Friday, June 15, 2012

As everyone has surely noticed by now, 2012 marks the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth's reign on the British throne.  Not only is that the second longest reign in history, but at 86, the Queen shows no signs of slowing down her demanding schedule of official engagements. 

Sundays in July, PBS will be showing  Queen and Country, a four part series showcasing the queen's 60 years on the throne.  Thanks to WNET, I was able to view the first two episodes of the series, and they are wonderful!  The program really brings a lot of perspective to the relationship between the Queen (and the monarchy in general) and the British people and why she is more popular than ever.

Episode One (airing July 1), is titled London: Royal City and documents the Queen's relationship to the city.  Although she spent most of her youth at Windsor, the Queen has spent the majority of her years on the throne at Buckingham Palace.  In this episode, it is mentioned that Prince Charles has spoken of moving his court to Windsor when he takes over as king, but commentators feel that because of the close connection between the royal family and London that this is unlikely.  The episode goes on to show the military regiments that have the official duty of guarding the Queen and Buckingham Place.  The soldiers are all active duty, so they could be getting ready to serve in combat zones, or recently returned from one.  They are all unanimous in their dedication to the job and their appreciation of the honor that such a position holds.  The narrator of the series, Sir Trevor McDonald, points out that the Queen is greatly revered for "never having put a foot wrong" during her public life.  Most of this is due to the fact that the Queen has never been interviewed, and only gives official speeches.  While the Queen is often photographed greeting and talking with people who come out to see her, there is even an unofficial rule that you never disclose what the Queen said to you!  This air of dignity and mystery has helped to ensure that the Queen's popularity has never wavered.

Episode Two (airing July 8) is Royal Visit and highlights the many official duties that the Queen has undertaken, starting from about 3 weeks after ascending to the throne in 1952 and continuing on to the present day.  This episode shows archival footage of the Queen visiting a Scottish mine early in her reign, opening a museum in Liverpool late in 2011 and naming the Cunard ship the Queen Elizabeth in 2010.  During her 60 years as Queen, she has hosted 102 state visits in London, met 12 US presidents, and kept up a non-stop calendar of official visits in Britain.  In 2011 alone, she had 325 engagements in Britain and 45 overseas.  That would be exhausting for anyone, but the Queen continues to take her duties seriously -- at an age when most people have long since retired!  People still turn out in masses at every event, in hopes of getting a chance to chat with (or even catch a glimpse of) her.  This episode also shows the Queen's great love of Scotland, which she has visited more than 70 times. Every year she spends part of her time at Balmoral and attends the Braemar Gathering (formerly known as the Highland Games) and presents trophies to the winners of the events.Pretty impressive for a lady who has said that if she wasn't the Queen, she'd like to be living out in the country with a lot of horses and dogs! 

The remaining episodes include The Queen's Possessions (July 15) and Traveller (July 22).  I am looking forward to watching them to learn more about this remarkable lady!  Do check your local PBS station for the time that this fascinating program will air in your area.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of the first two episodes of Queen and Country for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I'm always on the prowl for a good guide book to London, and if it goes into the more violent or disturbing aspects of the city's dark past, so much the better.  That's why I was thrilled to find the book Bloody London by Declan McHugh.  The cover alone, with the Thames running red with blood, was enough to convince me that this was one book worth checking out.

I wasn't disappointed!  The book divides London into 7 geographic areas and discusses some ghoulish sights in each area that are not to be missed.  I really liked the way the author gives such detailed directions on how to find each location.  For someone who is geographically challenged (as I most assuredly am), this is a great help.  Here is one example of how to start your journey to find the location of the infamous Goulston Street graffiti associated with Jack the Ripper:

Travel to Aldgate East underground station.  If you are coming from the east, turn right on the platform after you leave the train.  If you are coming from the west, turn left on the platform when you leave the train.  Follow the sign saying "Toynbee Hall -- Way out."  You want Exit 2.  Exit on to Whitechapel High Street, and turn right.

And so on.  I really like the explicit "turn right" type of directions.  I think even I could manage to find all the places mentioned in this book!  The author also helpfully lists pubs and cafes that are close to each location, so that you can fortify yourself before (or after) completing your ghastly visit.  Sight-seeing (even the bloody kind) can be thirsty work!

The events mentioned in the book range from the location of the Temple Church, the Knights Templar base in England, through to locations of plague pits from the 1600s, down to bars and other haunts of modern serial killers.  If the location charges a fee to enter, that is helpfully mentioned, as well as contact information (so you really have no excuse not to add at least a few locations from this book to your next London itinerary!). 

The author, Declan McHugh, offers several popular walking tours of London which you can find out more about from his website, Shocking London.  I'm looking forward to visiting some of these creepy sites on my next trip across the pond!

Final Verdict for Bloody London Five Gherkins, for being a lively discussion of some of London's more deadly attractions

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

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