We have just spent a fabulous four days in London being tourists, house sitting for friends. A real highlight was visiting the Tower of London, So much to see, beautifully carved prisoner graffiti in the towers, the enigmatic murder of 2 young princes to investigate & the highly entertaining yeoman warders to listen to. Forget the Horrible Histories, these guys were the cat's pyjamas. They really brought the history of the Tower alive. Even the loos were an experience, being in a thick round tower, the most fortified loos I've been in.
And then of course there were the crown jewels, on display since the 17th century, & only one attempt to steal them. (It failed), they are now behind 2000 kg doors. I must confess to feeling a bit emotional (admittedly quite normal these days it seems) seeing the solemn regality of the coronation splashed cinema-screen-sized on the stone wall of a dimly lit room, & soaking up all that rich history, tradition & heritage represented in the Tower of London.
I also felt quite proud (yes, really), to be British as we filed through all the rooms leading to the crown jewels, thronged, as we were, by hordes of foreign tourists. This was my history.
I had to suppress the urge to explain things knowledgeably to my children in a loud (& clearly English) cut glass accent, as if this was all very old hat & familiar, despite the fact that we were there gawping too.
Of course most of the children's 'clear as a bell' comments put paid to any delusions of superiority & imperialist sentiments I might have entertained:
My son said “Mum those diamonds make the ones on your ring look like a little mouse's ring.”
My daughter then commented, “Oh I wish I had a crown like that. In fact I want to be a queen & wear crowns like the Queen wears.”
I think she believes the Queen wakes up, pops her crown on to eat her breakfast & then wears it to walk to corgis & watch t.v.
Actually some of the displays were more guilty of appropriating this casual, familiar air than I was.
As we filed past the Maces described as “versions of a fearsome medieval weapon”, there were 9 on display & one mysteriously missing, with the simple label underneath which said
In what way exactly, one is tempted to wonder.......?
Then we filed past all the swords; the swords of spiritual justice, the swords of temproal jusitce, all in order, but “the Sword of State” ??
Not “On Loan to ------ Museum”, just “In Use.”
Such casual little notices to explain the absence of a 'version of a fearsome medieval weapon” & an enormous “Sword of State” make for a moment's stimulating mental rumination.
So finally after all this ancient tradition housed within ancient walls, we had the rather bizarre & James Bond moment of arriving in the 'Jewel Room' where there was a moving walkaway around the crown jewel cases; & we were catapulted rudely into a 21st century 'viewing experience', gliding past the crowns. I had to go back & jump on it again 3 times to get a proper look at the jewels & take it all in.
I hadn't realised the Queen had so many crowns. The Imperial State crown had the 2nd largest Cullinan diamond in it, (the 2nd Star of Africa), Queen Mary's crown has 2 of the smaller Cullinan diamonds in it, amongst 2200 other diamonds. And the 1st Star of Africa (the largest Cullinan diamond, & the largest diamond in the world), was added to the sovereign's “Sceptre with Cross”.
Uncut it was 3025.75 carats. It's still pretty massive, the size of a (very) large goose egg. The children were particularly keen to see the Stars of Africa because their dad's cousin married one of the Cullinan family in South Africa.
So my son said “Wow, I'm related to the Cullinan diamonds!” though in the Gemstone Genealogy being only related by marriage, my 2 children would only be semi precious gems.........