Current Affairs, London

Missing London, Tempered by Charlie

I find myself missing London right now, especially with the recent Rebecca Wade spousal abuse story. It’s the kind of story that will completely absorb the media and chattering classes for the next few days, one full of great gossip and delicious ironies. The tabloids will have great fun with it, and while I’m reading along online from afar, it just isn’t the same as being there.

I’m also missing London because tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Day, celebrating the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, an effort of a small band of Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1604, and the subsequent execution of Guy Fawkes (one of the leaders of the plot) and his co-conspirators, as follows:

They would be hanged until half-dead, upon which their genitals would
be cut off and burned in front of them. Still alive, their bowels and
heart would be removed. Finally they would be decapitated and
dismembered; their body parts would be publicly displayed, eaten by the
birds as they decomposed.

The celebration in modern times is a lighter affair. Great bonfires around the country (and throughout London) are lit, and effigies of Guy Fawkes thrown onto the fires. We would amble over to the communal garden adjacent to ours, which hosted a terrific bonfire, served nice mulled wine, and put on a fine fireworks show at the end. It was, in many ways, one of our favorite evenings of the year. My British friends who are Catholic, though, complain that the celebration still makes them shudder.

My hankering after London this week is tempered by the upcoming visit to our town of a high profile Englishman, the Prince of Wales, that weak-chinned, inbred flower whisperer. Some of the coverage of his visit in the American press is encouragingly hostile — I loved the New York Post headline "Frump Tower," referring to Camilla’s sense of style — but too much is fawning and submissive. Just today, in the San Francisco Chronicle, we have some Miss Manners who "cringed" as she watched the protocol gaffes in New York (real people actually deigning to shake the Hand of the Prince!) and who proceeds to give us a very proper lesson on protocol with the Royals, reminding us of the no-talking-unless-talked-to and bowing-curtsying-yes-ma’am genuflections that we are supposed to offer.

As a friend of mine here said as we departed for London almost four years ago: "If you meet the queen, don’t bow or curtsy. We fought a war over that, you know."