Arriving early for the Anti-Austerity march and demo in London yesterday I decided to 'have an hour' in Westminster Abbey. On reflection I may not have been in the right mood, especially after I queued for quite a time in the wrong entrance queue [online bookings and groups only] and had to start again.
So once inside the ancient walls the feelings of the history take over - for a while. But my feeling of the inequality of British society soon rears its head and I am off on the usual dichotomy that occurs when visiting such ancient piles: wondering at the history whilst growling at the imbalance amongst our people that it shows.
So I did a few anarchic things to address the balance. Well mostly taking photographs which are not allowed [but I am sharing them with you all so it was a kind of Robin Hood action] And ducking across blue cord barriers. Oh the thrill of it all.
And on the day of an Anti-Austerity march this was a pretty good tombstone to start my reflections at:
Twenty years a leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister in the post war years - and if judged by the standards of today I doubt if he would be elected due to our cult of celebrity. Certainly he was not a publicity savvy chap, did not have the sort of 'presence' that seems to be demanded today if the media is not to pillory a politician. But what a leader and Prime Minister he was - first peace time Prime Minister after the 1939 - 1945 war, the Prime Minister of the Post War Austerity years whose government never the less saw the instigation of the Welfare State [care from the 'cradle to the grave'], the establishment of the National Health Service - many of whose present day employees were marching yesterday against the dreadful cuts and pay under which they are now expected to work. The new Education [ditto] and training provisions that the Labour Government of 1945 saw in, the housing programmes instituted and whilst the new builds were constructed at least returning soldiers had somewhere to live on the many 'prefab' estates that were quickly erected. Thought for the working people you see. By the party who really were the party of the working people.
I wandered on through the massive tombs and chapels that were erected for various Lords, Ladies, Kings and Queens. As a family historian I know where many of my ancestors are buried. In unmarked graves of course, some in multiple graves as 'paupers'. Just as mourned as these souls, but without the money behind them to be glorified. And looking at tributes to leaders of wars and battles, often erected by public subscription one cannot help thinking of all the 'ordinary' souls who perished in those battles never to have a memorial and never to be considered.
Of course the grave to the unknown soldier in the Abbey is regularly visited. But - to me - is so little for so many when - again to me - there is way too much for too few others.
And of course I laughed at a brilliant example of supreme British hypocrisy. I have always had a soft spot for Mary, Queen of Scots. Ever since I was taught that she lost her throne and eventually her life for the love of the Earl of Bothwell. Of course when I came in turn to teach history I taught a very much less simplified form! But I had to sneak in to see her magnificent tomb:
Only the [English in this case] could murder a Queen and then honour her tomb in this magnificent way! Originally buried in Peterborough Cathedral with great solemnity by Elizabeth 1's orders [odd that since Elizabeth had ordered her death! Hypocriscy?] but Mary's son James I brought her remains to Westminster Abbey for re-burial in 1612. And ironically the Protestant Elizabeth 1st shares a far plainer tomb with her half-sister, the Catholic Queen Mary who had reigned before her [and is often known as 'Bloody Mary']. More, well hypocrisy? So history is not only written by the survivors - but by their children too. Mary Queen of Scots had a son - Elizabeth the first and her sister Mary did not have children......
So a day of contrasting hypocrisies, and what may seem odd on such a full march but lots of time for thought whilst also space to make new buddies and have some good discussions [of course!] Sitting in the wavering sun listening to really good speeches is always a pleasure! Possibly a different march from many others I have been on because there were so many different organisations represented there but very effective. And maybe I will be leaving my rucksack packed for next time because we ain't giving in!