Canada Slim and the Privileged Place

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 January 2018

This morning I feel somewhat like Punxsawtawney Phil, the groundhog of the film Groundhog Day, chattering away furiously, while Bill Murray holds me firmly as he drives a car over a cliff sardonically telling me:

Groundhog Day (movie poster).jpg

Don´t drive angry.

Perhaps this might be extended to encompass writing as well.

Don´t write angry.

But recent events in world politics and memories of walking through one of the richest areas in Switzerland are making it difficult to write and keep my composure at the same time.


I mean I shouldn´t have been shocked by what Trump said.

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The man will literally say or do anything.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, during the 2006 presidential campaign, carefully reviewed Trump´s race-related history, and found – including the 1,021 pages of legal documents from racial discrimination suits against him – a consistent, 40-year pattern of insults and discrimination.

It seems there is no one to save us from his racism.

But he sunk to a new xenophobic, racist low on 12 January, when on the eve of the 8th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, “President” Trump, in the Oval Office, wondered aloud why America should allow immigration from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.

Flag of Haiti

Above: Flag of Haiti

Sadly, the “President” is not alone in thinking so poorly about the poor.

An America that created a man like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr remains burdened by bigotry, racism and discrimination by a minority who dominate the majority.

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Above: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

Where is the dream of a world where people are judged by who they are and not by how they look or where they come from?

Did the dream die with Dr. King?

Has Trump shown the true colours of too many people who having lived privileged lives have a jaundiced opinion of those who haven´t?

This week, Switzerland will host this colossal jackass at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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For the first time in my life I have considered joining in a protest.

I probably won´t, because Trump´s presence in Davos coincides with my work schedule in St. Gallen, but the temptation nonetheless exists.

Being an event happening in Switzerland I am fairly certain that there will be Swiss people in attendance at this event – other than the ones providing services to the high and mighty – who they themselves are rich and powerful.

And it would not surprise me to find that some of these rich and powerful Swiss attendees come from Schindellegi, Canton Schwyz, which I visited, as part of my Zwingli Project, on 23 November 2017.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)


Einsiedeln to Richterswil, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The day started as planned: early out the door, train to St. Gallen, another to Ziegelbrücke and a final to Glarus.

On the train to Ziegelbrücke I met Vadym of the Ukraine, a recently acquired friend who I knew as a regular Starbucks St. Gallen customer, on his way to work at his new job in Schindellegi.

Above: Canada Slim and Vadym, Restaurant Adler, Schindellegi


He is a pastry chef at the Restaurant Adler in Schindellegi.

We spoke of mutual acquaintances in St. Gallen and Poland, and by the time he left the train at Uznach I had told him of my intentions to follow the suggested walks found in Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch which would find me eventually walking through the town of Schindellegi from the monastery town of Einsiedeln to the Lake of Zürich.

He suggested that whenever I am in Schindellegi that I should visit him at the Adler.

Neither one of us expected me to take up the invitation that same day.

As mentioned in Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest of this blog, the walks suggested from Glarus to Einsiedeln could not be accomplished this day because of both a lack of transportation from Glarus and the valid concern that snowfall might have obscured the intended footpaths through the mountains.

Above: Glarus

So two trains and two hours later after leaving Glarus disappointed, I found myself in Einsiedeln from where – after a quick visit to the Abbey – I began walking in earnest towards the Lake of Zürich.

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

The 20 km walk (approximately) suggested by the Steiners has the walker climb 200 metres from the town of Einsiedeln to Katzenstrick Summit, and then, with the exception of a 50-metre ascent from Biberbrugg Station, the trail is one continuous descent towards the Zürichsee.


Above: Katzenstrick/Chatzenstrick Pass

At almost the halfway point the walker arrives at Biberbrugg, an eternal village whose only claim to fame seems to be that it is a midpoint with a bridge crossing the Biber River.


In 1877, a train station of the railway line Wädenswil – Einsiedeln was built.

Fourteen years later, the Südostbahn (SOB) established the line St. Gallen – Schwyz and Biberbrugg became a transport hub yet never more than a hamlet.

Today, Biberbrugg is also a point on the famous Voralpen Express between St. Gallen and Luzern and of the motorway between St. Gallen and Schwyz.

The village´s railway station is also a stop of the Zürich S-Bahn on line S13 to Wädenswil and S40 to Rapperswil.

The sole reason to stop in Biberbrugg is to have a meal at the Restaurant Post on the hill above the Station.

Lunch consumed, I walked another three kilometres to Schindellegi, the Mecca of Switzerland´s super rich.

The municipality of Feusisberg, of which Schindellegi is a part of, has a population of nearly 5,300.

Most are well-educated good Roman Catholics who live in Paradise.

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Above: St. Anna Church, Schindellegi

Paradise that is when one speaks of taxes as this municipality has the lowest taxes in the entirety of the nation.

Here the anonymous super rich have addresses in this municipality, including Sergio Marchionne (CEO of Fiat), Jörg Wolle (CEO of DKSH – Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner – deeply rooted in communities all across Asia Pacific – 780 locations in 36 countries), Andreas Rihs (CEO of Sonova, which specializes in hearing care solutions, like hearing aids, ear implants and wireless communication), Boris Collardi (CEO of the Bank Julius Bär – a most private bank) and Katharina Liebherr (co-owner of the Southampton Football Club).

Their wealth has an amazing amount of zeros, which has financed athletes like tennis star Martina Hingis and skijumper Simon Amman.

The ability to live in this municipality and become almost invisible verges on the magical that local magician/illusionist Peter Marvey would appreciate.

Above: Peter Marvey, the Magician without Limits

(Check out his Magic House when you are here.)

But this quiet money was revealed, at least to the rest of Switzerland, when Austrian resident in Schindellegi Hans Thomas Gross, selfmade millionaire and the 276th richest man in the world (estimated value CHF 175,000,000) began dating the “famous for being famous” American celebrity Paris Hilton.

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Above: Hans Thomas Gross

(See Remembering Marilyn / Plastered by Paris of this blog.)

Gross, who made his fortune by marketing a drink distribution system for aircraft, owner/part-owner in the companies HTG Ventures, SkyTender, Preciflex, Tetral and Tetrapak and a 56-metre yacht dubbed Galaxy, dated Paris Hilton for about a year.

(For a discussion of Swiss packaging, please see Wolves in sheep packaging of this blog.)

Paris was said to be a big fan of grocery shopping in the Coop store in nearby Richterswil.

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Paris is, for all the criticism that is hurled at her for being famous despite lacking talent, first and foremost a businesswoman.

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Above: Paris Hilton

So even though she is better known for being a socialite, a TV and media personality, model (Trump Model Management), actress, singer and DJ, this great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, is as clever a businessperson as Hans Gross.

Perhaps cleverer.

Her fragrances have earned $1.5 billion.

There are currently three Paris Hilton apartment complexes and 44 Paris Hilton stores worldwide.

Paris earns over $10 million a year from product sales.

As a celebrity, she is paid about $300,000 for appearances in clubs and events.

(Which makes it hard to picture her buying frozen vegetables at the local grocery store.)

(And it is the former presence of Paris in Schindellegi and the upcoming presence in Davos of her former employer and father of her friend Ivana, Donald Trump, that leads me to consider the lifestyles of the rich and famous.)

Don´t forget that Schindellegi is small and had no one told you that it was a taxation mecca for the super rich, it would be an easy place to ignore, for outside of the Magic House (for large groups only) only the town´s Church of St. Anna is worth a glance.

Schindellegi has the lowest taxes in Switzerland and in Switzerland anonymity is the watchword.

Above: Schindellegi

But a hint that the super rich call Schindellegi home is the Restaurant Adler.

At first glance, the Adler seems no different than any other Swiss restaurant in any other Swiss town, but the attention to detail and the need to have a qualified pastry chef beyond the normal kitchen staff found in a typical gastronomic village establishment suggests that the Adler is no stranger to the wealthy restauranteur.

Vadym (Remember Vadym?) creates such tasty delights that the tongue reminds the body why it is great to be alive.

I surprised Vadym by my visit, but I assured him it was not my intention to disturb him at work for more than a few minutes.

Despite my protestations, he insisted I have a Coke and a piece of his palate-pleasing pastry before proceeding on my path.

The Sri Lankan owner-operator of the Adler could probably have rattled off a list of the Who´s Who that have visited the Restaurant, but I sensed it was best not to linger too long.

Being just past normal lunch hours the staff were eating their own midday meal and I felt that they deserved to eat undisturbed by outside visitors.

My entire stay was probably no more than a half-hour at the most.

Schindellegi midday midweek was quiet.

Few cars on the streets, few pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I followed yellow diamond signposts that lead hikers through streets, fields and forests, valleys and mountains, across Switzerland.

My path from Schindellegi to the Lake of Zürich leads me from the railway to apartment blocks and pastures descending to Richterswil where one of the first tax revolts, one of a series of peasant revolts across Switzerland, occurred.

Richterswiler Weibel Rudolf Goldschmid was executed in Zürich following the failure of the revolt.

During the 1st War of Villmergen (5 January to 7 March 1656) when Protestant Zürich and Bern fought Catholic central Switzerland, Richterswil was invaded by an army from Schwyz.

During the 2nd War of Villmergen (also known as the Toggenburg War or the Swiss Civil War of 1712)(12 April to 11 August 1712) when Catholic cantons (including St. Gallen) fought against Protestant Bern and Zürich and Toggenburg, Richterswil was again invaded by Catholic forces.

But unlike 1656, the newly built fortifications above the town meant the siege of Richterswil was unsuccessful.

Under the French-established Helvetic Republic (1793 – 1803), Richterswil was made part of the district of Horgen and thus had a higher tax rate than surrounding villages, and as part of this higher tax it was forced to house French troops during the War of the Second Coalition (1799).

Following an unsuccessful uprising in 1804´s Bockenkrieg against Zürich, Richterswil was severely punished.

Things have calmed down since then.

Richterswil enjoys its position on the Lake of Zürich and is accessible by the A3 motorway, the Lake Zürich Left Bank railway line, the Zürich S-Bahn Services S2 and S8 and the Wädenswil-Einsiedeln line.

Above: Richterswil

The Zimmerberg busline connects the Zimmerberg Region and parts of the Sihl valley to Richterswil.

American painter John Caspar Wild (1804 – 1846) was born in Richterswil.

Above: Wild´s final resting place, Davenport, Iowa

In this town I see clear traces of someone´s love for Canada: a carved totem pole and maple leaf flags adorn the backyard of a Richterswil household.

I see the Coop store that Paris Hilton shopped at as I make my way to the Station, feet aching but smile upon my face.

I don´t have CHF 175 million in my bank account.

Nor do I have a 56-metre yacht to impress American hotel heiresses.

What I do have are walking boots and a willingness to use them.

What I do have is curiosity and enthusiasm.

As I suspected, Switzerland won´t always have Paris Hilton, but I have had the tiniest glimpse of wealth, have seen the exclusive stores of Dusseldorf, Cortina and St. Moritz, have witnessed gamblers unafraid to risk fortunes on gambling tables in Baden Baden and all I see is a golden shell empty of spirit.

What I don´t have I don´t miss, so I don´t envy those who do have what I don´t.

Over 80% of the superwealthy in the world inherited their fortune, despite claims to the contrary of hard work and sacrifice.

The poor have never lacked motivation, only opportunity.

What Paris never understood, what Donald doesn´t get, is that wealth may make the acquisition of material goods easier but it will never earn the true satisfaction of simply enjoying the world in all its quiet splendour.

Did Hans take Paris hiking?

Did he pick wildflowers for her from the fields outside Schindellegi?

Had a more sophisticated place to shop existed for Paris in Schindellegi or Richterwil, would she have shopped there?

Or did she make secret excursions to Zürich for shopping to maintain her lavish lifestyle?

I don´t hate the rich nor do I love them.

Their arrogance is accidental, their ignorance of lives other than their own is sublime.

I will return to Schindellegi for more of Vadym´s pastry.

I might walk into Richterwil´s Coop and wonder what Paris might have bought.

I will, on occasion, buy a lottery ticket in the hopes that a win might ease our financial insecurities.

How Hans made his fortune may have been legit….

Paris may actually work to maintain hers….

I wish them well.

Our worlds will never meet.

I am OK with that.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis /




Canada Slim and the Uncertainty Principle

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 January 2018

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I am reminded of this more and more these days as I watch events unfold again and again around the globe that suggest the politicization of society remains an ongoing clear and present danger.

Politicization is, at least to my way of thinking, a process where tradition and excellence are replaced by ideology and illusion.

Take, for example, two stories from the 8 January edition of the New York Times:

Windsor, England

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Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their wedding date last month, the council leader who oversees one of the richest boroughs in Britain has been on a campaign to deal with the homeless people who “sleep rough” near the wedding venue, Windsor Castle – all eight of them, according to official statistics.

An aerial photograph of a castle, with three walled areas clearly visible, stretching left to right. Straight roads stretch away in the bottom right of the photograph, and a built-up urban area can be seen outside the castle on the left. In the upper right a grey river can just be seen.

Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, wrote to the Thames Valley Police last week, demanding that they use their legal powers to tackle the issue of “aggressive begging and intimidation” before the royal wedding on 19 May.

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Last month, while on ski vacation in Wyoming, Dudley tweeted  – (Why do we give tweets so much damn influence anyway?) – about an “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor”, which he says paints the historical market town in an “unfavourable light”.

His description of “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets  – (Sounds like my apartment!) – and “people marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash” suggested that homeless people had somewhat taken over the quaint streets of Windsor.

But while Britain has a big homelessness issue, with 1 in every 200 people in England currently without a home, there are just 8 homeless people in all of Windsor and Maidenhead, the government says.

Local charities say the official figures may not fully capture the extent of the problem, because a number of people, known as the “hidden homeless”, beg on the streets by day and spend their nights in temporary accommodations for extended periods.

The Thames Valley Police say they deal with occasional reports of begging in the area but have not had any reports of anyone being marched to cash points to take out money.

(I will say that I have seen beggars begging near cash points but the only thing compelling me to assist them was my own conscience and not any overt intimidation from them.)

To quote some of the people interviewed by Ceylan Yeginsu:

“I think that (Dudley´s) comments are rude and heartless. 

If they are going to move us, it should be into a permanent home, not out of sight for a day just so that rich people can throw a party.”

“They are making us out to be criminals, a public safety hazard. 

What´s all that about?

We don´t bother anybody. 

We don´t go up on anyone. 

We just take whatever we are given.”

“The unpleasant sight is not what is shameful here. 

It´s the fact that we are not providing these poor people with warm homes in the middle of winter.”

“People sleeping on the street don´t do so through choice. 

They are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs, and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and violence.”

To the mind of Dudley what matters most is not the tradition and excellence of character showing compassion and charity to those in genuine need and distress but rather it is the illusion of pretending that there is no homelessness issue in Windsor.

Haworth, England

Above: Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth

Should a 30-year-old supermodel help lead a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth (30 July 1818) of Emily Bronte?

Above: (from left to right) Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte

That question is at the crux of a row that broke out after the Bronte Society in Britain, one of the world´s oldest literary societies, anointed Lily Cole a “creative partner” for the upcoming festival celebrating Emily´s life.

Cole outside wearing a strapless purple dress with her hair up in a large bun, surrounded by photographers

Above: Lily Cole

The colloboration, announced last week, spurred a Bronte biographer and Society member to write a scathing blog post denouncing it as a “rank farce”.

“What would Emily Bronte think if she found that the role of chief “artist” and organizer in her celebratory year was a supermodel?”,  the biographer Nick Holland asked.

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Above: Nick Holland

Holland said Cole´s appointment smacked of a desire to be “trendy”.

Based on what I have read about Lily Cole, though she may be compassionate and intelligent in her own way, whether she is sufficiently qualified and knowledgeable enough to properly respect the literary tradition of this great writer remains doubtful to me.

It seems that the Society is more interested in attracting people to the celebration through the use of Cole´s beauty and celebrity than they are in demonstrating the excellence and tradition of Bronte´s writing.

And whether simply being beautiful qualifies a person as being sufficiently competent is a prickly issue.

For it begs the question:

Can a woman be both beautiful and competent, rather than being exclusively one or the other?

I believe that a woman can be both, but I don´t think a woman should necessarily be considered competent or incompetent because she is beautiful or not.

Cole should be judged on her knowledge of Bronte´s writing and her academic record in literature, neither of which seems to dominate her resumé.

It seems that tradition and excellence is being superseded by the illusion that all a woman needs are looks to be successful, rather than intelligence, experience or merit.

And I still remain skeptical of the value that a model serves society when basically her primary role is to walk up and down a catwalk like a living clothes hanger showing clothing that she had no hand in creating to a small minority of people who can afford the clothing being demonstrated.

In a world crying for equal respect to be paid to women, can we not find a woman who is more than a pretty face and praise her for her intelligence and insight instead of her ability to artistically apply make-up to anorexic cheekbones?

Isn´t that the point of celebrating Emily Bronte, in that we are praising her for the merits of her literature rather than for the accident of her gender?

(For more on the Bronte sisters, please see That Which Survives of this blog.)


The United States

Let´s look at science and truth and the disdain with which the present Administration has for these concepts.

If the facts do not support the present political agenda then they are dismissed as fake.

The illusion that the government is infallible is preferred over the tradition of hard work and the excellence of research.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

An entire community of scientists can scream until they are blue in the face that global warming is real and a danger to the continued existence of this planet and that they have the facts and research to prove it, but this is considered nonsense and invalid with a simple 5 am barely literate tweet by the President.

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Above: Donald Trump, the Twit of Twitter


Nazi Germany, 1935 – 1939


On 1 April 1935 Arnold Sommerfeld achieved emeritus status at the University of Münich.


Above: Arnold Sommerfeld (1868 – 1951)

However, Sommerfeld stayed on as his own temporary replacement during the selection process for his successor, which took until 1 December 1939.

The process was lengthy due to academic and political differences between the Munich faculty’s selection and that of both the Reichserziehungsministerium (REM, Reich Education Ministry) and the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

In 1935, the Munich faculty drew up a candidate list to replace Sommerfeld as ordinarius professor of theoretical physics and head of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Munich.

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Above: Seal of the University of Munich

There were three names on the list: Werner Heisenberg, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932,  Peter Debye, who would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936, and Richard Becker — all former students of Sommerfeld.

The Munich faculty was firmly behind these candidates, with Heisenberg as their first choice.

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Above: Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

However, supporters of Deutsche Physik and elements in the REM had their own list of candidates and the battle commenced, dragging on for over four years.

During this time, Heisenberg came under vicious attack by the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

One such attack was published in Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, headed by Heinrich Himmler.

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Above: Heinrich Himmler (1900 – 1945)

Heisenberg had been lecturing to his students about the theory of relativity, proposed by the Jewish scientist Albert Einstein.

In the editorial, Himmler called Heisenberg a “White Jew” who should be made to “disappear.”

These verbal attacks were taken seriously, as Jews were subject to physical violence and incarceration at the time.

Heisenberg fought back with an editorial and a letter to Himmler, in an attempt to get a resolution to this matter and regain his honour.

At one point, Heisenberg’s mother visited Himmler’s mother to help bring a resolution to the affair.

The two women knew each other as a result of Heisenberg’s maternal grandfather and Himmler’s father being rectors and members of a Bavarian hiking club.

Eventually, Himmler settled the Heisenberg affair by sending two letters, one to SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and one to Heisenberg, both on 21 July 1938.

In the letter to Heydrich, Himmler said Germany could not afford to lose or silence Heisenberg as he would be useful for teaching a generation of scientists.

To Heisenberg, Himmler said the letter came on recommendation of his family and he cautioned Heisenberg to make a distinction between professional physics research results and the personal and political attitudes of the involved scientists.

The letter to Heisenberg was signed under the closing “Mit freundlichem Gruss und, Heil Hitler!(“With friendly greetings and, Hail Hitler!”)

Overall, the settlement of the Heisenberg affair was a victory for academic standards and professionalism.

However, the replacement of Sommerfeld by Wilhelm Müller on 1 December 1939 was a victory of politics over academic standards.

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Above: Wilhelm Müller (?) (1880 – 1968)

Müller was not a theoretical physicist, had not published in a physics journal, and was not a member of the Deutsches Physikales Gesellschaft(DPG, German Physics Society).

His appointment as a replacement for Sommerfeld was considered a travesty and detrimental to educating a new generation of theoretical physicists.

The Nazis preferred the illusion – the ideology that scientific knowledge could only be disseminated by those of “pure Aryan blood” and “proper thinking” – over academic excellence achieved through merit.

Werner Heisenberg, known as the father of quantum physics, won his Nobel Prize for postulating his now-famous uncertainty principle which, in the simplest terms that I understand, says that the more precisely position of some particle is determined, the less precisely the momentum of the particle can be known, or vice versa, the more precisely the momentum of a particle is known, the less precisely the position can be determined.

I am no physicist and I will be damned thrice if I could properly explain the principle in any significant way, but in my own personal psychology I find the more settled a person is, the less precise his progress will be, and vice versa, the more progressive a person is, the less precise the position he holds.

If one does not travel physically or intellectually beyond one´s comfort zone, the less certain it is that the person can evolve beyond their stage of stagnation.

The more one travels physically or intellectually, the less certain he/she will be about maintaining an inflexible position on any given topic, for the exposure to new ideas offers the mind the suggestion of infinite possibilities in infinite combinations.

Travellers can nonetheless be fooled by illusion overwhelming our common sense.

Three incidents come to mind in my own personal travels.


Niagara Falls, New York, 1990

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

I couldn´t resist..

I had visited the Canadian Niagara Falls so I was understandingly curious to compare how the American Niagara Falls looked.

Misty spray, mighty roar, majestic scale, marvelous spectacle, I was one of millions of people who have invaded the Niagara River area that splits the land into two separate nations.

Long before tourists came, Seneca natives populated the area.

In 1678 they led the French priest Louis Hennepin (1626 – 1704) to the Falls.

His description was widely read in Europe:

“The universe does not afford its parallel.”

The Falls have attracted daredevils, including the Great Farini, who used barrels and tightropes and various contraptions in attempts to go over the Falls.

(For a description of the Great Farini, please see Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies of this blog.)

Only some survived.

Honeymooners arrive (starting with Napoleon III) in the thousands, despite jokes that the Falls will be the first (or second) disappointment of married life.

To keep tourists and their dollars for longer than it takes to view the Falls, the American side has parks and attractions like its Canadian counterpart does, but – national pride aside – I believe the Canadians have done it better.

I tried visiting the New York side of the River by crossing on foot the Rainbow Bridge that spans the expanse between the nations.

I was refused.

So I opted for the Greyhound bus entry, then played the tourist.

I viewed the American Falls, took the Prospect Point Observation Tower elevator, crossed a bridge to Goat Island to view Terrapin Point and the Three Sisters Islands in the upper rapids, and descended to the Cave of the Winds where walkways go within 25 feet of the cataracts.

The town itself with over 60,000 people struck me as a grimier and grittier place as compared to the Ontario town of 75,000 people and a visit to nearby Buffalo made me think of the Gotham City as presented by Tim Burton´s Batman movie.

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As historic as Buffalo´s Erie Canal and railroads may be, as fine as some of Buffalo´s buildings and parks are, the city felt like one huge Crime Alley, the downtown isolated and almost deserted.

Buffalo was in the 1990s a working class town known by me for only two things: the Buffalo Bills (who never seem able to win a Super Bowl) and the Anchor Bar´s Buffalo wings (deep-fried chicken wings covered in a spicy Sauce and served with blue cheese dressing and celery).

I ate the wings and boarded a bus back to Niagara Falls, New York and then waited in the bus terminal for a bus back over the border.

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I was approached by a stranger.

I never understood racism or racial profiling, for I can never forget the family vacation I took a decade previously when we were on a freeway outside of Chicago and an ebony family in a long station wagon passed alongside us.

My foster mom shrieked and insisted we bolt our doors and windows.

The family, except for the darker hue of their skin, were no more dangerous than a Norman Rockwell painting, and we were travelling together at a speed of 60 miles per hour on a crowded highway.

It was illogical, irrational and emotional.

I had seen few black people before visiting the States and those I had met were quite decent and civil individuals, so I couldn´t understand why the extreme fear demonstrated by my foster parent.

Maybe Canadians are exposed to too much American TV?

When I was approached by a black man about my age (I was in my 20s then.) I felt neither fear nor suspicion.

He gave me a song and dance about how he needed to get back home to Los Angeles but couldn´t afford the bus fare.

He gave me a LA business card of what he said was his current employer.

His manner seemed sincere, but as a last measure of caution I bought his ticket ensuring that it was non-refundable and could only be redeemed as a bus ticket.

Time passed.

I contacted his LA employer who informed me that the young man had indeed worked for them but had quit their employ before he asked me for bus fare.

To my own surprise I was neither angry nor disappointed.

I might have been scammed but I proved to myself that I could be a generous person.

Maybe my action resulted in his returning to LA or perhaps he managed to convince another hapless traveller to buy his ticket, still he must have needed the money or he wouldn´t have done the scam.

I wish him well, though I doubt he would remember me.


Barcelona, Spain, 25 May 2007

On vacation with my wife, a week in this self-confident and progressive capital of Catalunya, Barcelona was and ever shall remain a city vibrating with life and excitement.

It is a thriving port and a prosperous commercial city that one could easily spend one´s entire life in and yet barely scratch its surface.

Superb museums, Gothic and modernista architecture, world famous ramblas, beautiful beaches, beckoning promenade, every day felt like a fiesta.

We soaked in Picasso, Joan Miró and Antoni Gaudí.

We strolled, we browsed, we listened to buskers and watched street Performers.

The energy of Barcelona was and still remains boundless.

We sunbathed, we swam, we ate, we drank as if there would be no tomorrow.

We wandered the streets of Barcelona day and night unafraid, lost in a kaleidoscope of colours and a garden of smells, lost in a warren of broad boulevards and ancient and narrow streets, lost in our own private flight of fancy, seeing only joy and elegance all around us.

We did not see the dirt and neglect that is also Barcelona´s seedier side.

We did not see poverty, for we chose to be blind to it.

We did not see drug use, for we were high already on the wine of each other´s company and the intoxicating nature of our vacation playground.

Was there danger lurking the flanks of the ramblas?

Should we have locked our passports, tickets and wallets inside the safe of our hotel room?

Should we have kept our backpacks beneath our feet as we poured endless sangrias down our gullets?

Were there pickpockets and bag snatchers hungry for the wealth we had and they did not?


Yet fear is forgotten, for hidden down alleys little changed for centuries are tapas bars, in gentrified old town quarters are designer boutiques, in workers´ taverns bargain lunches.

Gourmet restaurants, craft outlets and workshops, fin de siècle cafés, restored palaces, neighbourhood markets and specialist galleries, and that wonder of wonders, that miracle of miracles, Gaudí´s labour of love the Sagrada Familia.

Where is the fear?

Where is the danger?

We climbed a hillside, after midnight, intimately intoxicated.

Two men approach us, claiming to be plain clothes policemen.

My wife is German, so her instinct is to be lawabiding and obedient to figures of authority.

I am Canadian with a healthy trust in law and order common to a country where – unlike our neighbours to the south where settlement arose then the law followed,  we sent the law out first then settlers followed – it is assumed that those who regulate our lives do it in our best interests rather than their own.

(Naive, perhaps, but preferable to paranoia.)

Perhaps it was Niagara Falls that remained with me, but there was something about the set-up, the whole approach, that smelled bad, felt wrong.

They demanded to see our passports.

I categorically refused.

My wife was concerned, ready to be compliant.

But I was unwilling to budge.

Their badges were too quickly opened and closed to be read distinctly in the midnight lamplight.

I felt a bravado that only alcohol can provide.

I was prepared to defend my fayre maiden even had they been armed to the teeth.

I was curiously unafraid and completely certain of my stance.

I told them I thought they weren´t policemen and I brushed them aside as I dragged my wife down the street with me.

They did not follow.

Whether they were cops or crooks, they were too amateur to want to tackle a man twice their height who refused to be intimidated.

I should have been scared.

I still don´t understand why I wasn´t.


London, England, 24 October 2017


The Soho district has a historic reputation for tolerance.

No matter how dour daily life may be or how depressingly dull politics may become, Soho is a refuge from the rigours of reality.

Here the artistic assemble and the groups gather.

Here the media IS the message, the film is the fantasy, the advertised the attraction.

Life in high profile, in coats of many colours.

There is nowhere else in London where diversity in infinite forms congregates and clashes: businessmen boast, drunks drop, theatre goers critique, fashion leaps and falls, markets never seem to close, pimps, prostitutes and police patrol.

This is the best of times.

This is the worst of times.

A place where the song “There´s Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight” seems fitting.

We are drawn to the lights and sounds like moths to flames, for we are tourists.

We wonder if one can be sober and a teenager at the same time here.

And is everyone getting married tomorrow?

Here a stag party, here a hen party, here a drunk, there a drunk, everyone´s a drunk, drunk.

Ol´ Macdonald went to Soho, e-i-e-i-ohhh!

Sadly the wedding invitations will be as lacklustre as the imagination that went into the wandering about the streets from pub to pub the night before.

Are you not entertained?

It felt like a full day: the Churchill War Rooms (Would the man who would fight on the beaches and in the streets have defended Soho?), the Household Cavalry Rooms, Westminster Cathedral, the Florence Nightingale Museum….

Enough of the mighty and the martyrs, the pomp and pomposity, we wanted to pump passion into our veins and colour into our consciousness.

We find ourselves on Charing Cross Road, T.S. Eliot territory, where the American Eliot spent much of his time retreating from his English wife Vivienne.

Thomas Stearns Eliot by Lady Ottoline Morrell (1934).jpg

Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Their marriage was markedly miserable, in part because of Viv´s health.

In a letter to their mutual friend Ezra Pound, Vivi complained of having a high temperature, fatigue, insomnia, migraines and colitis simultaneously.


Above: Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot (1888 – 1947)

Eliot retreated so often from his wife that Viv would eventually resort to marching up and down Charing Cross Road wearing a sandwich board bearing the slogan:

“I am the wife that T.S. Eliot abandoned.”

She was later diagnosed with mental instability and spent her remaining years in an asylum.

Is that what it means for a European to be married to a North American?

My poor wife.

We find ourselves wandering aimlessly trying to locate a restaurant listed in her Müller guide to London when in front of Wyndhams Theatre two young ladies in their 20s approached us.

Wyndhams Theatre London 2006-04-17.jpg

Would we like two free tickets to see the show about to begin?

Cautiously, we accept.

One of the ladies, her name written in ink on our tickets, Miranda Banfield had received four free tickets through her workplace and two of the ladies cancelled at last moment.

The show was Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, our seats next to theirs.

To relieve their anxiety I opted to keep Ute between myself and them.

We were plesantly distracted and immensely grateful for the generosity.

Heisenberg is the story of Georgie Burns (Anne-Marie Duff), a 42-year-old American and Alex Priest (Kenneth Cranham), a 75-year-old English butcher, who meet in a London railway station.

Bildergebnis für heisenberg uncertainty principle theatre play pictures

They begin a romantic relationship and eventually travel to New Jersey to search for Georgie´s missing son.

Had we been sceptical of Miranda´s unexpected kindness we might have missed out on a magical moment of theatre.

Miranda and her companion did not expect or ask for further contact or remuneration and we parted ways pleasantly after the show.

We had progressed over the years and were less certain about categorizing people into distinct categories of good and bad.

Stranded strangers could be legitimate or could be liars.

Men on midnight streets could be cops or conmen.

Generosity could be genuine and gratefully accepted.

Life is uncertain.

Bildergebnis für heisenberg uncertainty principle images
Sources:  Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet USA / The Rough Guide to London / The Rough Guide to Spain




Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have yet to feel that Yuletide spirit.

Part of the problem is that I never seem to see the oft-promised peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Trump and his cronies have passed a tax bill that will hurt the most vulnerable members of American society.

Flag of the United States

Indonesia is arresting gays for the crime of not being straight.

Flag of Indonesia

Above: Flag of Indonesia

The war in Yemen continues causing untold amount of disease, devastation and famine.

Flag of Yemen

Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

Lack of progress in holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse in the Church continues.

Flag of Vatican City

Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

Flag of Venezuela

Above: Flag of Venezuela

And these are just a few events being reported by the New York Times.

As I watched shoppers madly scramble to get Christmas gifts for their loved ones, the cynic in me wondered whether the gift giving is truly heartfelt or whether this generosity is an attempt to buy affection that had not been reciprocated the rest of the year.

Ignore friends and family all year, but hope that presents will redeem you in their eyes once again.

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

The homeless will still lack shelter, the unemployed will still lack a job, the lonely will still lack love this Christmas.

The Beatles once sang that “money can´t buy me love”, but is that true?

Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles (1964 US release).jpg

Money can buy friends, love, power, prestige, respect, happiness, can´t it?

So we are taught to believe.

And perversely we will sacrifice happiness, respect, prestige, power and love in pursuit of profit.

There was once a time when we believed that we could buy ourselves a stairway to Heaven or a get out of Purgatory free card.

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

And yet my cynicism disappears whenever I think about life beyond the headlines and outside of administrative offices.

For even in the wealthiest of nations there still exists places where money remains simply a means to an end rather than an end itself.

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

This is truly a land where profits predominate people, but step inside a religious institution and feel the faith and love.

Hop on a local transit bus or a Postbus and see everyday people living ordinary lives.

Visit a local museum and quietly marvel at the time and attention to detail put into every exhibit whether or not the museum is frequently visited or not.

Stroll through a Christmas market, and though those who run the stalls wish to make money for their efforts, the visitors to the market seem more relaxed than they would in an ordinary place of purchase.

The Christmas market visitor strolls rather than strides, observes rather than ignores what he/she isn´t looking for, converses rather than simply communicates only what is needed to be said.

Even in our wee Starbucks in Marktgasse there are two perspectives.

Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

Management will bring pressure to bear on the baristas to sell, sell, sell.

But the wise barista knows that the hard sell only works a small percentage of the time, because the customers come to Starbucks to enjoy themselves in a coffeehouse.

As American a firm that this chain is, it is in old Europe.

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

They want to find a comfortable corner, a cozy niche, and quietly read a book, or study for their exams, or enjoy each other´s company.

Outside the winds of change toss and turn their lives, but inside a Café the visitor hopes to find an oasis of calm, a harbour of welcome.

The further removed from the day-to-day experience of a Café that management is, the less I feel connected to management.

Money is made from repeat business, the desire to return.

Repeat business is generated from the welcome the guest feels when he/she comes to my store, not from special offers or promotions.

The more management pressures staff to sell, the more pressure the customer feels from the staff that serve them.

The customer is reduced to being an entry on a balance sheet, rather than being the royal entity of the moment.

We are pressured by management if there is a line-up of people forced to wait for service to suddenly rush through our processes and yet somehow still sell, sell, sell the same amounts that normally require more effort on the part of the salesperson.

Yet compassionate friendly attention paid to each individual customer, with an occasional reassuring word to the folks waiting to be served that they are also important and that their patience is appreciated, goes further to keeping customers happy than a quick stressful promptness and dismissiveness to “keep the line moving” ever does.

Management only partially gets this.

The higher up the ladder, the less management understands this.

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

But the destination is only possible if the journey is successfully accomplished, if the customer looks forward to coming back to a place where they truly felt welcome.

This malaise felt in our wee Starbucks is a microcosm of what life is in Switzerland.

The Swiss, as a general rule, seem so focused on making money that they have forgotten that money may buy things, but things only distract – they don´t diminish unhappiness felt in a life offering nothing more than a fuller bank account.

The richer the country, the more miserable the people seem to be.

Yet beyond the banks and past the profits is a land of amazing vistas and panoramas so breathtakingly beautiful as to inspire poetry from a pauper and music from the mute.

Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

It is easy to forget that outside the pellmell of the pursuit of profit that life, wonderful life, is waiting to be discovered in all of its subtle and savoury awesomeness.

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

This message came crystal clear to my wife and I in an unexpected corner of the richest part of Italy this summer…..

Flag of Italy

Above: Flag of Italy


Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

Lombardy in Italy.svg

Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

It has been coveted and controlled by the French and the Austrians and takes its name from the Lombards who invaded the region and took it from the Romans.

As a border region, accessible through numerous mountainous passes, Lombardy has always been vulnerable to invasion.

It has long been viewed by northern Europeans as the true capital of Italy.

Emperors from Charlemagne to Napoleon came to Lombardy to be crowned and northern European business magnates take Milan more seriously than Rome (much like they take New York more seriously than Washington, Toronto more seriously than Ottawa, or Zürich more seriously than Bern).

Lombardy´s landscape has paid the price for economic success.

Industry chokes the air, sprawls across the plains and spreads tentacles in all directions that it can.

Nonetheless the casual traveller can still find oases of calm and harbingers of welcome.

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

Even the most sophisticated and ultra modern towns and cities retain their serendipitous medieval cores boasting amazing art and architecture.

The stunning scenery and lush landscapes of Lombardian lakes subtly seduce the unsuspecting visitor.

Much like the Swiss, the Lombardians don´t have much time for life, being too busy making a living.

Milan is a workaholic factory of fashion and innovation, forever focused on the future, impatient with the present, dismissive of the past.

Clockwise from top: Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, CityLife project, Arch of Peace, and Milan Cathedral

Above: Pictures of Milan (clockwise from top): Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, City Life Project, Arch of Peace, Milan Cathedral

The provincial towns are filled with folks focused on security and luxury and privilege.

These urban and urbane northern Italians are dismissive of the south and for them Rome is nothing more than a tragic complexity of errors.

The late 20th century has even seen the rise of a separatist political Party, the Lega Nord, demanding independence from Rome with rheotric suggesting that the North sustains the inefficient lazy South.

Lega Nord Salvini.png

Industrial development has done a dastardly thorough job of ruining the landscape around Bergamo, but if the traveller pushes up the valleys things vastly improve.

To the northwest, the Val Brembana is fringed by a garland of mountains that have borne the tread of generations of caravans of mules bringing minerals from the rocks to the cities of the plains.

Here one can take the waters of San Pellegrino Terme, Lombardy´s most fashionable spa since the start of the 20th century, sleep in a grand hotel and play games inside the casino.

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

To the northeast, through and past the Val Cavellina ruined by small factories and characterless housing, the Valle Seriana is also overly developed and overcrowded with apartments appropriating forests and rivers reduced to streams by hydroelectric eyesores.

But in the upper reaches of the Seriana are still untouched stretches of unspoilt pastoral and wild paradise.

Clusone is the main stop, perhaps the only stop, worth making in the entirety of the Valle Seriana.

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

Visit the Church of St. Luigi, the Church of St. Anna, the Church of Paradise, the Church of St. Defendente, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St. Lucio and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Rocco.

Above: The Church of San Defendente

Linger in the Palazzo Comunale or the Palazzo Fogaccia or the Palazzo Marinoni Barca, the Palazzo Bonicelli della Vite, or the Palazzo Carrara Spinelli Maffei.

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

With steep curving streets and shops selling sausage and cheese, Clusone is the kind of quiet town that invites lingering, where a person is encouraged to linger for hours over lunch and coffee, a place of peaceful contemplation.

In this town where time doesn´t matter, time is nonetheless carefully calculated and measured.

The Piazza dell´ Orologio is named for the fiendishly complicated 16th century clock on the tower of the Palazzo Communale.

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

If you have the time and the patience, you can work out the date, the sign of the zodiac, the duration of the night and the phase of the moon from the mechanical movements of the clock.

It takes time to understand time.

Then as you take time to contemplate time, climb upwards to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its Oratorio dei Disciplini (the Oratory of the Disciples) that draws visitors from all over.

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

There is little of interest within the walls of the church, but the two 15th century frescoes on the church exterior more than compensate the weary walker for his trek up the hill.

The frescoes were painted by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis in 1485.

The upper fresco, The Triumph of Death, concentrates on the attitude of the wealthy towards death, with three noblemen returning from the hunt, discovering an open tomb containing the worm-infested corpses of the Pope and the Emperor, surrounded by snakes, frogs and scorpions.

A huge skeleton clothed in cloak and crown, larger than life, representing triumphant Death, balances on the edge of the tomb, while other skeletons take aim at people gathered around the tomb.

Death stands on a sepulchre around which the figures of a cardinal, a bishop, a king and a philosopher are offering her gifts.

These onlookers are incorruptible figures, uninterested in the bribes being offered them.

“Everyone dies and leaves the world, those who offend God leave bitterly.”

“For the love of God, don´t have fear to come to the Dance, but joyfully come and be happy.”

The lower fresco, The Dance of Death, continues the tale of morality and mortality, contrasting the corrupt upper classes with a procession of contented commoners, each dancing his way towards death quite happily unconcerned.

I am reminded of an old song I learned back in my high school days:

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

“And I´ll lead you all whomever you may be

For I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

But this is not only a place of Death, Clusone has been the birthplace of artists and athletes:

  • Domenico Carpinoni (1566 – 1658), painter
  • Cosimo Fanzago (1591 – 1678), architect / sculptor
  • Antonio Cifrondi (1656 – 1730), painter
  • Bartolomeo Nazari (1699 – 1758), painter
  • Antonio Percassi, chairman of the Percassi Holding Company
  • Attilio Rota, cyclist
  • Paolo Savoldelli, cyclist
  • Kevin Ceccon, race car driver

Domenico, Cosimo, Antonio C. and Bartolomeo are united in death, despite their accomplishments.

Antonio P., Attilio, Paolo and Kevin probably won´t live forever, regardless of what they do or don´t do.

We all do the Danse Macabre, no matter one´s station in life.

Above: The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Whether Pope, peasant or Emperor, King or kid, lazy or labourer, each day is a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our lives and of how vain and pointless are the glories of earthly life.

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

I am destined to die one day, so I won´t have to endure living eternally while others die around me.

And, so far, man has yet to create a dystopian future where people stop aging but have clocks in their arms that determine how long they have to live.

I don´t want to know how much time remains on my life clock, for this uncertainty makes me appreciate every present moment as if it were my last.

At present, the rich cannot buy additional time, additional life.

Imagine if you can how truly horrific the scenario in the movie In Time would be if it ever became our reality instead of just simply entertaining science fiction.


A hell where time has become the universal currency, where the rich hoard time for themselves to live forever while constantly increasing the cost of living to ensure the poor die.

It is the miracle of birth that Christians celebrate this Christmas season, yet places like Clusone remind me that death, as painful as it is for those left behind to mourn the loss of the deceased, is in its own way also a miracle of sorts.

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

Without death, a place cannot sustain a population that constantly increases without limits.

I don´t want to die, but I don´t want to live forever.

It is said by Christians that Christ came so that all who believe in Him might enjoy eternal life.

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

We fear death because we fear the nothingness of non-existence.

We tell ourselves tales, wrapped in religious impulse, that there is something somewhere somehow beyond life.

This idea of something beyond life reassures us that the inadequacies of life can somehow be recompensed in some alternate realm of being.

I for one will never discourage those from believing in what helps them cope with life and its eventual ending.

Perhaps this is what I can take away from Christmas this year….

In this celebration of new life and the promise of life eternal, let us appreciate this moment of life we are living now.

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.


Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy







Canada Slim and the Queen´s Horsemen

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 December 2017

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

“Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself. 

I am large. 

I contain multitudes.”

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

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

Above: Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

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

Do people actually need a monarchy?

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

Queen Elizabeth II March 2015.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flag of Quebec

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

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

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

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

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

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

Member states of the Commonwealth

Above: Member states of the British Commonwealth (green)

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

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

I am a commoner.

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

My clothing choices would hurt the eyes of the blind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flag of the United States

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

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

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

London, England, 24 October 2017

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

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

London NPG.JPG

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

I did not visit Buckingham Palace.

Above: Buckingham Palace

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

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

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

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

Avoiding things royal in London actually takes a concerted effort.

We started the day with good intentions.

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

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

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

Trafalgar Square, London 2 - Jun 2009.jpg

Above: Trafalgar Square

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

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

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

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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 027.jpg

Above: Battle of Trafalgar

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

Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London.JPG

Above: Nelson´s Column, Trafalgar Square

Above: Nelson´s statue atop his Column

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

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

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

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.jpg

Above: Sir Edwin Landseer (1802 – 1873)

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

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

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

He spent hours studying lions in the London Zoo.

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

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

These hybrid lions were finally installed in 1868.

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

Bildergebnis für trafalgar square police station

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The devil in me would love that challenge!)

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

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

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

Arco del Almirantazgo, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 186.JPG

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

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

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Above: The Victoria Memorial, London

… St. James´s Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: James Boswell (1740 – 1795)

From the diary of James Boswell:

25 March 1763: 

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

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

Travelling condom salesmen did a roaring trade.

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

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

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Above: Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798)

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

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

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

Here there are exotic ducks of every variation imaginable.

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

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

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

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


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


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

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Above: The Household Cavalry Regiment building

Thus my internal conflict regarding the Monarchy began….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn of men of legendary status:

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


Above: John Manners (1721 – 1770)

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

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

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

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Above: Fred Burnaby (1842 – 1885)

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

Colonel David Smiley has died aged 92

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

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

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Above: Logo of the Household Cavalry Regiment

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

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

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

Only the trumpeters ride white steeds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess tourists shouldn´t think too much.

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

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





Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

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

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

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

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

My social circle was and remains small.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

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

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

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

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

London, England, 24 October 2017

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

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

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

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

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

Above: Buckingham Palace

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

Every corner tells a story.

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

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

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

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

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

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

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

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

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

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

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

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

Work continued on the War Rooms.

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


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

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

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

Two days later, Britain was at war.

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

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

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

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

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Above: Cabinet War Room

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

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

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

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

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

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: A V1 guided missile

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

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Above: A V2 rocket

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

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

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

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

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

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Grave of Winston Churchill, St. Martin´s Church, Bladon, England

(“I am ready to meet my Maker – but whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”)

  • The weather indicator in the main corridor that would read “Windy” when a heavy bombing raid was in progress
  • The story of how one of the women who worked at the War Rooms had a short relationship with James Bond author Ian Fleming and would be the inspiration for the character Miss Moneypenny
  • One of the Royal Marines guarding the entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms took up embroidery to pass the time.
  • To alleviate the health problems of working underground, staff were made to strip to their underwear and stand in front of portable sun lamps
  • Wartime graffiti on a map in the Cabinet Room showing Hitler fallen on his ass
  • A cat named Smoky that used to curl up on Churchill´s bed
  • A typist who learned that the ship carrying her boyfriend had perished with all lives lost

So, so much to see and learn and discover….

But what of the Great Man himself?

This man of contradictions, this man who took over as Prime Minister when Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, who is remembered for his trademark bowler hat and half-chewed Havana cigars, who is famous for his morale-inspiring speeches and clever wit….

“It is better to be making the news than taking it, to be an actor rather than an critic.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat.”

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“….We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

“This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

“Everywhere I went in London, people admired Churchill´s energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose.  People said they didn´t know what Britain would do without him.  He was obviously respected, but no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the War.  He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time, the time being a desperate war with Britain´s enemies.”

Without this man´s uplifting spirit, would Britain have surrendered against the overwhelming odds of Hitler´s mighty war machine?

I am convinced that Churchill´s uniqueness of character means that its absence would have lead to Britain´s surrender.

Whether Britain´s surrender would mean Hitler wouldn´t ultimately still turn against Russia, or whether America wouldn´t come to Britain´s aid with or without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour remains a point of conjecture and the province of alternate history / science fiction writers.

But I think a visit to the Churchill War Rooms is well worth the while, because there are several lessons to be learned here under the streets of London.

We are where and who we are because of what came before.

We need to recall the wars that lead us to where we are today, not to glorify in our victories but rather to somberly recall our losses and learn from them so to avoid future war or at least prepare ourselves for another dark future of bloodshed and destruction.

We are a product of our time and place.

It is doubtful whether Churchill could have accomplished what he did had time and circumstances been different.

In examining Churchill´s past carefully, one can see that he was quite an imperfect man, at times rash, impulsive, egocentric and foolish, sometimes to the cost and risk of others.

Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.

But at a moment when Britain needed a man of courage and conviction, Churchill was indeed in the right place at the right time.

Let us not worship this man, but do offer him our thanks and respect.

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

As legacies go, this museum and how he is remembered by so many even after so long a time has passed and so many have sacrificed so much blood, tears, toil and sweat then and now, this monument to the dark days of a vicious conflict and a man who steered a nation through them is truly fitting.

This is a living museum, commemorating the lives of those who make our lives possible.

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Alan Axelrod, Winston Churchill, CEO / Dominique Enright, editor, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill / Martin Gilbert, editor, Churchill: The Power of Words / Roy Jenkins, Churchill / Imperial War Museums, Churchill War Museum Guidebook

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Above: The Roaring Lion, Yousuf Karsh photo of Winston Churchill, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, Canada, 30 December 1941



Canada Slim and the Calculated Cathedral

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 November 2017

It is a season of grey days and black, almost eternal, nights.

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

As much as I comprehend why Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving in October rather than November because the growing seasons are shorter up there, I occasionally wonder if the Americans might not be onto something by celebrating life at a time of darkening skies and colder temperatures.

Flag of the United States

Thanksgiving, celebrated every third Thursday of November in the US, is meant to convey thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon self, friends and family through the bountiful harvest received and shown by a fully laden dining room table.

It is a New World celebration meant to commemorate the Pilgrims´ first year in America when they gave thanks to God that through the help of native tribes they learned how to produce food to survive and thrive as a transplanted people.

Above: The First Thanksgiving, 1621, by Jean Farris (1899)

Above the Equator, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are many countries who have similar seasonal changes and similar harvest times, and to be fair Americans did not invent the concept of praising divinity for blessings received as this ritual has been celebrated in one form or another for millennia.

As the weather turns colder than even Donald Trump´s soul, I find myself thankful that I am still alive, that I have a roof over my head and regular food in my belly, that I am of (relatively) sound mind and body and that I have people in my life whom I love and by whom I am loved.

I am truly a fortunate man.

That having been said I am not unaware that there are those who don´t feel so fortunate.

I have known people, good people, for whom reality seems to them to be cruel and unkind, for whom life seems to be a never-changing cycle of sadness, of eternally grey days and black ink evil evenings with slim hope for the dawn.

I cannot begin to imagine what life must be like for those who feel illness within their minds, who feel an emptiness within their souls.

I cannot but feel sympathy for those who feel death is a release, a relief, from the hell of their perceived existence.

I know just enough, and yet far too little, that changing one´s perspective is not simply emotional determination but could also be both a product of one´s history and chemical make-up.

It is easy to condemn humanity´s monsters, like the recently deceased Charles Manson, for they made life decisions that brought extreme pain and suffering to others.


Above: Charles Manson (1934 – 2017)

It is impossible and frightening to imagine how on God´s green Earth that the murder and torture of others can be justifiable in the minds of these rare abominations of the mentally unwell.

I say rare abominations, for I believe that the vast majority of those hurting members of the psychologically unhappy are more victims to their condition than they are bent on taking others down with them in their descent into darkness.

We, the seemingly rational and arrogantly confident in our inappropriately felt superiority, blame the illness on the ill victims, not sensing nor caring that they too wish to feel welcome by a humanity that does not understand them and thus struggles, often in vain, to assist them, or, failing that, remove them from the general populace.

I watch in silent frustration when those I love hurt themselves and others as they blindly grope their way through illogical reality simply trying to survive.

Life has somehow injured them and they have selfishly sought solace in safer corners of their minds where no one else can go.

I have seen wonderful, compassionate friends and family victimised by their own private pain and there seems nothing I can do or say to help, because the everpresent fear of swimming into psychologically insecure deep waters instinctively instills a fear that we too might be swept along in and dragged down by the wake of their thrashing.

We judge them by standards we understand, rather than by their standards we can´t understand.

I want to hold each one of them and tell them in a way they might truly believe, that their lives matter, that they are worthy of love and dignity, but sometimes I am scared by my inability to do so.

I want to tell them that though there truly is a vast amount of pain in this vale of tears that we share, there is also the potential for great joy.

Perhaps here is the value of Thanksgiving, of giving thanks to something or someone beyond ourselves, of prayer to whatever or whomever may be either within or from outside ourselves.

In the brutal honesty of a sleepless night, I reject my rational analysis of the folly of believing in a God whose only proof of existence is that His non-existence has yet to be proven and hope beyond reason that God does exist whether or not His existence is a creation or a manifestation of my own making.

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Above: Michelangelo´s The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

And this I think is the value of faith, of religion – finding hope and comfort in that which might exist.

To somehow believe that pain can be endured, that there will be a dawn beyond the darkness, even if it is unclear how this can happen.

Mankind has built mighty edifices in an attempt to enclose the divine and bend it to our will for our benefit….

Sheer folly.

Yet the symbolic gathering together of humanity into congregations, bound by faith and traditions, giving meaning to the passages of life in its forms of birth, maturity, matrimony and death, gives purpose to the construction of shrines of worship.

Though cathedrals and churches, monasteries and mosques, temples and tabernacles, by the very act of enclosure create a division of people between those within and those outside and have caused those within to feel both a superiority and a zeal to extend the choir invisible beyond the ecclesiastical doors with some even willing to break the taboos of religion in the name of religion, nonetheless these places of illogical and irrational faith sustain and console us.

I am reminded this morning of the places of worship I visited while I was in London last month and though the seeds of the religious fell mostly on mentally stubborn and stone hard ground, my visit to these places still left their impression upon me.

A visitor walking around London cannot help but be impressed by the number of churches in this city more renowned for trade and commerce, but, as we know from the remains of the Temple of Mithras at Walbrook discovered in 1954, religious buildings have always been an integral part of the fabric of London.

Some of London´s most breathtaking modern structures are religious buildings dedicated to many faiths, whose communities form a strong part of the social fabric of modern London.

As hard as it is to imagine London without its many churches, it is even harder still to imagine London without its many faiths.

Our discovery of the faithful of London began on our first night in town….

London, England, 23 October 2017

My wife, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, wanted to take pictures of the Thames River before we headed back to our B & B in the Paddington district.

It had already been quite the full day: pre-dawn departure from our beds and dash down the highway to Zürich, the bureaucratic exit from one designated country and the bureaucratic entry into another, the search and finding of our week´s accommodations, the navigating of the nefarious nightmare beneath called the Tube, and a mad race through one of the world´s most famous museums – the Tate Modern.

A large oblong brick building with square chimney stack in centre of front face. It stands on the far side of the River Thames, with a curving white foot bridge on the left.

Above: The Tate Modern, London

But my wife wanted to see more while she could with what remained of her day´s energies.

I had no objections.

We, like many before, crossed the London Millennium Footbridge, or as it is affectionately known by Londoners “the wobbly bridge”, the steel suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing the River Thames, linking Bankside on the south bank with the City of London to the north.

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Above: Millennium Bridge, as seen from St. Paul´s Cathedral

The Bridge, 1,066 feet/325 metres long, 13 feet/4 metres wide, officially opened on 1 June 2000 and quickly was closed again shortly thereafter as the 90,000 people crossing it on its opening day felt that the Bridge was wobbling and lurching dangerously.

It reopened in 2002 after engineers refitted 37 energy dissipating dampers to control horizontal movement and 52 inertial dampers to control vertical movement to solve the wobble effect.

You may have seen the Bridge and not realised it….

The Millennium collapsed following an attack by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix poster.jpg

The Bridge also appeared as part of the climatic battle scene on the planet Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).


And the Bridge was in the video of the Olly Murs song “Heart on my Sleeve”.

To the south the midpoint standing pedestrian on the Bridge sees the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern.

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Above: The Globe Theatre, London

To the north the red brick City of London School (actor Daniel Radcliffe / “Harry Potter” ´s old alma mater) can be spotted nestling below the magnificence that is St. Paul´s Cathedral.

How strange and yet familiar St. Paul´s appeared to me in the fast-approaching darkness.

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral

The enormous lead-covered dome of St. Paul´s Cathedral has dominated the City skyline for generations and will probably continue to do so for generations to come if Star Trek: Into Darkness is any accurate omen to go by.

The poster shows the USS Enterprise falling toward Earth with smoke coming out of it. The middle of the poster shows the title written in dark gray letters, and the film's credits and the release date are shown at the bottom of the poster.

The Cathedral facade is particularly magnificent, fronted by a wide flight of steps – seen in Mary Poppins (1964) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) – and a two-storey portico and two towers, and is said to be amongst the finest examples of Baroque architecture in London.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in-character. The background is a window display, featuring shelves containing miscellaneous objects relating to the story. The poster reads "Sherlock Holmes" across the top, with the tagline "Holmes for the holiday" centered at the bottom. The poster is predominately turquoise coloured.

The west front of St. Paul´s shows the Saint surrounded by others of his ilk as he is dazzled by the glory of God whilst on the road to Damascus.

In the northeast churchyard, a plaque marks the location of Paul´s Cross, a popular centre of fake and real news and contemporary commentary, where during the Reformation William Tynsdale´s New Testament was burned because it was sinfully an English translation.

While it can´t compete with Westminster Abbey for celebrity corpses, royal remains and awesome atmosphere, St. Paul´s is nevertheless a perfectly calculated architectural space, a burial place for captains rather than kings, artists not poets, and a popular wedding venue and favoured funeral locale for the privileged few.

The current Cathedral is the fifth on this site, including Old St. Paul´s, a huge Gothic cathedral built by the Normans, with a 489 foot spire that once was part of the longest and tallest Christian church in the world.

During the English Civil War and the Republic which followed the execution of King Charles I in 1649, St. Paul´s was allowed to become dilapidated and was used for stabling horses and as a marketplace with a road running through it.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, King Charles II threw out the traders and began to return the scarred Cathedral to the status it once had, but before work could begin the Great Fire of London intervened.

The blaze started on 2 September 1666 and destroyed 2/3 of the City of London.

It burned for four days and nights, destroying 13,200 houses and 87 parish churches, including Old St. Paul´s.

Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

In 1668, Christopher Wren was asked to produce a new Cathedral.

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Above: Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

Wren was not only an architect, he was also an astronomer, scientist and mathematican.

Wren was a founding member in 1660 of the Royal Society, a national academy for science, but he was also a man of profound Christian faith.

He came from a family of clergy who had been loyal to the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and it was faith which inspired him.

He once explained: “Architecture aims at eternity.”

As an architect favoured by royalty and state, Wren´s commissions varied widely, including the Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich Hospital, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, as well as some magnificent buildings in Oxford, where he studied and worked as Professor of Astronomy from 1661 to 1673.

St. Paul´s was just one of over 50 church commissions Wren received in the wake of the Great Fire.

Sir Christopher Wren

Said, “I´m going to dine with some men.

If anyone calls,

Say I´m designing St. Paul´s.” (Edmund Clerihew Bentley)

Hassles over his initial plans and wrangles over money plagued the project throughout, but Wren persevered and England´s first Protestant cathedral was completed in 1711 under Queen Anne, whose statue stands below the steps.

Above: Statue of Queen Anne (1665 – 1714), St. Paul´s Cathedral

Opinions of Wren´s Cathedral differed.

Some loved it.

“Without, within, below, above, the eye is filled with unrestrained delight.”

Some hated it.

“There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches.  They were unfamiliar, un-English…”

Until his death, at the age of 91, Wren regularly returned to St. Paul´s to sit under its dome and reflect on this masterpiece of faith and imagination.

For over 300 years this particular reincarnation of St. Paul´s has been a place where both the individual and the nation can express those feelings of joy, gratitude and sorrow that are so central to our lives.

St. Paul´s has borne witness to the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805)(buried in the centre of the Cathedral Crypt), the funeral of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852)(buried also in the Crypt)(13,000 people filled the Cathedral.), the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria (1897) and Queen Elizabeth II (2012), the bombs of the Blitz (1940), a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), the funerals of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1965) and Margaret Thatcher (2013), and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana (1981).

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Above: Queen Elizabeth II

Services have also been held to mark the valuable contributions made by ordinary women and men involved in armed conflicts in the Falklands, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland.

A vast crowd also gathered at St. Paul´s following the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001, as London expressed its solidarity with Americans at a time of great grief.

A montage of eight images depicting, from top to bottom, the World Trade Center towers burning, the collapsed section of the Pentagon, the impact explosion in the south tower, a rescue worker standing in front of rubble of the collapsed towers, an excavator unearthing a smashed jet engine, three frames of video depicting airplane hitting the Pentagon

People of other faiths also have a place in national services at St. Paul´s.

The memorial service for King Hussein of Jordan in 1999 was the first Christian service in St. Paul´s to include a reading from the Qur´an.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

In 2005, at the service of remembrance following the terrorist bombings in London in June of that year, young people representing different faith communities lit candles as a shared sign of hope during turbulent times.

Take a journey through this place mortal designed to evoke the divine.

We took our own calculated journey through St. Paul´s two days later.


London, England, 25 October 2017

Begin with the Nave, the font of baptism, marking the beginning of the journey of faith that Christians believe leads from Earth to Heaven.

Here is the final stop, the last resting place, of the Duke of Wellington, best known for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

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Above: Wellington (1769 – 1852)

Wellington died 37 years later and is buried in the Crypt beneath the Monument.

Nearby in the All Souls´ Chapel is the Kitchener Memorial, dedicated to the servicemen who died in World War I and to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener who died at sea and whose body was never recovered.

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Above: Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)

Kitchener is best known for his restructuring of the British Army and for his most effective recruitment campaign reminding Britons that “Your Country Needs You”.

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Quietly light a candle for those you wish to have remembered inside St. Dunstan´s Chapel, a place of prayer and stillness.

The silver pyx that hangs above the altar in this chapel contains the sacrament – the consecrated bread that Christians believe is (or represents) the body of Jesus, shared at services of Holy Communion.

The Chapel of St. Michael and St. George honours those who have rendered important service overseas.

It takes only a modicum of observation to see that St. Paul´s is built in the shape of a cross with a large dome crowning the intersection of the cross´s arms.

At 365 feet / 111.3 metres high, the Dome is one of the largest cathedral domes in the world and weighs approximately 65,000 tons.

The area under the Dome is the space where congregations congregate for the Cathedral´s most important rituals of faith – the Liturgy, the worship of God.

The altar is the focus, the place where the Eucharist (mass) is celebrated every day, where people of all ages of many different languages and nationalities, gather to eat bread and drink wine that symbolise the body and blood of Jesus Christ sacrificed by God the Father to save mankind from itself.

Or so the story goes.

The Dome is actually not one dome but three: the outer dome shell is seen prominently on the London skyline, while the painted dome that the congregated sees from the cathedral floor conceals an inner layer of brick which provides the structure strength and support.

Within the Dome´s construction there are three gallery levels.

The Whispering Gallery runs around the interior of the Dome, 257 steep steps up from ground level.

There is a charming acoustical quirk in the gallery´s construction which makes a whisper spoken against the walls on one side audible on the opposite side.

Two higher galleries encircle the outside of the Dome – the Stone Gallery and the smaller Golden Gallery offering superb views across London….

Or so we were told as they were closed the day of our visit.

Upon our descent from the Whispering Gallery, further exploration of the Cathedral reveals many aspects of what makes St. Paul´s unique unto itself.

To the north of the interior is the Chapel of Saints Erkenwald and Ethelburga, with a statue of Dr. Johnson.

Man staring intently at a book held close to his face

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

Above the altar is William Holman Hunt´s painting The Light of the World, showing Jesus holding a lantern as He knocks at the handleless bramble-strewn door of the human Soul which must be opened from within, above the caption that reads:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 

If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.”

Close by the Chapel is Henry Moore´s Mother and Child, a sculpture he made when he was recovering from an illness so it is heavily indolent in religious meaning.

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Above: Mother and Child by Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)

By Moore´s Mama Madonna with child are two pairs of wrought-iron gates made by Jean Tijou.

Inside the gates at the top northern part of the architectural cross is the Quire, the first part of the Cathedral to be built.

The organ within, built in 1694 and rebuilt several times, is the third largest in the UK with 7,256 pipes.

The 1694 version of this organ was much loved by the composer George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759).

The organ case and the stalls on both sides of the Quire are decorated with exquisitely delicate carvings by the Anglo-Dutch sculptor Grinling Gibbons, whose work can still be seen in many royal houses and great houses.

One contemporary commentator wrote:

“There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers with the free disorder natural to each species.”

Yet free disorder seems particularly ironic here, as each of the canopied stalls has a designated occupant and definitively determines how the Cathedral is to be governed.

It is within the Quire where choir, clergy and congregation gather to sit for Evensong, the service that draws the day to a close.

As dusk descends, we the people are to be remanded and reminded of the proper calculation of our place in the universe, both manmade and celestial.

Queen Victoria, she of the inaccurately attributed “We are not amused.”, is said to have complained that St. Paul´s was “dull, dingy and undevotional”, so in response William Blake Richmond decorated the ceilings and the walls of the Quire with mosaics depicting the story of Creation and the story of the angel Gabriel´s visitation to the Virgin Mary with the news that she is pregnant with the Son of God.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

(That had to be quite the shock!)

Behind the alter stands the Jesus Chapel, commemorating the 28,000 Americans who were killed on their way to, or while stationed in, the UK during the Second World War, their names recorded in a 500-page roll of honour glass enclosure.

“Defending freedom from the fierce assaults of tyranny they shared the honour and the sacrifice. 

Though they died before the drum of victory, their names and deeds will long be remembered wherever free men live.”

So reads the American roll of honour, but as the Canadian descendant of Commonwealth soldiery I cannot help but cynically observe that the Cathedral today is funded by multitudes of tourists, the majority of whom are American.

A cynical attitude that is met with a punch in the arm by my loving spouse whose German ancestors were conscripted soldiers of the aforementioned tyranny.

In the south is the statue of John Donne, which somehow survived the Great Fire of London intact.

Above: Statue of John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Donne, a former Dean of St. Paul´s, wrote passionate love poems and eloquent odes expressing with eloquence his zeal for God.

He is perhaps best remembered for his meditation on the human condition:

“No man is an island, entire of itself….

 Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Fourteen bells of St. Paul´s toll for thee: Great Tom tolls to mark the death of a sovereign; Great Paul, the largest swinging bell in Europe, strikes the hours; the remaining twelve bells sound the peal.

And here one finds a statue of Nelson, a cloak covering the area where Nelson´s right arm should be – amputated in 1797.

Three skulls guard the entrance to the Crypt.

Nelson lies buried in a coffin made from the timber of a French ship he defeated in battle, atop a black marble sarcophagus.

Would he have thought his memorial truly “humanity after victory“?

Keeping him company across from him in the Crypt, the Iron Duke, Lord Wellington, rests in a casket of Cornish granite.

Wellie would have hated it, for he was said to be a man not prone to bask in his own glories:

“Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”

Why do places of worship glorify those who murder in the name of a flag?

Beside the Crypt, close to the foundations of the former church, is the Chapel of St. Faith, created in recognition for the contribution made by women during the First World War.

Surrounding the Chapel are memorials celebrating the remarkable of the arts and sciences: painters Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) and John Guille Millais (1865 – 1931); composer Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900) and poet William Blake (1757 – 1827); scientist Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955).

Sir Christopher Wren himself is buried here, his tomb marked by a simple stone which translated from Latin reads:

Bildergebnis für christopher wren s tomb inscription

“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

And, so we did.

“I was glad when they said unto me:

Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

St. Paul´s has stood here defiantly unscathed amid the carnage of the Blitz and was defended by the St. Paul´s Watch – volunteers who patrolled the Cathedral´s roof every night to combat the incendiary bombs and died carrying out their duties.

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Time and choice did not permit us to see the worship of God at work, or listen to virgin boys attempt in song to reach within us to find something beyond ourselves, or ponder important issues ranging from global economy to climate change by prominent speakers, such as Kofi Annan or Bianca Jagger.

As we leave St. Paul´s, I recall the words of Mary Poppins:


Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes.
In her own special way to the people she calls:
“Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
Come, feed the little birds.
Show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do.
The young ones are hungry.
Their nests are so bare.
All it takes is tuppence from you.
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds.”, that’s what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies.
All around the Cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”

No, we didn´t feed the birds, for security measures no longer permit little old bird women to feed assemblies of pigeons on the steps of St. Paul´s.

Poverty is very offputting for the tourists and, after all, charity begins at home.

The tourist entry fee at the door is 18 pounds per adult.

In October 2011, the anti-capitalism Occupy London encampment was established in front of St. Paul´s, after failing to gain access to the London Stock Exchange on Paternoster Square nearby, costing the Cathedral revenue of 200,000 pounds per day.

The encampment was evicted at the end of February 2012, by court order, without violence, by the City Corporation.

Our visit to St. Paul´s made me ask, as St. Paul´s Cathedral Arts Project and its artistic installations have asked:

What makes life meaningful and purposeful?

What does St. Paul´s mean in that contemporary context?

Those questions, much like questions of faith themselves, can only be answered by individuals themselves.

Should one care to ask.

Black and White photograph of the dome of St Paul's, starkly lit, appearing through billowing clouds of smoke

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / St. Paul´s Cathedral /








Canada Slim and the Undiscovered Country

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 October 2017

Captain Spock: Nature abhors a vacuum.  I intend for you to replace me.

Lt. Valerus: I could never replace you.  I could only succeed you.

(Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

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Above: Poster for Star Trek VI

It is a legitimate question.

When we are gone, who replaces us?

I know that in my role as an English teacher that I am expendable.

I can be replaced.

I know that in my role as a Starbucks barista that I am expendable.

I can be replaced.

I know that in my roles as brother, cousin, friend, uncle and husband that I am expendable.

I might not be so easily replaced, but after a period of mourning, and after the last mourner has also ceased to exist, I shall probably be forgotten in the ocean of time.

Even Presidents and Tsars are expendable.

It will be with the greatest difficulty that the present President of the United States will be impeached.

I am convinced that it is more a question of “when” rather than “if”.

For now, Republicans fear the future.

Donald Trump will probably be the first President who will lose his job as a result of impeachment, barred from running for any federal office again, and his name will be mud forevermore.

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Above: Donald Trump. 45th US President since 20 January 2017

(If he doesn´t, like Richard Nixon, resign first…)

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Above: Richard Nixon (1913-1994), 37th US President (1969-1974)

This has never happened before, though there were a couple of near misses.

If Trump is impeached and, unlike Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, is not acquitted by the Senate, then he will be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence.

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Above: Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), 17th US President (1865-1869)

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Above: Bill Clinton, 42nd US President (1993 – 2001)

But there is a possibility that Pence as well, for what will bring Trump´s downfall, may also be removed from office if also convicted of treason or bribery.

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Above: Mike Pence, 48th US Vice President since 20 January 2017

Next in line for the Oval Office?

Above: The White House, Washington DC, USA

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Above: Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader (2015-), Senator (1985-)

(I think.)

As there has never been a situation where both the President and the Vice President are simultaneously in danger of impeachment, we are truly in uncharted territory here.

Now imagine for a moment the situation that the President and his chosen successor have both been expelled from Washington, and for either reasons of equal culpability in Trump/Pence offences or (highly doubtful) McConnell chooses for some unknown reason not to assume the mantel of power….

What then?

Who then?

The Majority Whip?

The Leader of the House of Representatives?

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

Who gets to be the Big Dog / the Big Cheese sitting at the Big Desk in the Oval Office?

Above: The Oval Office of the US President, The White House

Strange days.

But a strange similar situation developed in Russia a century ago that might be worth examining….


Mogilev, Russia, 28 February 1917

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Above: Modern day Mogilev

At 5 am in the pre-dawn of Tuesday, the train carrying the Tsar Nicholas II back to Tsarskoe Selo left Mogilev, its windows darkened, its passengers asleep.

Nicholas II by Boissonnas & Eggler c1909.jpg

Above: Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918), Tsar (1894-1917)

He expected to be home at 8 am on Wednesday.

“Every hour is precious, “ Michael had told his brother via telegraph on Monday night, urging him not to leave Mogilev at all so he could be in direct communication throughout the crisis.

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Above: Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia (1878-1918)

On his train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.

Russia no longer had a government and over the next crucial 27 hours it would, for all practical purposes, be without an emperor.

Nevertheless, when Nicholas reached Tsarskoe Selo the next morning he expected to hear that General Nikolai Ivanov and his 6,000 front line troops were in place to crush the Rebellion.

The Tsar could sleep easily.


Malaya Vishera, Russia, 1 March 1917

His train was on schedule and at 4 am Wednesday morning he was less than 100 miles from Tsarskoe Selo, having covered 540 miles since leaving Mogilev.

It was then the train abruptly stopped, at the town of Malaya Vishera, with the alarming news that the revolutionaries had blocked the line ahead.

Above: Malaya Vishera train station

Since the train had only a few guards aboard, fighting their way forward was out of the question.

There was only one choice for them….

To go back to Bologoe, halfway between Petrograd and Moscow, and then head west for Pskov, headquarters of General Nikolai Ruzsky´s Northern Army.

It was the nearest safe haven, though it would leave Nicholas 170 miles from home and worse off than if he had stayed in Mogilev where he could command the whole of his armies.

“To Pskov, then”, the Tsar said curtly and retired back to his sleeping car, but, once there he put his real feelings into his diary.

“Shame and dishonour”, Nicholas wrote despairly.

The journey to Pshov meant that for the next decisive 15 hours – until about 7 pm that Wednesday evening – the Emperor would once again vansih into the emply snow-covered countryside, a second day lost.


Pskov, Russia, 1 March 1917


Above: Modern day Pskov

As the Tsar had hoped, his train did eventually reach Pskov at around  7 pm that Wednesday evening, after travelling 860 miles in total but still almost 100 miles from his intended destination of Tsarsloe Selo.

At least he was back in contact with the world….one very different to that he knew of 38 hours earlier.

Not knowing what time his train was to be expected, there was no one at the Station to meet him, though shortly afterwards the army commander, General Nikolai Ruzsky, turned up, his manner unwelcoming.

Nikolai Ruzsky.jpg

Above: General Nikolai Ruzsky (1854 – 1918)

He did not bring good news.

What of those relief troops that Nicholas had sent to the capital?

The answer was that with no orders, no Tsar, and no one in authority, Ivanov had simply abandoned his task and turned back.

The capital was lost and would stay lost.

In the Tsar´s study aboard the train, Ruzsky believed that Nicholas now had no option but to grant the rebels´ concessions demanded of him and he said so, doggedly, over a gloomy dinner.

As stubborn as ever and still blind to his own peril, Nicholas refused to give up his autocratic powers.

Ruzsky was getting nowhere until a telegram arrived from General Alexeev at Mogilev, urging the same concessions.

Alekseev m v.jpg

Above: General Mikhail Alexeev (1857 – 1918)

Nicholas, now in an uncomfortable position, sought compromise.

Nicholas went to his sleeping car a rattled man.

In refusing the demands of politicians and dismissing the pleas of his brother and others, Nicholas had assumed the absolute loyalty of his senior military commanders.

Now they too seemed to be against him.


Pskov, Russia, 2 March 1917

At 2 am Nicholas called Ruzsky to his carriage and told him that he “had decided to compromise”.

A manifesto granting a responsible ministry, already signed, was on the table.

Ruzsky was authorised to notify Rodzyanko that he could now be prime minister of a parliamentary government.

But, at 3:30 am, Ruzsky got through to Petrograd on the direct line, Rodzyanko´s reply was shatteringly frank:

“It is obvious that neither His Majesty nor you realise what is going on here.

Unfortunately the manifesto has come too late.

There is no return to the past.

Demands for an abdication in favour of the son, with Michael Alexandrovich as Regent, are becoming quite definite.”

Ruzsky sent on Rodzyanko´s message to Alexeev at Supreme Headquarters.

At 9 am Alexeev cabled his reply:

“My deep conviction that there is no choice and that the abdication should now take place.

There is no other solution.”

Having made his own views clear, Alexeev sent out his own telegrams to his other army commanders and to the admirals commanding the fleets.

Russia had a war to fight and Alexeev was determined that the Revolution in Petrograd should not undermine the front line armies waiting to begin their spring offensive.

“The dynastic question has been put point blank.

The war may be continued until ist victorious end only provided the demands regarding the abdication from the throne in favour of the son and under the regency of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich are satisfied.

Apparently the situation does not permit another solution….”

His cables went out at 10:15 am.

At 2:15 pm he wired the Emperor at Pskov giving him the first three replies:

The commander on the Caucasus front could not be more frank:

“As a loyal subject I feel it my necessary duty of allegiance in the spirit of my oath, to beg your Imperial Majesty on my knees to save Russia and your heir and hand over to him your heritage.

There is no other way.”

Brusilov, the most successful fighting General in the army:

“The only solution is  the abdication in favour of the heir Tsarevich under the Regency of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich.

There is no other way out.

Otherwise it will result in incalculable catastrophic consequences.”

General Alexei Evert, commander on the western front:

“Abdication is the only measure which apparently can stop the Revolution and thus save Russia from the horrors of anarchy.”

Nicholas rose and went to the window, staring out unseeingly.

He could not defy his Generals and they had just passed a vote of no confidence in him, both as Tsar and Supreme Commander.

He could not sack them nor could he argue with them.

Suddenly he turned and said calmly:

“I have decided.

I shall renounce the throne.”

Nicholas II, Tsar.jpg

Above: Tsar Nicholas II

Two short telegrams were drafted for Nicholas.

To Duma President Mikhail Rodzyanko:


Above: Mikhail Rodzyanko (1859 – 1924)

“There is no sacrifice which I would not bear for the sake of the real welfare and for the salvation of our on dear Mother Russia.

Therefore I am ready to abdicate the throne in favour of my son, provided that he can remain with me until he comes of age, with the Regency of my brother the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich.”

The Russian Tsarevich (1904 - 1918) Q81540.jpg

Above: Alexei Nikolaevich (1904 – 1918), his haemophilia (blood unable to clot, manifested in swollen limbs and frequent internal and external bleeding) would cause his mother to rely heavily on mystic/faith healer Rasputin

His second telegram to Alexeev was in similar terms.

At 3:45 pm Nicholas told Ruzsky to send them out.

At that moment, Nicholas ceased to be Tsar, Alexis was the new Emperor and Michael was Regent.

Or so it was assumed when an excited Rodzyanko spread the word in the Duma.

Indeed the abdication was so generally known that in London Nicholas´ cousin King George V wrote in his diary:

Full-length portrait in oils of George V

Above: George V of Britain (1865 – 1936), King (1910 – 1936)

“Heard from Buchanan (the British ambassadot) that the Duma had forced Nicky to sign his abdication and Misha had been appointed Regent.

Above: British Ambassador to Russia George Buchanan (1854 – 1924)

I fear Alicky (the Empress) is the cause of it all and Nicky has been weak.”

Alexandra Fyodorovna LOC 01137u.jpg

Above: Russian Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918)

The relieved Duma began their negotiations with the Soviet over ending the Revolution and forming a responsible government.

10 pm: Alexander Guchkov, the architect of the earlier plot to arrest the Tsar and compel him to go and his co-monarchist Vasily Shulgin arrived in Pskov.

Alexander Guchkov

Above: Alexander Guchkov (1862 – 1936)

Above: Vasily Shulgin (1878 – 1976)

What no one knew was that Nicholas had changed his mind:

Yes, he would abdicate, but in so doing he would also remove his son from succession.

It would be his brother Michael not the boy Alexis who would be Emperor.


“If you won´t have me, then you won´t get my son.”

Behind this was a real worry that without the care of his family the fragile haemophilic Alexis could die, a possibility confirmed by Professor Sergei Fedorov, the court physician travelling with him.

Alexis was always at risk.

Guchkov, expecting a fierce row, was stunned to find that Nicholas had not only already abdicated but had drawn up a second abdication manifesto removing Alexis from the succession.

At a stroke it demolished a key aspect of the Duma´s argument – an innocent boy lawfully inherits the throne and a new responsible ministry is protected by Michael as Regent.

With that Nicholas took the manifesto into his study for amendment and signature.

“We have judged it right to abdicate the throne of the Russian state and to lay down the supreme power.

Not wishing to be parted from out beloved son, we hand over our succession  to our brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and bless him on his accession to the throne of the Russian state.”


Pskov, Russia, 3 March 1917

Just after midnight, Nicholas left Pskov for Mogilev, the headquarters from which he had departed with such confidence just 44 hours earlier.

Throughout the formalities he had given no sign of distress but within himself he was anything but calm.

On the train he went to his diary and revealed his private agony:

“At one clock this morning I left Pskov with a heart that is heavy over what has just happened.

All around me there is nothing but treason, cowardice and deceit!”

As always with Nicholas, (and a century later with Trump), everyone was to blame but himself.


Petrograd, Russia, 3 March 1917

As news reached Tauride Palace in the early hours of Friday morning that Nicholas had removed both himself and his son from the throne, panic set in among the Duma leaders.

Above: Tauride Palace, St. Petersburg (formerly Petrograd)

The deal which they had thought settled with a reluctant Soviet had depended in great deal on persuading them that the new Tsar would be a harmless boy – not a tough battlefield commander with a high reputation in the army.

Among the throng of mutineers, fearful enough that Michael would be Regent, the immediate reaction was that, with Michael as Emperor, their necks were more at stake than ever.

Talk of a general amnesty would not save those who had killed their own officers.

Emperor Michael would have to be abandoned.

Nicholas had done for the Soviet what the Soviet did not dare to do on its own.

To save itself the new government would have to persuade Michael to give up the throne.

Although the new ministers hoped to meet Michael even before he knew he had Emperor, thousandsof troops in front line units were cheering his name and swearing an oath of allegiance to Emperor Michael II.

In Petrograd, Nicholas´ portraits had disappeared from shop windows and walls and in their place pictures of Michael Alexandrovich.

Faces were hung out and everyone wore smiles of quiet satisfaction.

The apartment´s 1st floor drawing room at 12 Millionnaya Street had been prepared to provide an informal setting.

Chairs were arranged so that Michael, when he took the meeting, would be facing a semicircle of delegates.

At 9:35 am, the drawing room door opened, ministers and deputies rose to their feet, and in walked the man being hailed across the country as His Majesty Emperor Michael II.

Michael sat down in his tall-backed chair, looked around the men facing him and the meeting began.

For Michael the first reality was to find everyone addressed him not as “Your Imperial Majesty” but as “Your Highness” – not as Emperor, but as Grand Duke.

It was intended as intimidation and the delegates thought it would speed up the process.

Michael, looking around the room, could see that the Duma men were exhausted, unshaven, bedraggled and unable even to think straight any more.

Many were also clearly frightened.

Duma President Rodzyanko also used fear as the excuse for abdication:

“It was quite clear to us that the Grand Duke would have reigned only a few hours, and that this would have led to colossal bloodshed in the precincts of the capital, which would have degenerated into civil war.

It was clear to us that the Grand Duke would have been killed immediately.”

During all the shouting and arguing, Michael sprawled in his chair, saying nothing.

He seemed embarrassed by what was going on and grew weary and impatient.

He had heard quite enough and saw no point in hearing more.

He rose and announced that he would consider the whole matter privately with Premier Georgiy Lvov and President Rodzyanko.

Georgy Lvov, 1919 LOC.jpg

Above: Georgiv Lvov (1861 – 1925)

Michael wanted reassurance that the new government was in a position to restore order and continue the war, and that they could ensure that the promised elections for a democratic Constituent Assembly would not be blocked by the Soviet.

The answers were confidently “Yes”.

After lunch, any thought of a signed manifesto was abandoned as the lawyers were going to have to take over the process.

Six hours had passed at 12 Millionnaya Street and there was nothing more that could be done.

The delegates decided to return to Tauride Palace.

At 2:56 pm, a telegram was sent to Michael from Sirotino, a railway station 275 miles from Pskov.

Bildergebnis für sirotino photos

Above. Present day Sirotino, Lithuania

Nicholas had suddenly remembered that he had neglected to mention to his brother that he was the new Emperor.

“To His Majesty the Emperor Michael,

Recent events have forced me to decide irrevocably to take the extreme step.

Forgive me if it grieves you and also for no warning – there was no time.

Shall always remain a faithful and devoted brother.

Now returning to HQ where hope to come back shortly to Tsarskoe Selo.

Fervently pray God to help you and our country.

Your Nicky”

As so often during the last days, Nicholas had acted when it was too late to matter.

Delegates returned to Millionnaya Street just before 3 pm, with a draft of abdication for Michael to sign.

It began with the preamble….

“We, by God´s mercy, Michael II, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias….”

They started off therefore on the premise that Michael was lawful Emperor, and that in abdicating he commanded the people to obey the authority of the Provisional Government in which he was vesting his powers until a Constituent Assembly determined the form of government.

This formula gave legitimacy to the new government, which otherwise was simply there by license of the Soviet.

No one had elected the Provisional Government which represented only itself, and in that regard it had arguably less authority than the Soviet which could at least claim to have been endorsed by elected soldier and worker delegates.

Michael could make the new government official and legal, as no one else could, and therefore it was important that his manifesto be issued by him as Emperor.

If he was not Emperor, he had no power to vest and no authority to command anyone.

Of political necessity the new government needed Michael to take the throne before he could give it up.

However it was not going to be that simple.

Michael was clear in his own mind about the position in which he had found himself.

He had not inherited the throne.

Alexis had been unlawfully bypassed and Michael proclaimed Emperor without his knowledge or consent.

He had not willingly become Emperor and Nicholas had no right to pass the throne to him.

At the same time, there was nothing that could be done about that.

The wrong could not be righted.

It was far too late.

The only issue therefore was how to salvage the monarchy from the wreckage that Nicholas had left in his wake.

That the government was demanding his abdication in order to appease the Soviet was a serious complication, but, even so, Michael was not going to abdicate.

Because, if he did, who was going to succeed him?

The throne was never vacant and it followed therefore that if he abdicated, someone else would immmediately become Emperor in his place.

The result was a manifesto that would make Michael Emperor without it saying that he had accepted the throne; that as Emperor he would vest all his powers in the new Provisional Government; and with that done he would wait in the wings until a future Constituent Assembly voted, as he hoped, for a constitutional monarchy and elected him.

Meanwhile, he would not reign, but neither would he abdicate.

“A heavy burden has been thrust upon me by the will of my brother, who has given over to me the Imperial Throne of Russia at a time of unprecedented warfare and popular disturbances.

Inspired like the entire people by the idea that what is most important is the welfare of the country, I have taken a firm decision to assume the Supreme Power only if such be the will of our great people, whose right it is to establish the form of government and the new basic laws of the Russian state by universal suffrage through its representatives in the Constituent Assembly.

Therefore, invoking the Blessing of God, I beseech all the citizens of Russia to obey the Provisional Government, which has come into being on the initiative of the Duma and is vested with all the plenitude of power until the Constituent Assembly, to be convoked with the least possible delay by universal suffrage, direct, equal and secret voting, shall express the will of the people by its decision on the form of government.


Flag of Russia

Above: The flag of Russia

Afterwards, Nicholas wrote in his diary:

“Misha, it appears, has abdicated.

His manifesto ends up by kowtowing to the Constituent Assembly, whose elections will take place in six months.

God knows who gave him the idea to sign such rubbish.”

Given the wreckage that he had mindlessly left behind him and the impossible position in which he had placed his brother, his effrontery has an epic quality about it.

Nicholas would never understand what he had done – that the consequence of his fatherly feelings would destroy the Romanov dynasty itself.

Above: Nicholas II (in bearskin helmet) and son Alexei

No one, including the Soviet, had expected that, nor demanded it.

Russia´s generals, fearing the future of Nicholas continuing as Commander in Chief of a war Russia was losing, asked for Nicholas´ abdication.

The Duma, fearing the power of the Soviet and the violence of the Revolution resumed, asked for Nicholas´ abdication, followed by his brother´s.

Nicholas, fearing for his son´s life, abdicated his throne and denied to his son.

Michael, fearing the end of the monarchy, chose to relinquish his power in the hopes of regaining it in a constitutional form through an elected parliament.

Through fear, a dynasty was lost, and mere months later democracy denied.

Russia still hasn´t recovered true democracy.

In America, fear rules.

Flag of the United States

Through fear, Trump came to power.

The fear of the future keeps the Republicans unwilling to act against a President unfit to rule.

The world fears what will happen if Trump continues unchecked.

“To be, or not to be; Aye, there’s the point,
To die, to sleep, is that all? Aye, all:
No, to sleep, to dream; Aye, marry, there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
From whence no passenger ever returned,
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn’d.
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Who’d bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong’d,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrants reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin, who would this endure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Aye that, O this conscience makes cowards of us all,
Lady in thy horizons, be all my sins remembered.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.


Above: William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Chancellor Gorgon:  A toast.  To the undiscovered country.  The future.

(Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

As Winston Churchill once said:

“The only thing we need to fear is fear itself.”

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country / Dr. Michael Arnheim, The US Constitution for Dummies / Allan J. Lichtman, The Case for Impeachment / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution