I have wondered all my life why the British were noted for their “stiff upper lip”. It has been, since boyhood for me, a strange term. I figured it had to do with their bent for “pomp and ceremony”. Or possibly their disdain for the colonies around the world that had the audacity to rebel against them. Or maybe, it just underscores their stoic nature towards history, things not in the best interest of the realm and/or unseemly international events. The thought crossed my mind that it could have something to do with the French residing so uncomfortably close……
I decided to go over there and find out. It was, as it turned out, none of the above. We visited England in April: the beginning of spring. The leaves should be busting forth, the birds awakening, the sun drenching St. Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle and the white cliffs of Dover. Folks, there is no spring in the British Isles! It was colder than the bottom side of a gold digger’s mining pan on Christmas day in Alaska! It was so cold those famous milk cows from Jersey were delivering ice cream right on the spot.
All those upper lips “over there” are stiff because they are frozen in place!
My feet didn’t thaw out for two weeks. “Bobbies” guarding the streets thought my toboggan was surgically attached to my noggin. I ate poached eggs and pork and beans for breakfast with my gloves on! I crawled out on the exposed top of the famed double decked sightseeing bus one time. My eye balls immediately froze over and I missed six cathedrals, Piccadilly Circus, Sherlock Holmes’ place and Madame Tussauds’ Wax Museum.
I finally understood Roger Miller’s song, “Westminster Abby, the Tower of Big Ben, the rosy red cheeks of the little children……” Let me tell you, it’s a thin line between “rosy red” and “frostbite”!
The day we visited the famed Tower of London it was snowing. The Beefeater dressed guide was discussing the beheading of Anne Boleyn. I figured that was one way to escape the cold! That same guide, noting the number of Americans in the group, had some rather disdainful remarks aimed at humor about how we viewed our position in the world. I had to bite my tongue to keep from reminding him in 1940 his King George VI and wife Elizabeth were in Hyde Park, New York, bowing before our president and begging for help against the rampaging Nazis. Nobody in England was making fun of the United States soldiers crowding their streets in 1944!
The Crown Jewels are housed in the Tower of London. I couldn’t tell if they were real or not. Some of that zirconia stuff can fool the untrained eye……They had swords in there older than Denmark. There were enough ruby laced crowns and scepters to outfit Lord Wellington’s army. The Beefeater guy wouldn’t let me try on King Richard’s armor or any of the rings.
I ambled outside to see if winter had ended. I got to telling the unblinking and ramrod straight soldier with the high black hat and perfectly creased uniform guarding the building about growing up in West Tennessee. He didn’t crack a smile or even glance in my direction…..until I told him about the Halloween Leon pulled the sheet up over his head and thundered through town on the big horse yelling, “The British aren’t coming!”
I saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It took an hour and a half! And they didn’t have but two guards! And remember, it’s bitterly cold. It took two bands, eighty-five red and black clad soldiers and more high-stepping back and forth than Washington and Cornwallis both did at Yorktown to get four guys to swap places. I kept thinking the United States Marines could have accomplished the switch in eight seconds……and the queen would have been much safer. Of course, I reckon those guys are doing a good job. I haven’t heard of any force, foreign or domestic, ever storming Buckingham Palace.
We visited Westminster Abby on Thursday. You couldn’t believe the vast number of people milling about. I asked the Baptist (he was taking up the money before you went inside) ticket guy, “Ya’ll having a revival?”
It was a spectacular place. As was the near-by Parliament Building. Big Ben had the correct time. And the Thames River crept through, and around the ancient buildings much like the Weekly Reader depicted back in Mrs. Paschall’s eighth grade history class. I am not a “city guy” but London was impressive. Just the history alone makes it a special place. And, after a few “howdies”, “ya’lls” and “you’ins always in such a hurry”, the upper lips softened a bit.
They liked the stories about Leon and growing up in a small town “back home”. When you got through the façade of who we were all supposed to be and just sat down and talked a few minutes, they were most friendly, kind and “jolly good”! And when I found out that the tradition of pork and beans for breakfast stemmed from the shortage of meat during World War II, I figured they had paid a price to be here, too.
I’ve just thawed out enough to type this little blurb. I’m still practicing raising my upper lip, and holding it. And the Tower of London guard is coming to America to meet Leon in August……I can’t wait to see how long it takes him to melt.