16 November 2007

Visiting the Queen

The first stop on the long journey home was London. I always like spending a few days here, catching up with a few friends, and getting my English speaking up to speed again. Being a bit of a city boy, I find it quite intoxicating, wandering around the streets, with a few million other people. London is always a great place to catch up with a bit of history and culture, with it’s many museums and art galleries. Being an avid historian, and a history channel fan, I can generally see most of the things I have heard and read about over the many years. Nothing beats a good British museum, as they were the first country in the world, to plunder almost every other countries riches and icons. Where else can you see the Rosetta stone, alongside Egyptian mummies, Incan gold, Mayaian relics and multiple preserved human remains. Of course they also have some of the best machines that man has ever made, mostly hanging out in the Technology Museum. Here you can see Stevenson’s Rocket, Watts’s first steam engine, a few lunar capsules, and a few classic bikes scattered around the place. Some of the earliest computers are here (some rebuilt off early plans, working replicas), it give’s you a sense of how young our technology really is.

A city full of many different colours, this was a shot I couldn't resist.

I had decided to have a week without bikes, possibly my only chance for the whole year. So my usual tour of London’s finest bike shops was out. I know what you are thinking, how is that possible, but I succeeded in my mission. I did however, look though the window of a couple of shops, just to kurb my addiction, for a brief moment. The last few years, the city has got a lot more bike friendly, more noticeable this time around. A lot more bike lanes, and a lot more cyclists, mostly commuters and school kids, and the odd bike messenger (not on fixies, but Singlespeed with freewheels). With the price of petrol reaching a fantastic high of 1 pound/litre for the first time in British history, and the ever present treat of more bombs on the underground, cycling looks like it’s a great, safe option to get around. There was more talk of a higher congestion charge (toll to enter the city in a vehicle), and to spread the boundaries out a bit further. It may even make even more people choose the better option of a bike over a car. Hell, if London can sort out their grid locked city, Auckland should start to take some ideas of them, to sort out their worries.

A beautiful night out, about midnight, Piccadily Circus.

I wondered what I had struck one day, when I emerged out of the tube station to about 30.000 people blocking my exit. Looks like the Queen was expected any moment, once now to open the new season of parliament, and later on in the afternoon to visit a memorial of fallen soldiers. All I wanted to do was to try and sneak into the Westminster Abby (I hate paying to get into these places, and last year I found a sweet, free entry enterance) and take some photo’s (not generally allowed). But, not from lack of trying, I even had trouble crossing the street. There was police everywhere, and the Queens guard, standing to attention every few meters down the road. Finally, after crossing the road with the help of the underground, I managed to push my way through the crowds, to the Abby’s back door, but as you would have guessed, it was swarming with police. I thought I might try and climb a fence round the rear, and try to gain entry to the the church, but I was stopped even before I was a meter off the ground. I suppose I looked pretty dodgy, eastern looking features, unshaven, tired eyes from lack of sleep, with a huge black pack on my back, looking very guilty. After a bit of explaining, and a search of my bag, they let me go with a warning, and having no sense of humour, they would not even let me take their photo’s afterwards. Suppose it’s an ever present danger for them, especially when the Queen was due to be rolling past in a few moments.

The Queen's greatest fan, in all his glory.

So I waited by the side of the road, with a few thousand others, just for that momentary glimpse of the Queen. It’s not the first time I have spotted her, in fact the third, but that’s another story. The highlight of the day, was not the Queen herself, but watching all the old fashioned bullshit that is associated with mother England. Multiple guards, all dressed to the nines, standing to attention, for what seemed like hours. The many carriages, and horses, the police, the choppers, the undercover cops (most who probably know my name now), and the many queenspotters to boot. One old guy was a classic, with full makeup, fur shoulder throw, hat, gloves, complete with homemade decorations. He was standing to attention, like he has probably done for the last fifty years, waiting for her to pass. He was so devoted, as I asked him what all the people were waiting for (I had figured it out by then). He was telling me like it was the new coming of Christ, he had tears in his eyes as he mentioned her name, I was spellbound. So I hung around and waited near this guy as the Queen passed by, just in case there was a better photo option. Suppose he’s like many cycling fans. Waiting on the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere, for hours, waiting for the peloton to arrive, just so you can catch your favourite rider pass by for a second or two. He was wearing his favourite teams jersey, cap, and gloves, it was just a shame they were fluffy. But hey, one mans passion is another mans fear. I love the dedication any fan has (except Rugby fans of course), and why not show that dedication with all the passion you possess. I have seen crazed cycling fans on the side of the road that have acted worse, and dressed just as bad and some that look like their brain has died inside. There is no place for mediocracy in this world, why can’t most people figure that one out.

Old soldiers never die, but this kind of proves the theory wrong.

It was not the only job for the Queen that day, she was expected back later on that day for the opening of the walk of remembrance. Time to remember those soldiers that have died defending Queen and country. It was kind of an eye opener, seeing a small wooden cross, for each of the men that had died. Over twenty people had been hammering these little crosses in for two days so far, and from what they were saying they had another two days to go. Every cross had a name written on them, so it was a bit more real, than just a memorial. I took some time out to read a few of the messages, and sounds like many of the dead, will not be forgotten in a hurry. Suppose that was the point, it worked. How lucky my generation, and hopefully the ones to come, for not having to die in war. Peacetime rocks, may it continue.

More photos of London over here

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