this moment in the greatest of all tragi-comedies, the drama of life itself in which we are all simultaneously co-authors and actors, powered less by reason than by emotion.

To find meaning in this drama, in the mystery of existence, is life’s final and fascinating challenge.

Life is a training ground for the human spirit.

The world is the soul’s gymnasium, both a school and a training field.

 

Hindus believe that the world is lila, God’s plan, that the goal of life is life itself.

 

The various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal to find meaning to our lives beyond ourselves.

The various religions are but different languages through which God, should God exist, speaks to the human heart.

 

Truth is one.

Sages call truth by different names.

 

Differences in culture, history, geography and temperament all make for diverse starting points.

Is life not more interesting as a result of its infinite variety in endless combinations?

 

I may not always understand that which is out of my experience, but the benefits of trying to go beyond my experience are boundless.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Understanding Hinduism Exhibition Guidebook, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir / John Bowker, World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored and Explained / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Huston Smith, The World’s Religions / The Bhagavad-Gita

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Breviary of Bartholomew

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 June 2018

“Writing a blog about everything that happens to you will honestly help here.” (Therapist)

“Nothing happens to me.”(John Watson, MD)

(“A Study in Pink“, Sherlock)

A view of the London skyline, with the word "Sherlock" in black letters

Two months ago (30 April) I began this post.

Four days later I was involved in an accident resulting in both arms broken.

After 3 weeks in hospital and 4 weeks in a rehab centre and 2 weeks at home, I am finally able to resume this post.

(My other blog is only a month and a half behind, so I am making progress!)

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 April 2018

I am certain that what I am feeling this morning isn´t unique to myself.

That feeling that my life isn´t completely my own.

That I am being pulled and propelled by others in directions that I would rather choose for myself.

There are the obligations of work where employers view employees as mere tools towards their profits or obstacles carelessly removed when those profits are threatened.

There are the obligations of relationships where everyone wants your time and attention and feels slighted if your time and attention is considered more important to you than their own.

There are times when I can really relate to the words of Dido Armstrong….

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“If my life is for rent….

….I deserve nothing more than I get

Cos nothing I have is truly mine.

I´ve always thought that I would love to live by the sea.

To travel the world alone and live more simply.

I have no idea what´s happened to that dream.

Cos there´s really nothing left here to stop me.

It´s just a thought, only a thought….

While my heart is a shield and I won´t let it down.

While I am so afraid to fail so I won´t even try.

Well, how can I say I´m alive?”

This song comes back to me each time I have the feeling of being a voyeur of my own life.

And as the jukebox of my mind plays this song I am reminded of particular moments in London….

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

She was there for a medical conference.

I was there to carry her bags.

Or so it felt at times.

We had only a week to explore London (23 – 29 October).

Her conference was Thursday to Saturday 26 – 28 October, which meant from Monday to Wednesday and on Sunday I would need to accommodate her wishes and make them my own for the sake of marital bliss.

(Ain´t love grand?)

It wasn´t Thursday yet, so serendipitious exploration by myself wasn´t in the cards this day.

She was determined to see absolutely everything she could while she could and liked having me around to carry our half dozen guidebooks and the liquid refreshment and the various odds and ends tourists insist they overpack their daybags with.

We found ourselves in the section of London known as Smithfield….

 

“The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep with filth and mire, a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle and mingling with the fog.”

(Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens)

Smithfield is a corruption of “smooth field“, originally open ground outside the city walls, a flat marshy area stretching to the eastern bank of the Fleet River.

Very little of early medieval London remains intact today, because Londoners built houses of wood.

The City burned down in 1077, 1087, 1132, 1136, 1203, 1212, 1220 and 1227.

Almost anything left intact was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

What has survived was begun by a fool.

The great Priory of Saint Bartholomew along with St. Bartholomew´s Hospital was founded in the 12th century by Rahere when Henry I (1068 – 1135), a son of William the Conqueror, was King.

Almost all that is known about Rahere comes from the Book of Foundation.

Rahere´s family was poor, but he was intelligent and ambitious so over time he would acquire rich and powerful friends.

His cheerful and fun-loving character made him popular and he soon became part of Henry I´s court as the king´s jester.

The whole royal household was thrown into grief and gloom when the White Ship bearing the King´s heir and a number of his friends was lost with all hands on board in a winter storm in November 1120.

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Henry never smiled again and Rahere became a priest.

Rahere decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, a long and difficult journey by sea or land in those days, controlled by wind and weather and the speed of a sail or a horse, taking a month or more.

Rahere visited various places in Rome associated with St. Peter and St. Paul but then he fell dangerously ill with malaria and was nursed at the Hospital of San Giovanni di Dio on Isola Tiberina by the Brothers of the Order of St. John of God.

If the Book of Foundation is to be believed, in his sickness Rahere vowed that if he would regain his health he would return to England and “erect a hospital for the restoration of poor men.”

Rahere´s prayer was answered and he soon set off for England.

On the way home he had a terrible dream in which he was seized by a beast with four feet and two wings who lifted him up high and placed him on a ledge above a yawning pit.

Rahere cried out in fear of falling and a figure appeared at his side who identified himself as St. Bartholomew and said he had come to help him.

In return the Saint said:

“In my name, thou shalt found a church that shall be a House of God in London at Smithfield.”

So, according to the legend, that´s just what Rahere did.

Rahere´s fabled miraculous return to good health contributed to the priory gaining a reputation for curative powers, with sick people filling the church of St. Bartolomew the Great, notably on 24 August (St. Bartholomew´s Day).

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As Smithfield was part of the King´s market the King´s permission was needed.

A Royal Charter was drawn up (1122) to found a priory of Augustinian canons and a hospital.

Building began in March 1123.

The ghost of Rahere is reputed to haunt St. Bartholomew´s, following an incident during repair work in the 19th century when his tomb was opened and a sandal removed.

The sandal was returned to the church but not Rahere´s foot.

Since then, Rahere is a shadowy, cowled figure that appears from the gloom, brushes by astonished witnesses and fades slowly into thin air.

Rahere is said to appear every year on the morning of 1 July at 7 a.m., emerging from the vestry.

 

Bartholomew Fair was established in 1133 by Rahere to raise funds.

Rahere himself used to perform juggling tricks.

(Samuel Pepys would later write about seeing a horse counting sixpence and a puppet show of Ben Jonson´s 1614 play Bartholomew Fair.)

Crowds throng the streets filled with rides and lined with gaily lit buildings.

In Daniel Defoe´s Moll Flanders (1722) his heroine meets a well-dressed gentleman at the Fair.

William Wordsworth´s poem The Prelude (1803) mentions the din and the Indians and the dwarfs at the Fair.

Victorians would close the Fair down in 1855 to protect public morale.

It was felt that the Fair was encouraging debauchery and public disorder.

The Newgate Calendar wrote that the Fair was “a school of vice which has initiated more youth into the habits of villainy than Newgate Prison itself.”)

 

Hidden in the back streets north of the namesake hospital, St. Bartholomew the Great is London´s oldest and most atmospheric parish church.

Begun in 1123 as the main church of St. Bartholomew´s priory and hospice, it was partly demolished in the Reformation and gradually fell into ruins.

The church once adjoined the hospital and though the hospital mostly survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries, about half of the church was ransacked before being demolished in 1543.

In the early 16th century, Prior William Bolton had an oriel window installed inside the church so he could keep an eye on the monks.

The symbol in the centre panel is a crossbow (bolt) passing through a barrel (tun) in honour of the Prior.

Having escaped the Great Fire of 1666, the church fell into disrepair.

The cloisters were used as a stable, there was a boys´ school in the triforium, a coal and wine cellar in the crypt, a blacksmith´s in the north transept and a printing press where Benjamin Franklin served for a year (1725) as a journeyman printer in the Lady Chapel.

The church was also occupied by squatters in the 18th century.

From 1887, Aston Webb restored what remained and added the chequered patterning and flintwork that now characterizes the exterior.

The Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great is a rare survivor, despite also suffering Zeppelin bombing in World War I and the Blitz in World War II.

To get an idea of the scale of the original church, approach it through the half-timbered Tudor gatehouse on Little Britain Street.

A wooden statue of St. Bartolomew stands in a niche.

Below is the 13th century arch that once formed the entrance to the nave.

The churchyard now stands where the nave once was.

There is also the bust of Edward Cooke made of “weeping marble“, stone that appears to cry if the weather is wet enough and when the central heating hasn´t dried out the stone.

Edward Cooke

The inscription beneath the statue exhorts visitors to “unsluice your briny floods.”

One side of the cloisters survives to the south and now houses the delightful Cloister Café.

Inside the Cloister Café

Under a 15th century canopy north of the altar is the tomb of Rahere.

 

The poet and heritage campaigner John Betjeman (1906 – 1984) kept a flat opposite the churchyard on Cloth Fair.

Betjeman considered St. Bartolomew the Great to have the finest surviving Norman interior in London.

 

Charity in the churchyard on Good Friday still continues.

A centuries-old tradition began when 21 sixpences were placed upon the gravestone of a woman who had stipulated in her will that there would be an annual distribution to 21 widows in perpetuity.

Freshly baked hot cross buns nowadays are not only to widows but to others as well.

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In 2007 the church became the first Anglican parish church to charge admission to tourists not attending worship.

 

St. Bartholomew the Great is the adopted church of the Worshipful Companies of Butchers, Founders, Haberdashers, Fletchers, Farriers, Farmers, Information Technologists, Hackney Carriage Drivers and Public Relations Practitioners.

Perhaps it is this last Company combined with the church´s atmosphere that has made St. Bartholomew´s much beloved of film companies.

 

The fourth wedding of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) sees Charles (Hugh Grant) deciding to marry ex-girlfriend Henrietta (Anna Chancellor) aka “Duck Face“.

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However, shortly before the ceremony at St. Bartholomew, Charles´ ex-casual girlfriend Carrie (Andie MacDowell) arrives, revealing to Charles that she and Hamish (Corin Redgrave) are separated.

Charles has a crisis of confidence, which he reveals to his deaf brother David (David Bower) and his best friend Matthew (John Hannah).

During the ceremony, when the vicar asks whether anyone knows a reason why the couple should not marry, David, who was reading the vicar’s lips, asks Charles to translate for him and says in sign language that he suspects the groom loves someone else.

The vicar asks whether Charles does love someone else and Charles replies, “I do.”

Henrietta punches Charles and the wedding is halted, with the church forgotten for the rest of the film.

 

In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) “marries” Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) in this church meant to be the chapel of Nottingham Castle.

A bowman, ready to release a fiery arrow. Below two figures, beside a tree, silhouetted against a lake background.

William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) reveals to Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) that he is alive when he surprises her and her husband-to-be Lord Wessex (Colin Furth) inside St. Batholomew´s. (Shakespeare in Love)

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Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore) regularly visits Father Smythe (Jason Isaacs) at the church. (The End of the Affair, 1999)

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William Wilburforce (Ioan Gruffuff)(1797 – 1833) finds spiritual enlightenment in St. Bart´s to inspire him to devote his life to the abolishment of slavery in England. (Amazing Grace)

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Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) marries King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) and is crowned Queen of England in a ceremony at St. Bartholomew, as is Snow White (Kristen Stewart). (The Other Boleyn Girl)(Snow White and the Huntsman)

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The interiors of Fotheringray Castle and Chartley Hall (the former where Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587) was imprisoned, the latter from where she reigned, both ruins) are captured by St. Bartholomew´s. (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)

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Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) with Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) and his police force battle Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) and his men within St. Bartholomew`s. (Sherlock Holmes, 2009)

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.

St. Bart´s has also been used in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), the TV series Taboo and as a stand-in for Westminster Abbey by T-Mobile for its “royal wedding” advertisement (2011).

 

Historically much blood has been spilt in Smithfield, with both the living their lives dispatched and the dead their bodies snatched.

Blood, both animal and human, has been spilled at Smithfield for centuries that.

Given its ease of access to grazing and water, Smithfield established itself as London´s livestock market, remaining so for almost a thousand years.

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The meat market grew up adjacent to Bartholomew Fair, though it wasn´t legally sanctioned until the 17th century.

Live cattle continued to be herded into Smithfield until the Fair was suppressed and the abattoirs moved out to Islington.

A new covered market hall was erected in 1868 and it remains London´s main meat market.

Early morning by 7 am, Smithfield Market is at its most animated with a full range of stalls open.

 

Human blood was often spilled in Smithfield as well.

 

William Wallace (1270 – 1305), a Scottish knight and one of the main rebel leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence, was captured near Glasgow, transported to London and taken to Westminster Hall.

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There he was tried for treason and for atrocities against civilians in war, “sparing neither age nor sex, monk nor nun“.

He was crowned with a garland of oak to suggest he was the King of Outlaws.

Wallace responded to the treason charge:

I could not be a traitor to King Edward, for I was never his subject.

Following his trial, Wallace was taken from the Hall to the Tower of London on 23 August 1305.

He was then stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to Smithfield.

He was strangled by hanging but released while he was still alive.

He was then emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burned before him.

Wallace was then beheaded, drawn and quartered.

His head was preserved (dipped in tar) and placed on a pike atop London Bridge.

In 2005 a memorial service was held for Wallace, on the 700th anniversary of the Scottish rebel´s execution.

Above: Plaque on the wall of St. Bartholomew´s Hospital, marking the place of Wallace´s execution

 

Wat Tyler led the Peasants´ Revolt in 1381.

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At the height of the Revolt, Tyler had them gather, 20,000 strong, at Smithfield after having just taken London by storm.

They assembled to discuss what their next move should be.

They were debating whether to loot the city when the King appeared, accompanied by a retinue of 60 horsemen.

Though Richard II was only a boy of 14, he did not shrink from the challenge.

When he reached the Abbey of St. Bartholomew, Richard stopped and looked at the great crowd and said he would not go on without hearing what they wanted.

If they were discontented, he would placate them.

Tyler, a roofer from Kent, emboldened by the peasants´ success, rode forward to negotiate with the King.

He spoke insolently to the King and to the Lord Mayor of London who was with him.

In reply, the Lord Mayor produced his sword and struck Tyler in the head.

Tyler fell to the ground and was surrounded by the King´s retainers who finished him off while the peasants looked on helplessly.

They were about to launch into a massacre when Richard hurriedly retrieved the situation.

Ordering his retainers to stay where they were, Richard rode forward alone and calmed the mob.

He told them:

“I am your King.

You have no other leader but me.”

The crowd dispersed, the Revolt was over, the peasants went home, their remaining leaders hunted down and hanged without mercy.

 

Smithfield became a regular venue for public executions.

The Bishop of Rochester´s cook was boiled alive here in 1531, after being found guilty of poisoning.

The local speciality was burnings, reaching a peak during the reign of “Bloody” Mary in the 1550s when hundreds of Protestants were burnt at the stake for their beliefs, in revenge for the Catholics who had suffered a similar fate under Henry VIII and Edward VI.

A plaque on the side of the church commemorates those who died at Smithfield as martyrs for their faith – 50 Protestants and the religious reformers who would be called “the Marian martryrs“.

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their Theory of the universe.

That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages and it failed altogether in its object.” (G.K. Chesterton)

On 16 July 1546, Anne Askew of Lincolnshire and three men were burnt at the stake, for going around London distributing Protestant tracts and giving them secretly to the ladies of the Queen´s household.

Askew was arrested, tortured in the Tower of London and then executed.

She was 25.

So many executions….

 

Reportedly some nights there is a strong scent of burning flesh.

 

During the 16th century the Smithfield site was the place of execution of swindlers and coin forgers who were boiled to death in oil.

After 1783, when hangings at Tyburn Tree (present site of Marble Arch) stopped, public executions at the nearby gates of Newgate Prison just south of Smithfield, began to draw crowds of 100,000 and more.

The last public beheading took place here in 1820 when five Cato Street Conspirators were hanged and decapitated with a surgeon´s knife.

It was in hanging that Newgate excelled.

Its gallows dispatched 20 criminals simultaneously.

Unease over the “robbery and violence, loud laughing, oaths, fighting, obscene conduct and still more filthy language” that accompanied public hangings drove the executions inside the prison walls in 1868.

The bodies of the executed were handed over to the surgeons of St. Bartholomew´s for dissection, but body snatchers also preyed on non-criminals buried in the nearby churchyard of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

Such was the demand for corpses that relatives were forced to pay a night watchman to guard the graveyard in a specially built watchhouse to prevent the “Resurrection Men” from retrieving their quarry.

Successfully stolen bodies were taken to the nearby tavern, the Fortune of War, to be sold to the physicians of the St. Bartolomew´s Hospital.

Rahere may have been both head of the Priory and master of the Hospital, but soon these offices, these institutions became distinct identities.

St. Bart´s Hospital wasn´t the first of its kind, for it, like the earliest Hospitals, was a part of a monastery that gave shelter and food to wayfarers, serving both as guesthouse and infirmary, caring not just for the traveller, but for all kinds of needy people, including the sick, the aged and the destitute.

St. Bart´s would become known for taking in expectant mothers, foundlings and orphans and babies from nearby Newgate Prison.

St. Bart´s began with eight brethern and four sisters, all following the rule of the Augustinian order.

For over four centuries, the Hospital continued to be a religious institution.

By 1150, St. Bart´s had become a popular refuge for the chronically ill, many seeking miraculous cures, yet little is known about these patients in medieval times, other than those described in the Book of the Foundation.

 

A carpenter named Adwyne was brought in suffering from chronic contractions resulting from prolonged illness.

First he regained use of his hands by making small tools and as his limbs became stronger he was able to use an axe.

His recovery has much in common with modern physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

 

Gradually, treatments based on medical doctrines were introduced.

 

John Mirfeld, a contemporary of Chaucer, lived within the Priory and was closely connected to the Hospital.

He wrote two books in which he recorded everything he believed conducive to spiritual and physical health.

The first of his works, the Breviarium Bartholomei (Breviary of Bartholomew), written in Latin between 1380 and 1395, is a large compendium of diagnoses, treatments and remedies, which were copied from the standard medical authorities of the day, mainly classical and Arabic, but included cures based on folklore and magic which were an integral part of medieval medicine.

Mirfield´s writings were the best available medical practice 600 years ago.

The Breviarium Bartholomei dealt with general illnesses, then categorized other diseases according to the parts of the bodies they affected.

 

The Order of the Hospital (1552) stated that there should be “one fayre and substantial chest” in which the Hospital´s records were kept.

The chest was to have three locks, which only the president, treasurer and one other governor had the key to a lock.

The Clerk of the Hospital was responsible for writing down a record of the Hospital´s business, for which he kept four books: a repertory (copies of all deeds relating to the Hospital´s property, rights and obligations), a book of survey (the names of all the tenants of the Hospital´s properties and who was responsible for repairs), a book of accounts / the ledger (copies of all deeds relating to the Hospital´s property, rights and obligations), and a journal (a record of the meetings of the hospital´s governers).

 

From 1547 there were usually three Hospital surgeons, each in regular attendance on the patients.

Some of the early surgeons at St. Bart´s were skilled practitioners and highly distinguised in their day.

William Clowes (1544 – 1604) wrote a number of books which have been described as the best surgical texts of the Elizabethan age.

Above: William Clowes

John Woodall (1556 – 1643), a contemporary of William Harvey, wrote The Surgeon´s Mate, a book full of sound and practical advice for ships´ surgeons.

Woodall was one of the first to recognize scurvy (caused by a lack of Vitamin C in the diet) and lemon juice as a treatment for it.

Above: John Woodall

The most common operations were: amputations, lithothomy (removing bladder stones) and trephination (drilling with a circular saw to remove portions of the skull.

But without anaesthetics and any understanding of the causes of infection, pus in wounds was accepted as part of the healing process and mortality rates were high.

More typically, surgeons dealt with accidents such as burns, fractures, knife and gunshot wounds.

They also pulled teeth, lanced boils, drained pus, treated skin disorders, venereal infections, tumours and ulcers.

 

Most drugs were made from home-grown and imported plants and spices and were based on traditional remedies.

In 1618 the first London Pharmacopoeia was published and sponsored by the Royal College of Physicians, embodying a list of approved drugs and the methods of preparing them.

Some exotic substances were included, such as unicorn´s horn and spider´s web, reflecting the practices of the time.

 

One of the more distinguished apothecaries at St. Bart´s was Francis Bernard (1627 – 1698) who amassed a huge library, containing 13,000 volumes, 4,500 of which related to medicine and science, at his house in Little Britain near the Hospital.

 

Pharmacy changed slowly and it was not until the 19th century that scientific analysis began to isolate drugs like morphine, codeine and quinine.

 

Unlike surgeons who acquired their skills by apprenticeship, physicians were university trained.

Until the 17th century, medicine remained largely backward looking, dependent upon classical authorities and ancient remedies.

Diagnosis was made by taking into account the patient´s history, lifestyle and appearance, and external factors such as the environment in which the patient lived.

Gradually, however it became accepted that the human body could be investigated by dissection and that knowledge of anatomy was vital in understanding how the body worked.

 

William Harvey (1578 – 1637) studied medicine and anatomy at the famed University of Padua before serving as physician at St. Bart´s.

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Above: William Harvey

He is credited with one of the greatest advances in medical history: the discovery of the circulation of the blood, published in 1628 in Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cardis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (An Anatomical Essay on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals).

Based on his observations and experiments, Harvey demonstrated that the blood circulated constantly around the body, pumped by the heart, going out by the arteries and returning by the veins.

His work was a role model for scientific investigation.

Nonetheless by the 18th century there was still no real understanding of the nature and causes of disease.

 

Peter Mere Latham (1789 – 1875) emphasized the careful physical examination of the patient.

Above: Peter Mere Latham

Some 60 volumes of his casenotes, all carefully indexed, are the earliest examples of detailed patient records.

 

Diagnosis using instruments, such as the stethoscope, was introduced in the first half of the 19th century.

Percivall Pott (1714 – 1788) bridged the gap between the barber-surgeons and the modern art of surgery.

Known for his consideration of the patient and who described amputation as “terrible to bear and horrible to see“, Pott introduced many improvements to surgery and helped raised the standing of his procession.

By the last quarter of the 18th century, systematic medical education (the mix of university education and hands-on apprenticeship) had yet to be introduced in England.

Due to popularity of anatomical, surgical operations and bandaging lectures, the Hospital began to provide a purpose-built lecture theatre.

A wide range of subjects was taught including theory and practice of medicine, anatomy and physiology, surgery, physics, chemistry, materia medica (drugs), midwifery and diseases of women and children.

By 1831, St. Bart´s had the largest medical school in London, providing a complete curriculum for students preparing for medical examination.

 

Health care was transformed in the 19th century.

New specialities arose as medicine became a science.

By the end of the century, research, often conducted in the laboratory, had become the basis of medical science.

 

A story, a legend, begins in 1881, when Dr. John Watson, having returned to London after serving in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, visits the Criterion Restaurant and runs into an old friend named Stamford, who had been a dresser under him at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

St. Bart´s was Watson´s alma mater.

Watson confides in Stamford that, due to a shoulder injury that he sustained at the Battle of Maiwand, he has been forced to leave the armed services and is now looking for a place to live.

Stamford mentions that an acquaintance of his, Sherlock Holmes, is looking for someone to split the rent at a flat at 221B Baker Street, but he cautions Watson about Holmes’s eccentricities.

Stamford takes Watson back to St. Bartholomew’s where, in a chemical laboratory, they find Holmes experimenting with a reagent, seeking a test to detect human haemoglobin.

Holmes explains the significance of bloodstains as evidence in criminal trials.

“There´s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life.” (Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet)

After Stamford introduces Watson to Holmes, Holmes shakes Watson’s hand and comments, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

Though Holmes chooses not to explain why he made the comment, Watson raises the subject of their parallel quests for a place to live in London, and Holmes explains that he has found the perfect place in Baker Street.

At Holmes’s prompting, the two review their various shortcomings to make sure that they can live together.

After seeing the rooms at 221B, they move in and grow accustomed to their new situation.

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Pathology (the study of the underlying causes and processes of disease) was at first the main area of scientific work.

Case notes of individual patients were systematically compiled, not only as a record of diagnosis and treatment, but also for use in teaching and research.

Gradually, the old beliefs that infection arose spontanteously gave way to the discovery that disease was caused by small living germs (bacteria).

With the introduction of anaesthetics and antiseptics, procedures could be undertaken that were formerly prohibited by the risk of blood loss, infection and the suffering of the patient.

So while the number of operations performed at St. Bart´s increased dramatically, the overall mortality rate kept falling.

During the 1930s, St. Bart´s led the world in the development of mega-voltage X-ray therapy for cancer patients and was the first Hospital to install equipment capable of treating tumours with a 1,000,000 volt beam.

 

St. Bartholomew´s Hospital has existed on the same site since its founding in the 12th century, surviving both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, making this Hospital the oldest in London.

 

St. Bartholomew´s Hospital Museum, open Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, shows how medical care has developed and the history of the Hospital.

The Museum is part of the London Museums of Health and Medicine and has been described as one of the world´s 10 weirdest medical museums.

Among the medical artifacts are some fearsome amputation instruments, a pair of leather “lunatic restrainers” and jars with labels such as “Poison – for external use only.”

The Museum contains some fine paintings, gruesome surgical tools and a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote some of his Sherlock Holmes stories while studying medicine here.

You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

Image result for st. bartholomew´s hospital museum

Upstairs on the 3rd floor of the Hospital, the Barts Pathology Museum (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/bartspathology) is a cavernous, glass-roofed hall lined with jars of pickled body parts, open to the visitor by appointment only.

Around 5,000 diseased specimens in various shades of putrid yellow, gangerous green and bilious orange are neatly arranged on three open-plan floors linked by a spiral staircase.

Only the ground floor of the Museum is open to the public, while the upper galleries are reserved for teaching, cataloguing and conservation.

Some favourites: the deformed liver of a “tight lacer“(corset wearer), the misshapen bandaged foot of a Chinese woman, the skull of the assassin John Bellingham who murdered Prime Minister Spencer Perceval.

The Museum has a series of workshops and talks inspired by its collection.

There are taxidermy classes, lectures on funerary cannibalism and the history of syphilis, and festivals dedicated to bodily decay and broken hearts.

Have a glass of wine amongst severed hands and trepanned skulls.

If you dare….

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Prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832, there were only two ways in which medical schools could acquire corpses: prisoners sentenced to death and dissection, or corpses purchased from the “Resurrection Men” body snatchers.

 

A door leads from the Hospital Museum to the Hospital´s official entrance hall.

On the walls of the staircase are two murals painted by William Hogarth: The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan, which can only be seen at close quarters on Friday afternoons.

Image result for william hogarth pool of bethesda

Hogarth was so enraged by the news that the Hospital was commissioning art from Italian painters that he insisted on doing the staircase murals for free as a demonstration that English painting was equal to Italian.

Image result for william hogarth the good samaritan

The legend recreated in the BBC drama, final episode “The Reichenbach Fall” of the second series of Sherlock.

J.M.W. Turner, “Reichenbach Falls

John finds Sherlock at the St. Bartholomew’s lab but leaves after hearing Mrs. Hudson has been shot.

Sherlock texts Moriarty who meets him on the roof of the hospital to resolve what the criminal calls their “final problem“.

Moriarty reveals that Sherlock must commit suicide or Moriarty’s assassins will kill John, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade.

Sherlock realises that Moriarty has a fail-safe and can call the killings off.

Sherlock then convinces Moriarty that he is willing to do anything to make him activate the fail-safe.

After acknowledging that he and Sherlock are alike, Moriarty tells Sherlock “As long as I am alive, you can save your friends,” then commits suicide by shooting himself in the mouth, thereby denying Sherlock knowledge of the abort codes and the ability to prove that Moriarty does exist.

With no way to use the fail-safe, Sherlock calls John, who is rushing back from 221B Baker Street after realising the report about Mrs. Hudson was a ruse.
Claiming that he was always a fake and explaining this last phone call is his “note“, Sherlock swan-dives off the roof of St. Bartholomew as John looks on horrified from the street, thereby ensuring that Moriarty’s true identity dies with him.
After being knocked to the ground by a cyclist, John stumbles over to watch, grief-stricken, as Sherlock’s bloody body is carried away by hospital staff.
St. Bart´s is again used as the location for the resolution to Holmes´ faked suicide, in the first episode (“The Empty Hearse“) of the third Sherlock series.
Just inside the Henry VIII Gate of St. Bartholomew´s Hospital is the Hospital church of St. Bartholomew the Less.
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Inside the light and airy church with its limed oak pews the visitor can find a painting of St. Batholomew, the aforementioned parish chest and memorials to Hospital doctors, nurses and other staff.
On the wall, the Balthrope Monument has the kneeling figure of Robert Balthrope, Sergeant Surgeon to Queen Elizabeth I with the final lines (paraphrased):
“Let here his rotten bones repose till angel´s trumpet sound.
To warn the world of present change and raise the dead from the ground.”
To wander a neighbourhood so rich in history and culture….
To learn of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, of jesters of joy and saints of determination, of fairs fayre and deadly prisons, of patriots and poets, of movie magic, of queens and martyrs, of rebels who defied kings, of doctors and nurses, of drugs and medicine….
Such is Smithfield, the Springfield of England, such was our Bart day.
The jukebox of my mind thinks of The Simpsons.
Do the Bartman.
Sources
Wikipedia
Nicholas Best, London in the Footsteps of the Famous
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
Rena Gardiner, The Story of Saint Bartholomew the Great
Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide
Rough Guide London
St. Bartholomew`s Hospital: Nine Centuries of Health Care

Bart Simpson 200px.png

 

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”.

Bucket list poster.jpg

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.

April 14, 2012 Marquette, Kansas EF4 tornado.JPG

 

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.

guildhall school in text

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.

The Barbican.jpg

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

 

 

 

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.

Westminster-Abbey.JPG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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