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Last month as I wandered about Whitehall, admiring the very tall and rather skinny House of Commons Christmas tree (nothing gaudy, just strings of classy white light), it occurred to me that while there were policemen almost everywhere, guarding the entrance to Downing Street, of course, and the front doors to other government buildings, there was absolutely no one, nor even an iron railing barricade in front of one of the major buildings. The one whose sign read: "H.M. Treasury."

Hmmmm, I thought, maybe the party really is over.

It isn't, of course. As the song says, "There'll always be an England." And for that, even the Irish might chime in, ".*.*.and so say all of us."

For the truce in Northern Ireland was holding, more or less, and the parties were talking, and there really did seem to be good faith on both sides and a genuine agreement that at some point, the madness has to stop.

On that note I paused in Parliament Square to gaze up at the statue of a plump, bent old man looking out toward Commons. No dates, no titles, no quotations or pithy sayings, no privy councilor this or lord that, only the last name:


I rather liked that. And also liked the statue of Cromwell, 1599-1658, wielding both Bible and sword, as I recalled that following his death Cromwell's head would be rammed atop a stake and carried about in triumphant derision by the king's men. The Irish, considering their suffering at Cromwell's hands, always enjoy the fate of his large head.

Speaking of Cromwell, and the Civil War, there was in the Telegraph an obituary of a diplomat named Shuckburgh with the delicious anecdote about one of his ancestors:

"In 1642, 556 years after the Domesday Book, the Royalist and Parliamentary armies were facing each other before the battle of Edgehill when they were distracted by the appearance of a Richard Shuckburgh, who was riding to hounds between the two forces. His services were duly claimed by the King, who rewarded him with a knighthood; a baronetcy followed after the Restoration."

Having then also gone on to admire Richard the Lion Heart (his statue's carving is in French, not English) and Mrs. Pankhurst (1858-1928), who was either a suffragette or invented some variety of birth control device; I am unfortunately vague on her, I nipped into a pub to rest.

At the National Gallery the major show was "The Young Michelangelo," but en route I spent considerable time pondering four large canvases by Vernet of some swell battles during Napoleon's time, with lots of gentlemen falling off horses and being decapitated and other great stuff.

The Gallery also showed St. Peter (a Dominican friar) being martyred by chaps in armor, a rather jolly show of anti-clericalism. Schoolchildren in uniform were being led past, so quickly I thought, they were probably missing the best stuff, such as St. Peter the Friar's unfortunate end.

Over lunch I carefully perused the Fleet Street papers. A.N. Wilson in the Standard was calling the U.N. "useless" and I quite agreed with him. Most of the London dailies had staffers in Los Angeles for the O.J. trial. There was a scandal at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School where Rev. Hopley had just been sacked and a new head, Mr. George Hill, installed, despite his "reputation for spanking [boys] with a cane and gym shoe."

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