Never Mind the Bollocks (Day 3)

As we were riding the bus home from Oxford yesterday, Kristy and I spoke at length with a Londoner who had grown up in South Africa. She remembered apartheid, but that system ended when she was ten years old. She came of age in the Mandela era, when Blacks were finally given the right to vote.  And, while she lives in the UK with her husband, she couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable about her new country’s love of royalty.

“I’m a republican, through and through,” she told me.  “Why are these people still around?  It’s 2015.”

From an idealistic standpoint, she’s right.  Monarchy is fascist, a holdover from less enlightened times.  But there are other, more pragmatic concerns.  As Johnny Rotten explains in today’s theme song:  God save the Queen/ ‘Cause tourists are money.  Yes, we are.  And we’re drawn to palaces like flies to London’s sewers.

We started our morning with a tour of Westminster Abbey.  Unlike many active churches, they charge admission.  (Ours was covered by the London Pass, a sort of coupon card good at certain attractions.)  The Abbey is a beautiful Gothic structure with high vaulted ceilings, stained glass, and ornate carvings.  It contains priceless medieval art, the oldest door in Britain, and a ton of dead royalty.  Never have I seen such work poured into a building, and never have I so thoroughly enjoyed an audio tour. (It’s narrated by Jeremy Irons!)

Our guide in Oxford talked about Queen Mary I, who burned some bishops alive for rejecting Catholicism.  She’s buried her with her sister, Queen Elizabeth I, to show that people can put religious differences aside and still end up in heaven together.  I’m pretty sure there are a few charred bishops who might object to this sentiment, but royals get a mulligan, I guess.

I was less impressed with the monarchs than the fact that Charles Darwin is buried here.  He’s with Isaac Newton, and a few rooms away you can find Dylan Thomas and Laurence Olivier.  Hopefully, Jeremy Irons has worked a burial plot into his audio tour recording contract.

You exit the church through the gift shop, as you would your own church on a Sunday morning.  I bought Mia a stained glass shot glass and got Ian a shirt that reads, My Mommy Went to Westminster Abbey and All I Got Was a Few Stupid Prayers Said Near the High Altar.  Nor could I resist the Charles Darwin WTF Am I Doing Here? mousepad.  Bargains all.

After the Abbey, we descended into the claustrophobic bunkers of Churchill’s War Rooms.  During the bombing of London, the British government went underground to lessen the disruption of their activities.  It’s an impressive bit of utilitarian sacrifice that seems pretty depressing when juxtaposed against the gilded pomposity of Westminster Abbey.  The museum dedicated to Churchill’s life is fascinating, though.  

  
Finally, Kristy insisted we trek over to Kensington Palace, where, she informed me, William and Kate live.  Personally, I think British rulers were more interesting when they were locking each other in dungeons and poisoning their siblings.  But I guess that’s for tomorrow’s trip to the Tower of London.

I was prepared to hate this place, and I grumbled as we made our way there.  There’s an admission fee, too, which fortunately was covered by our Pass.  Things weren’t looking good, but I was wrong to complain.

Once inside, we were spotted by a staffer, who took us on a private tour behind the velvet ropes.  (Being blind has its privileges, I guess.)  Then she transferred us to another staffer who walked us through every exhibit and explained the significance of each item.  This personal touch won me over, and I left feeling better about showing reverence for power.

It seems that even monuments to distasteful strands of human folly can provide enjoyment.  If you can forget about the nonsense for a moment and take in the majesty of your surroundings, you will still be a sellout, but at least you’ll be a happy one.

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About semiblind

Bringing you stark existentialism since 1981.
This entry was posted in Europe 2015, history, people, religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Never Mind the Bollocks (Day 3)

  1. Tina Glazer says:

    Bully for you old chap and all that rot!

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