It is a wonderful time to be in London. The weather has been spot on, rainy and cool! Oh, and with "periods of brightness," as the weathercasters say on the telly.
The same can be said for the English economy, which is stuck in a double dip recession and is heavily dependent on Europe sorting out the Euro crisis. Thank goodness for the European Football Championship, Euro 2012, which has provided a wonderful diversion from the mundane day-to-day gloom. England is off to a good start too, having tied France 1-1 and beaten the always-difficult Sweden team 3-2.
This visit found our family at Kensington Palace, a home to the royal family for decades. The palace staff is excited because Kate and William, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, will be moving in soon. The palace houses a large exhibition in honor of William's mother Princess Diana, who lived at the palace. This and other parts of the structure are open to the public. The Kensington Palace museum is a hidden treasure that goes unnoticed by many tourists.
Walking through the various palace rooms, one is struck by the opulence and splendor. After centuries there remains a ghostly presence of elegantly dressed guests roaming through the marble staircases and gilded halls flowing toward the drawing room. The women were probably each wearing large hooped skirts; a petticoat that stood rounded like a bell, a tight-laced bodice, and carried a fan. There was a fan language. If she touched her right cheek with the closed fan, she was saying yes. If she touched the left cheek, it was no.
The men glided through the halls wearing fully skirted coats with large cuffs. Each wore a back satin tie to his wig, which wound around his neck and tied in a bow brooched with a solitaire. He would be attuned to the fan signals of the ladies.
Guests may have passed through the King's Gallery as they worked their way toward the drawing room on the second floor overlooking the Kensington Gardens. There the King and Queen greeted members of the royal court, dignitaries, members of the government and important visitors. No one would leave the crowded room, perhaps as many as 300 persons at a time, until the royals departed. This made entering difficult for latecomers or the timid.
On our visit, a palace guide reported that there were no bathroom breaks. Of course, there were no bathrooms in the palace. But the rule was no one could leave the room while the royals were present. So if one of the finely dressed women had to relieve herself, a staff member would hand her a small pot that she would discreetly put between her legs under her skirt. And while continuing on with her conversation, she would fill the pot and hand it back to the staff member who disposed of it.
Conversely, when the men had an urge they would walk to the corner of the room and step behind a sheet where they would relieve their urge on the floor. Our guide happily pointed out that this was also how the matter was handled at the Versailles Palace outside Paris. He added that a counterpart at Versailles told him that an odor of urine was still present on a hot summer day. Not so at Kensington Palace, as the wood floors had been replaced.
Our guide regaled us with the story of Sir Robert Walpole, considered England's first prime minister. King George I, the first Hanoverian sovereign, could speak no English and Walpole did not speak German. They compromised on Latin, which both could speak. The guide said that Walpole observed the important matters of the kingdom were carried out in "very bad Latin." Walpole almost lost his job when George II became king but he survived.
According to reports, Walpole made some very harsh comments in the drawing room about Queen Caroline, calling her a "fat bitch." It appears Walpole denied making the remark. But Queen Caroline had heard about the comment, though confrontation was not the preferred tactic of the royal court. As word reached Walpole that the queen had heard his comment, he quickly arranged to increase the queen's expense allowance. Queen Caroline sent Walpole word that "the fat bitch had forgiven him."
So in between the Queen's Jubilee and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England offers many delightful and interesting options for visitors. And remember, the Kensington Palace is a hidden treasure, indeed!
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