The Incensed Professor at Sea 9: The Great and the Good
“The Great and the Good” seem less in evidence these days than heretofore. They turn out for Royal Weddings and aristocratic funerals. They put in appearances at the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, which is merely entry level for anyone with clout – inside the Royal Enclosure there are still other levels of Greatness and Goodness. (I believe the Royal Enclosure has the strictest dress code of any Court event, which adumbrates the importance the House of Windsor assigns to horses and horse racing).
It may be these grandees are less obvious in a London grown more crowded and more diverse, though I doubt the great and the good worry about this. I actually do worry, for this diversity seems far less likely to be a melting pot than it is back in the States. However, this diversity did allow me to have a real Turkish barber, which is a London tradition, along with Turkish Baths, as wearers of Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet already know.
The great and the good, or the nearly great and nearly good, still exist, as I got to see for myself when I was invited to the Election of Sheriffs Lunch. This Election is one of the rights of the Livery Companies, who used to run the various guilds or trades in the City (the City of London is an anciently autonomous district of about a square mile in central greater London). These companies kept Shakespeare’s Globe and most of the other theatres outside the City of London itself; I suppose the masters of the various guilds were not keen on their apprentices skiving off to see a play.
The lunch was in the Tallow Chandler’s Hall, which dates to just after the 17th c. Great Fire. (Tallow Chandlers made tallow candles, while the Wax Chandlers made more expensive candles from beeswax. There is even a very modern “Worshipful Company of Lightmongers,” who deal with electric lighting, though like all Livery Companies, it does more charitable work than anything else.) The Tallow Chandler’s Hall is a lovely building, and the Tallow Chandlers are lucky as many Halls are no longer extant, due to being sold or to the Blitz. The Hall has perhaps the oldest extant Courtroom of any, with a splendidly decorated white plaster ceiling. We ate lunched in a splendid room with wood paneling and a glorious dark green and light green ceiling with touches of gold. There were three courses, including Chicken “Saltimbocca” and copious Taittinger Champagne, Sancerre, and Malbec. (I note the Champagne marque because I understand the Palace now ordinarily serves Champagne from Tesco. My father once gave me an enamel box that read “Never Economise on Luxuries,” so I found this Royal economy almost as great a shock as when I learned the Great Seal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, when pendant from a vellum document, is not wax but mold-injected plastic.)
I sat across from a former Master of the Tallow Chandlers; I enjoyed both the conversation and the comestibles. This gentleman sported a hook for the knot of his tie with a clip to attach the corner of his napkin. Unlike the former Master, I can be a moderately messy eater, so I will have to see about getting one for myself – especially to preserve some rather orchidaceous ties from Leonard of Paris I like to sport.
I could very easily learn to live like this, though my hostess, a Scrivener, told me that I was very lucky I came to England when I did, so she could invite me. Alas! These lunches are not as common as I would have hoped!
The next day my hostess and I went to Windsor Castle with the Scriveners for a special talk about the restoration of the Castle after the dreadful 1992 fire. Our guide showed us the extent of the damage and how it was repaired, even adding a vestibule with a “lantern” or light at the top of a dome where a private chapel had been. It was here where lights set curtains ablaze. The result was dreadful, though much was saved. They even put the malachite back on a huge urn given by the Tsar. Its malachite veneer popped off in pieces in the heat and had to be put back like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
St. George’s Hall, an immensely long room where State Banquets are held for visiting Heads of State, had a low roof put in by George IV, whom our guide understandably called “the King of Bling,” given some aspects of his taste. The roof had the shields of Garter Knights, and when they replaced it, they decided to keep the Garter shields but make the roof into a hammerbeam one, only with laminated oak, not whole trees. Part of this was to save time, to have the Castle restored by the time of the Queen and Prince Philip’s Golden Wedding Anniversary. The cost of the restoration came to almost 37 million pounds, which was less than originally expected, and it led to Her Majesty paying taxes (which makes no real sense for a number of reasons haven’t time to explain) and opening Buckingham Palace to the public.
After lunch at Gilbey’s Restaurant on the Eton side of the river, with “Eton Mess” for dessert, toured the Castle’s State Apartments. I also took a gander at Queen Mary’s Doll House, which would have thrilled a cousin of mine as she collected such miniatures. There is great wine in the bottles, though barely a taste, and books in the library sometimes have the signatures of their authors.
My day ended at a London Drinks Party for my old College. I got to see a couple of old mates and got more free booze. Good. The house where it was held was charming, but not, I think, the sort of charm a professor can afford, at least not in London.