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Our roving correspondent, Ms. G. J. DePillis, went on a trip to London, England recently and sent this report with some of her impressions of the Great Empire and, of course, some observations and interesting tidbits about the British Royal Family – surely one of the most closely watched Royal Families on planet earth today.

On my recent visit to London, I decided to take a guided tour of the City. This way, one can catch a myriad of city highlights including some places one might ordinarily miss, simply because one doesn’t know where to go.

My tour started at a canal in a part of London called “Little Venice.” When I was first dropped off, what immediately impressed me were the festive longboats that were “parked” there.

I quickly learned that every year, these boats come to London’s Little Venice from all over the country to compete in various categories.  Apparently it is a tradition to have paintings of flowers on the boats — to substitute for the genuine garden that the occupants could never have.  Indeed, a number of the boats we saw were bedecked with flags and flower boxes and such.

In this day and age, those who choose to live on a long boat can pay slip fees (called “mooring fees”) to get electricity for their 70 foot long by 7 foot wide boats.

The canal was originally built to serve as an alternate trade route to the river Thames, to move heavy goods that would only need to go a short distance – coal, cement and bricks, for example.  The canal project took eight years to build (1812 to 1820) and cost about 600,000 British pounds at that time.  During construction, there was a toll fee levied for each tunnel and bridge that a longboat had to pass through.  As a result of the collection of these toll fees, the project was entirely debt free by the time of completion. Between 1820 and the 1840’s, about half a ton of goods were moved through this canal every year – since the toll fees were continuing to be levied, this was pure profit.  By the 1880’s, they averaged one million tons a year.

The narrow long boats were all built to the same dimensions, so that tunnels and small bridges could accommodate two passing boats without wasting building material.  Sometimes, a family might have a horse, which would walk along the bank near the canal and tug the boat along. When the boat approached a tunnel, usually the youngest of the family would disembark and walk the horse on the bank, while the rest of the family would lay on top of the boat on their backs and “walk” the boat through the tunnel by placing their feet along the sides and ceiling of the tunnel and pushing the boat along until they came out on the other side.  Some tunnels were 600 feet long, so you can imagine the time and energy it would take to pass through those.

One tunnel, called Maida Hill, was named after a nearby pub opened by a soldier who returned victoriously from a battle on that hill in 1806. When he decided to open up a pub, he named it “The Battle of Maida”.

Why will the Olympics take place in London in 2012?

England came in with the lowest bid of 9.3 billion pounds. By contrast, Beijing, China’s bid in 2008 was about 38 billion pounds, which is about $45 billion US dollars.  Not only did London present the lowest bid, but their Olympic Committee promised to make things green and re-useable.  For example, after the Games, the architecture used to create some the buildings will allow for those buildings to be taken down, and the building materials to be re-used in other building projects.  England was happy to have its bid accepted and decided to locate the Olympic Village in the absolute poorest Borough in all of England: Newham, located on the east side of London.

The segregation of the poor to the East side of the city and the wealthy to the West first started in the 1600’s and developed quite organically over time.  East was down-wind, so smelly factories (that made glue, for example) would be built there. The West had fresher, sweeter air, so that is where the wealthy factory owners would build their homes.  Factory employees lived near their places of work, which were mostly in the East.  By the 1800’s, London had over three million inhabitants, about a third of which were wealthy and lived on the West side. The rest were crammed into confined spaces in the East, over time creating slums where people like Jack the Ripper could murder five people without much consequence.

The Olympics start in about 80 days, so most of the buildings are currently open and officials are already holding smaller, “state-wide” type events to practice crowd control and iron out all the kinks before the estimated 250,000 visitors a day will stream into the Olympic facilities.

The British Royal Family

The British Royal Family is arguably the most visible and watched Royal household on planet earth today.  For many butlers, they hold a special place in our hearts, because they are one of the few households that still operate on the traditional domestic structure that is part of a butler’s heritage. So while I was in England, I took the opportunity to learn more about them.

Every year in early May, HMQ (Her Majesty the Queen) opens Parliament wearing her crown.  To get to Parliament, the Queen takes two coaches (one is the Austrian state coach, the other the Irish state coach). One coach leaves for Parliament and the other leaves for Buckingham Palace at the same time – the end result being that nobody knows which coach she is in and which her decoy is in.  Once Parliament is in session, the Queen travels from Windsor once a week to meet with the Prime Minister.

On the way to Windsor Castle, one may pass fields thick with brilliant yellow flowers. I did during my tour, and learned this is rapeseed, which is used to make golden-yellow vegetable-oil-based margarine.

The horses used at Windsor are usually black.  This allows the guard uniforms, which consist of red coats and black pants, to be set off nicely.  Here is a photo of the men on their horses, on their way to the Castle, and one of the guards in his red dress uniform.

Usually, a settlement is started and then eventually a castle is built. Windsor was developed the other way around.  Building of Windsor Castle was started in 1066. The Battle of Hastings gave King William the right to the British Crown. William only spoke French, but wanted to dominate the area and prevent uprisings. So, he settled near the Roman wall (which is where the tiny village of London was then located — it is where the Tower of London is located today).  To demonstrate how great his power was, he imported all the building materials for the castle and built a grand structure.  And it worked – no uprising!

In 1908, London hosted the Olympics (as they did in 1948 and will again in 2012). That year, they included the marathon event for the first time.  Organizers had to extend the length of the course because the King insisted that the race start at Windsor Castle and end at White Wall city (about 26 miles away). As the story goes, this is why today, that is the standard marathon distance.

This year, London will introduce a new event into the competitive areas: Female boxing (with three weight categories, compared to the ten weight categories provided for the men).

All photographs copyright © 2012, G. J. DePillis