Part Seven: Time – In London
I’ve come to understand (one day after turning 60) that Time is only useful for the purposes of organizing things. Really, how do we place our memories if not in chronological order? As we age there is always the mirror to highlight gray hair and receding scalps (the forehead gets bigger) while Time is silent in its organized attack on the shell speaking only through the good black dress in the closet that has, mysteriously, gotten two sizes smaller since last it was worn. Time is never without employment.
In capturing my experiences in London, I have found Time useful but I have come to my logical end – not the end dictated by Time. What did I learn, with Time, in London? I learned to respect the indestructible London Cab. I learned that Londoners have pretty much the same life-complaints as their American counterparts. I learned that museums offer much more for posterity than the simple ingredients about which I chose to complain and whine – beauty being one. I learned to keep walking through Kensington Gardens in search of Princess Di’s memorial. I never found it but, as the light turned to hues of rose and gray silhouetting whispering couples on the occasional bench, I became a bit apprehensive walking in a foreign city park. That’s when I saw the light – the rose-yellow and gold, surely this must be the Princess’s monument – but no, I was moving north which put me on path to the gilded celebration that is the monument to Prince Albert, husband and consort of Queen Victoria. Approach from the rear of the monument allowed for guessing the subject of such opulence. The outline, which figured shoulders and arms of substantial heft, could not be a woman’s. The sight of the luminously domed Albert Hall across the street told part of the story while the 176 foot Albert memorial told the rest. Albert died in 1861 of typhoid and the Queen, in her grief wanted a monument in the common sense of the word – no university or other building – bearing the name of her royal lover. The Queen wanted and received a monumentally impressive sculpture including a Frieze of Parnassus (Mount Parnassus being the resting place for the Greek muses) honoring 169 painter, poets and composers among others. All of this in display of Prince Albert’s love of the arts. The allegorical sculptures, each at the four corners of the monument, seem to command a world-unity that remains late in coming.
I have a new appreciation for great fish, chips and Guinness after eating at Fuller’s Swan. The Swan is an ancient establishment on the edge of the park at 66 Bayswater Road. The menu itself was worthy of a few pictures. I captured the history of the 1721 Coaching Inn for posterity learning, as I did, that the Swan’s early operations were responsible for some well-used expressions. Early prisoner transport or the prison wagons taking prisoners to the gallows (now Marble Arch) would pull up in front of the inn and the jailer would come in and ask for “one for the road” on behalf of the doomed man. And when the wagon pulled away those left at the bar would say, “he’s on the wagon” – meaning he’ll never drink again. Sitting on the upper deck in the late afternoon sun I toasted those who are ‘forever’ on the wagon.
I have learned that Stonehenge has been keeping Time well before modern timepieces. The monoliths of Stonehenge provide Time-filling puzzles to occupy the scientist and layperson alike into the next millennium. But, maybe there are some puzzles that should not be solved – perhaps for fear of extracting the element of ‘free will’ from the human condition. For fear that truth will be left naked and wanting; this is it. What you see is what you get and when the end comes, it is simply that – the end – leaving the sad dominions of Time and Decay.