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In mid July 2016 Wendy and I took flight again to Europe.  Those who follow these travel diaries will note that part of out trip last year was cut when Wendy's mum took ill.  In particular we missed out on a planned trip to Romania and eastern Germany.  This time our British sojourn would be interrupted for a few days by a side-trip to Copenhagen and Roskilde in Denmark.

London

Again we started in London spending a week doing the usual things: museums; shopping; Greenwich; Hampton Court; and a show (Matilda).

 

Iconic London
Westminster; the London Eye; Trafalgar Square; and gold Prince Albert the good (perpeptually gazing towards his hall)

 

For the first part of the trip I was suffering from a chest infection so perhaps it was less exciting than it could have been. I had some relaxing recovery time in nearby Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park beside the Serpentine, where the Serpentine Gallery had a sculpture exhibition, while Wendy shopped.  The weather was warm and there's a pleasant tearoom by the lake. Tea and scones anyone?

 

Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park - fun beside the Serpentine

 

I was still dosed-up on antibiotics when we went to Greenwich. Greenwich involves a lot of walking and I was feverish so I forgot to photograph the interior except for the chronometers the azimuth telescopes, used to compile navigational star charts, avoided my lens.

 

Greenwich
The Cutty Sark - it was very tiring holding it up for all those people 
The Prime Meridian of the World; Harrison's Chronometer

 

Almost everything at Greenwich is of interest to an Australian.  In its day the Cutty Sark was the fastest wool clipper, and therefore boat, afloat.  It's no longer supported by water but fortunately I was there to help hold it up.

The prime meridian is zero longitude and until Harrison's invention of the first accurate chronometer longitude was very difficult to measure requiring a clear night sky; accurate star charts and tables; and considerable technical skill and expertise. Without it, it is most unlikely that the East Coast of Australia would have been discovered or charted by Captain Cook.  Indeed it's availability was also the reason the Beagle was re-charting Tierra del Fuego and that led Darwin to the Galapagos Islands and his confirming the theory of evolution. Thus we are all beneficiaries of this invention many times over.

Greenwich has been a place of navel learning and importance since Chaucer's time, arguably validating the claim that Britannia 'ruled the waves' (at least until 1915 or perhaps just until August 1812 - if you're an American). 

The following day we went to Hampton Court by train.   

 

Hampton Court Palace
The moat at the entrance a concession to security; food was important; as was religion; and sex

 

When you walk around Hampton Court you are aware that some of the stones beneath your feet have been trodden upon every day for 500 years and the walls echoed to the world-changing intrigues of the Court of Henry VIII.  This building was central to the lives of the Tudors and several subsequent monarchs.  Initially it belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, the Catholic Primate of England, but he 'gave it' to Henry VIII when he fell from favour over Henry's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. Thenceforth Henry used it to entertain; and so lavish were the feasts that the entire region would be eaten bare, causing the Court to move on until the local farms recovered.  In the kitchens we learnt that pies were very popular but only for the contents. The pastry was tough, like cardboard, and was thrown away - the first disposable wrappings. The lavishness of these feasts psychologically or actually indebted the guests to the host, as indeed it can today, and most could never hope to reciprocate.

As a young man Henry was impressive. He was tall (188cm = 6'2"), handsome, strong, daring, very bright and of course wealthy.  He was equally capable in the jousts and the schoolroom.  But injuries sustained jousting, including a wound that ulcerated and never healed, would plague him for the rest of his short life.  He died at the age of 55, obese and probably diabetic. Contrary to some claims he was not syphilitic.

He was very knowledgeable about religion and resisted the extreme Protestants even when rejecting the authority of Rome and foreclosing on its monasteries.  His essay refuting Luther (Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum  - Declaration of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther) so pleased Pope Leo X that in 1521 Henry, then just 30 and married to very pious Catherine was given the title 'Defender of the Faith'.  After the break with Rome the title was withdrawn but it was later restored by the Parliament and the British Monarchy maintains it until this day.  It is said that Elizabeth II takes it extremely seriously.  But Henry's familiarity with the Bible and the politics of the Reformation and Protestantism allowed his conscience to reject an obviously politicised Papacy and adopt Luther's assertion that everyone has direct access to God through the Bible (the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation), making Papal Authority anathema. Thus he was able to consider himself a faithful Christian after the break with Rome and excommunication.  So the World was changed forever.

 

Henry's picture depicting the Pope being stoned to death by the Gospels
Each rock is marked with the name of a Gospel in Latin
As Luther pointed out the Church teaching had drifted from the Biblical teaching in a number of areas
and Rome was not prepared to concede these, sometimes lucrative or power enhancing, errors  

 

His daughters, brought up at Hampton Court, would also have difficulty with this break with the Roman branch of Christianity.  Mary would attempt to rout the English Protestants and restore Rome's authority through burnings, murder and mayhem.  Elizabeth would find a compromise with her protestant subjects that retained the link to ancient tradition and institutionalise the Church of England, claiming its Bishops to be the true inheritors of the primitive Catholic tradition, dating from the mission of St. Augustine in AD 597, that had founded the Church of England as a separate entity.  In 1571 Elizabeth signed into law the Articles of Religion. These represent Rome as having deviated from the true, primitive, Christian faith in a number of areas. In return Rome would institute a Papal Bull, forgiving any one who killed her, of sin. It was what might be called today, in a different context, a fatwa against her.  As a result several attempts were made on her life. 

Since then Rome has reversed or softened a number of the objectionable matters listed, like holding services in one's own language rather than in Latin, but still insists on unmarried priests (except for those converting from Anglicanism who are allowed to keep their wives).  Hasn't giving unmarried priests and nuns the care of children been a good idea?

After a long reign during which Elizabeth made additions to Hampton Court, including a private kitchen, now a café, as security against being poisoned, the crown passed to the Stuart monarchs and it was from here at Hampden Court that the King James version of the Bible was commissioned.

Needless to say attempts to have children, adultery and other liaisons were an ongoing source of intrigue.  So the Hampton Court bed chambers saw a good deal of action. If only these beds could talk.

Since Elizabeth's day there have been numerous further additions and modifications to Hampden Court, including those by Christopher Wren for William and Mary.  And the gardens contain the famous maze, for which we had no time. 

Back in London the Serpentine is an easy stroll from the Natural History Museum; The Science Museum; and the V&A; not to mention shopping in Knightsbridge.  When in London I like to drop in on the British Museum; the National Gallery; and the Portrait Gallery around the corner.  We visited St Pauls and walked the Millennium Bridge but had no time for the Globe or the Tate Modern.  Last year it was disappointing as it was under expansion and renovation.

Another day we spent a pleasant hour or so in the now gentrified Covent Garden and had lunch with the office workers at a disappointingly ordinary Granary Square. 

 

Westminster Abbey Covent Garden
Trafalgar Square National Gallery
Stegosaurus - Natural History Museum Charles Darwin

Westminster Abby; Covent Garden
Trafalgar Square; National Gallery;
Natural History - stegosaurus and Darwin

 

Westminster Abbey occupied us for some hours.  Here we could see the sarcophagi containing the mortal remains of Elizabeth and her bloody sister Mary, on one side of King Henry's Chapel, and their executed cousin: Mary Queen of Scots on the other.  When Elizabeth died in 1603 there was "such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man". Her body was wrapped in lead and placed in a wooden coffin to be buried in the vault of her grandfather but three years later was moved over that of her sister Mary in Henry's Chapel.

The marble monument (photography prohibited) in the chapel, representing Elizabeth in effigy, was commissioned later by James I and sits over these remains.  A Latin inscription below says: 'Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep Elizabeth and Mary, sisters in hope of the Resurrection.'

A longer Latin inscription on Elizabeth's monument has been translated as:

Sacred to memory:
Religion to its primitive purity restored
, peace settled, money restored to its just value, domestic rebellion quelled, France relieved when involved with intestine divisions; the Netherlands supported; the Spanish Armada vanquished; Ireland almost lost by rebels, eased by routing the Spaniard; the revenues of both universities much enlarged by a Law of Provisions; and lastly, all England enriched.
Elizabeth, a most prudent governor 45 years, a victorious and triumphant Queen, most strictly religious, most happy, by a calm and resigned death at her 70th year left her mortal remains, till by Christ's Word they shall rise to immortality, to be deposited in the Church [the Abbey], by her established and lastly founded.
She died the 24th of March, Anno 1602 [now 1603], of her reign the 45th year, of her age the 70th. To the eternal memory of Elizabeth queen of England, France and Ireland, daughter of King Henry VIII, grand-daughter of King Henry VII, great-grand-daughter to King Edward IV.
Mother of her country, a nursing-mother to religion and all liberal sciences, skilled in many languages, adorned with excellent endowments both of body and mind, and excellent for princely virtues beyond her sex.
James, king of Great Britain, France and Ireland, hath devoutly and justly erected this monument to her whose virtues and kingdoms he inherits.

 

The Cathedral is burial place or memorial to 1,341 of Britain's most famous sons and a few daughters in addition to some, mainly churchmen, famous in their day but now obscure to anyone but a specialist scholar.  In addition to the two greatest Britains: Newton and Darwin, I noted: Admiral Arthur Phillip; James Prescott Joule; Michael Faraday; James Clerk Maxwell; Ernest Rutherford; Mathew Boulton; Charles Lyell; and Alfred Russel Wallace among those who gave us the modern world.  Almost every British literary and musical figure of note is also commemorated. A list too long to record here; as are many soldiers and statesmen.  Other famous Englishmen are buried at St Pauls - at the other end of town - mainly those naval and military figures who extended the or secured the British Empire, like Nelson and Wellington and Cook.

The fastest way to get from one end of London to the other with its now snail-like traffic, is the Tube.  Like the New York subway system, and older parts of the Paris Metro, the London Underground suffers from being one of the first in the world.  It was very advanced in its day but in comparison to modern systems could do with larger stations, lifts and escalators to each platform and air-conditioned trains, in which those six feet and over don't bump their heads - requiring bigger tunnels.

There is a steady upgrade underway.  I really like the tube station at Westminster serving the Jubilee, Circle, and District lines.  It's like a modernist cathedral that contrasts with many older stations that feature claustrophobic tubelike connecting tunnels with numerous brass-nosed-steps to drag bags up and down and some of these issues, like tunnel sizes, will be hard to fix.

In size the London and Paris systems are comparable with the Moscow system.  Each have about a hundred more stations than Moscow but provide far fewer passenger trips per year, possibly because of Moscow's bigger wider gauge trains, much bigger and more accessible stations and lower fares.  London fares must also be close to the highest in the world. 

Strangely, in Parliament Square, near Westminster Abbey, there is a bronze statue of a man who was anything but a friend of Britain: Mahatma Gandhi who dedicated his life to ridding India of British influence.  He shares the park with his one time admirer: Nelson Mandela.  George Washington is also here, along with several grave-rolling Englishmen, including Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and Benjamin Disraeli.

Obviously time heals old wounds, particularly in the case of the Mandela, who I remember being represented in the Australian press in the 1960's as a wife abusing Marxist terrorist who's second wife, Winnie Mandela, was even more notorious for her personal death-and-torture-squad that is said to have included African men women and children among its many victims.

As for Winston, in George Orwell's 1984, it's inconvenient to have too long a memory when history is being rewritten. Mandela was later more than forgiven by the British (and in Australia) for sponsoring the violence that finally rid South Africa of residual Boer/Afrikaans influence. This is still represented in the very same park by a statue of Jan Smuts, who fought against Britain and Australia in the the Boer War and opposed black African franchise.  Mandela has since been raised to the status of a secular saint, particularly in the US, where his past Marxist-terrorist predilections and practice are overlooked.  But I looked in vain for any statues of their other mates who also helped to bring down the British Empire and then the Commonwealth.  Where was: Jomo Kenyatta; Kwame Nkrumah; or perhaps Gamal Abdel Nasser?  

 

Ghandi Mandela

Parliament Square Ghandi and Mandela

 

From Westminster we strolled along the embankment looking for a nice pub to have lunch.  There we came across Cleopatra's Needle knocked-off from the ancient Egyptians, well from the more-or-less modern Egyptians who lived there in the time of Napoleon, who had it care of the Romans, who knocked-it-off from the ancient Egyptians. Removing obelisks was a Roman tradition as far back as the Roman conquest and there are eight ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome and several Roman copies.  They even designed special ships to carry them and means of lifting them to the vertical state.

This one was made for Pharaoh Thotmes III in 1460 BCE, during the bronze age (Hittite Middle Kingdom).  It's one part of a pair.  The other stands in Central Parl in New York. It has a modern history, summarised on the bronze plaques. It was brought to London with great fanfare to celebrate the vanquishing of the French (in Egypt) under Napoleon. It's flanked by two modern bronze sphinxes that are Victorian, cast after an Egyptian stone model. The stone on which one of these sits is remarkable. A plaque informs us that its plinth was damaged in a German air-raid during the First World War, yet it was unscathed in the Blitz during the Second.  I was not aware that London had been bombed in both wars.

The ancient Egyptians made many of these obelisks or 'needles'.  A quarry we visited in Egypt still has one on it's side in a semi-manufactured state.  Another of these, also known as Cleopatra's Needle, L'aiguille de Cléopâtre, is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

 

Cleopatra's Needle

Cleopatra's Needle Cleopatra's Needle
Rome

The Embankment and Cleopatra's Needle 
The damaged Sphinx plinth
One of eight Ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome (very Christian)

 

As we got about the city we generally visited a different pub each day for lunch and/or dinner, including our favourite: The Victoria at Paddington.  Pub meals are generally good value but on those occasions we ate in a restaurant the high cost of living in London became immediately apparent.  It's easy to part with the cost of a flight to Denmark.  So we did.

We were flying out and in to Luton, London's third airport that was surrounded by traffic jams on the major roads. Give yourself an extra hour to come or go if you ever have to use it.

 

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Travel

Southern France

Touring in the South of France

September 2014

 

Lyon

Off the plane we are welcomed by a warm Autumn day in the south of France.  Fragrant and green.

Lyon is the first step on our short stay in Southern France, touring in leisurely hops by car, down the Rhône valley from Lyon to Avignon and then to Aix and Nice with various stops along the way.

Months earlier I’d booked a car from Lyon Airport to be dropped off at Nice Airport.  I’d tried booking town centre to town centre but there was nothing available.

This meant I got to drive an unfamiliar car, with no gearstick or ignition switch and various other novel idiosyncrasies, ‘straight off the plane’.  But I managed to work it out and we got to see the countryside between the airport and the city and quite a bit of the outer suburbs at our own pace.  Fortunately we had ‘Madam Butterfly’ with us (more of her later) else we could never have reached our hotel through the maze of one way streets.

Read more: Southern France

Fiction, Recollections & News

Oppenheimer

 

 

When we were in Canada in July 2003 we saw enough US TV catch the hype when Christopher Nolan's latest ‘blockbuster’: Oppenheimer got its release.

This was an instance of serendipity, as I had just ordered Joseph Kannon’s ‘Los Alamos’, for my Kindle, having recently read his brilliant ‘Stardust’.  Now here we were in Hollywood on the last day of our trip. Stardust indeed!  With a few hours to spare and Wendy shopping, I went to the movies:

Oppenheimer, the movie - official trailer

 

Read more: Oppenheimer

Opinions and Philosophy

A Carbon Tax for Australia

 12 July 2011

 

 

It's finally announced, Australia will have a carbon tax of $23 per tonne of CO2 emitted.  This is said to be the highest such tax in the world but it will be limited to 'about 500' of the biggest emitters.  The Government says that it can't reveal which  these are to the public because commercial privacy laws prevent it from naming them. 

Some companies have already 'gone public' and it is clear that prominent among them are the major thermal power generators and perhaps airlines.  Some like BlueScope Steel (previously BHP Steel) will be granted a grace period before the tax comes into effect. In this case it is publicly announced that the company has been granted a two year grace period with possible extensions, limited to its core (iron and steelmaking) emissions.

Read more: A Carbon Tax for Australia

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