Category Archives: Thinking allowed

Crowns, coronets, coronations and cock-ups

It was, I think Cecil Rhodes who, without a trace of irony, stated:

Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.

He might have said those words with more than a hint of arrogance but as we have seen these past few weeks we are still blessed with the continuity that a Constitutional Monarchy gives and pride we can have by being British.

With such a long pedigree as a nation, it is not surprising that we have many traditions surrounding our Monarchs and some remarkably remain with us to this day while alas many barmy ones have been abandoned. It is those curious and quirky anachronisms which bind us together and make us proud to live in this Sceptred Isle.

Here is my Continuity Constitutional Trivia:

A Monarch’s spurs

Samuel Pepys loved to see a lady who ‘showed off her pretty, neat legs and ankles’, unfortunately for brandy-loving Queen Anne when her turn came to be crowned her ankles had grown too fat for a functionary to buckle on a new pair of spurs and so this quaint custom was abandoned.

Quiet at the back

When George III was crowned the service went on for so long – six hours – that the congregation decided they were hungry and sat down to eat, drowning out the ceremony with the clattering of their knives and forks.

Who nicked the silver?

When Charles II was to be crowned, marking the restoration of the monarchy, the ceremony had to be postponed as Cromwell had disposed of all the appropriate regalia.

Which finger

The Archbishop of Canterbury is usually a fellow well past his prime, and thus it proved when Queen Victoria was crowned. The Coronation Ring had to be made smaller for her dainty finger, the incompetent cleric then jammed on the ring on the wrong finger and as a result, it got stuck and remained on the wrong finer for the rest of the ceremony.

Somebody has to clear up the mess

In 1953 after the Queen’s coronation, cleaning in the Abbey found three ropes of pearls, twenty brooches, six bracelets, twenty golden balls from peers’ coronets, most of a diamond necklace, numerous sandwich wrappers and an undisclosed but impressive quantity of empty half-bottles of spirits. It is not recorded who kept the booty.

Regal rag on bone men

Three families share the role of the Lord Great Chamberlain a title that has been in existence since Norman times. The present holder the Marquess of Cholmondeley – Lord Carrington’s family and the Earl of Ancaster stand in the wings chomping at the bit – in return for some minor coronation ceremonial duties has the right to demand anything the sovereign wears during the ceremony (including underclothes), also his or her bed, and incredibly the throne.

On the throne

Queen Anne was unable to sit on the throne (presumably left behind by the Lord Great Chamberlain) as she was so fat and gout-ridden she had to be carried into the Abbey in her own chair. Her statue outside St. Paul’s west front doesn’t do her justice, at the time of its creation she was at least twice that size. Catholic Mary I refused to park her trim bum on the seat asserting that it had been defiled by the ‘Protestant heretic’ her brother Edward VI.

Losing it

Henry IV trying his best to appear regal was hard pressed when he lost a shoe, followed by a spur from the other foot and finally to complete the indignity the wind blew the crown clean off his head.

The trouble with the ex

At the coronation of George IV prizefighters were engaged to bar his estranged and enraged wife who proceeded to spend much of the day battering the doors of Westminster Abbey, while wailing loudly that she had been barred.

Coronation chicken

George VI’s big day was ruined when the Lord Chamberlain, whilst having an attack of nerves, couldn’t fix the Sword of State his Majesty completed the task in hand. Next, a chaplain fainted and finally completing a hat trick the Archbishop of Canterbury put the crown on back to front.

At the Midnight Hour

With all this talk of air pollution I would like you to consider another pollution, also found in London – light pollution.

When I was young the Milky Way was easily visible at night above our heads. In fact, I even managed to gain a boy scouts astronomy badge.

Today the moon is barely visible and during a lunar eclipse, the glorious red hue is almost washed out.

This video by Nicholas Buer shows how the Universe could look above London without light pollution. Here city shots were captured during the day and processed to appear to be night, then night sky shots from a dark sky location, taken at the correct latitude to London merged to give these spectacular views.

But there is a serious issue here, apart from the aesthetics. When working nights I would regularly hear blackbird song near petrol stations, they were confused as to the time of day; clearly, without sleep, their life expectancy would be impaired.

For it has been proved that artificial light is having a detrimental effect upon the natural world. Evidence shows that artificial light at night (‘ALAN’) interferes with insect development: movement, foraging and their reproductive success; and is one of the factors contributing to the 75 per cent loss of insect life over the last 30 years. Light pollution has also been shown to affect fish, birds (as with the blackbird), and mammals.

As you might expect, nocturnal creatures are badly affected, just try to recall the last time you saw a hedgehog.

Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology.

Christopher Kyba, light pollution research scientist.

Featured image: London Night Sky Tower Blocks by Stephan Guttinger (1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

London’s crap years

Depressed? Worried about our new Political Masters? Before you decamp London for pastures new, consider this if you may, as CabbieBlog gives you the 10 years you really should be anywhere else but in our capital city:

1918Everybody has heard of the Great Fire of London in which only nine people lost their lives, but this one was much worse, leaving 3,000 dead according to medieval accounts. The conflagration led to new laws requiring the use of brick and tile for rebuilding instead of wood and thatch.

1918The wise would have left long before November when the Black Death struck the Capital. With crowded streets and bad sanitation making the contagion spread even faster. By the time it had run its course half the population of England would be dead. Afterwards wages increased due to the chronic shortage of labour.

1918With revolting peasants marching on London, the teenage king Richard II seeking refuge in the Tower of London. Prisoners released, palaces ransacked and burned and the Archbishop of Canterbury beheaded, scores of lawyers were also beheaded, so the year wasn’t all that bad.

1664Call it what you like; dropsy, griping of the guts, wind, worms or the French Pox (we always like to blame the Frenchies), the Great Plague killed 100,000 that year. Manufacturing collapsed as Newcastle colliers refused to deliver fuel to London, and with servants ransacking their master’s empty mansions.


The Great fire destroyed 13,000 houses; 87 churches; 52 livery company halls; 4 prisons; 4 bridges; 3 City gates; Guildhall; the Royal Exchange and Customs House. The City was rebuilt within 6 years, so good news if you were a builder, not your day if you owned the bakery where it started.

1780It started as an anti-Catholic march on Parliament, but after a gin distillery was breached the Gordon Riots turned into an orgy of looting and burning. At the end some 850 people had died, including bankers from the Bank of England, which must have seemed a good idea at the time. Once order had been restored its 21 ringleaders were hanged.

1858It wasn’t until Parliament had to be evacuated because of the smell from sewers disgorging effluent into the Thames that an efficient sewage system was commissioned. After a long dry hot summer and a cholera epidemic caused by the insanitary conditions it was known as the Great Stink.

1918If the Great War wasn’t bad enough, returning soldiers brought back with them the flu virus. Killing more than the war, London was especially vulnerable with its densely packed population transmitting the contagion more effectively. By the time the virus had run its course 220,000 Britons had died.

1940On the night of 29th December Hitler sent hundreds of bombers to destroy London, the ensuring firestorm left 436 dead and ultimately damaging or destroying 3.5 million buildings by the time the Blitz was over. The blackout also caused the country’s highest ever traffic casualty figures.

1952In December sulphur dioxide combining with rainwater and oxygen to form deadly sulphuric acid suspended in a dense fog and lasting for seven days killed 4,000 residents, together with scores of livestock at Smithfield. The Clean Air Act stopped the problem and an excuse for children to bunk off school.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 21st May 2010

The 12 drunk passengers of Christmas

Christmas is a time for coming together. Whether it’s for a family meal, a night out with friends, or a work party, you can guarantee most revellers will be enjoying an alcoholic beverage or two over the festive season. In fact, the average Brit has their first drink at 9:05 am on Christmas Day! As well as individuals, businesses take part too in this Festival of Alcohol. It is estimated that UK companies spent an astounding £1 billion on Christmas parties last year.

With so many people under the influence, who’s driving them all home? Well, those sober people at icarinsurance celebrate the unsung heroes of Christmas – the designated drivers who have to deal with the friends, family and colleagues who’ve had one too many drinks, and the cabbies who just want you out of their vehicle.

What better way to honour them than to share some of the situations they bravely battle, with the 12 types of drunk passengers that designated drivers may be faced with this year?

The one who doesn’t want the party to stop
The one who puts the world to rights

The one who wants you to know how much you mean to them
The one with a bone to pick
The one who zonks out and leaves you lonely
The one who treats your cab like a takeaway
The one with an urgent pit stop request
The one who shows you what they had for dinner
The one who always knows the best route home
The one proudly wearing their themed onesie
The one you just want to get home in one piece
The one who reveals things you just didn’t want to know

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 16th December 2016

A modern Debrett’s for Cabbies

Bertie Wooster awoke with a start from his afternoon nap. The copy of Horse and Hound which previously had been covering his eyes gravitated down his nose to land painfully in his lap. “Yes, Jeeves, what is it?”

Jeeves removed the pain inflicting magazine from his employer’s lap and replaced it with a cutting from that morning’s copy of The Times “I’m sorry to break into your afternoon labours, but one feels that Sir’s attention should be drawn to a recent publication which might provide some assistance to Square”.

“Who the duce is this Square fellow when he’s at home?” Bertie exclaimed.

“Square, you might recall is your chauffeur of some 20 years standing”, replied Jeeves and left His Master to read the following article:

Debrett’s that manual of all things appertaining to manners have tacked the subject of drivers and have come to the conclusion that white van man and cabbies when put behind a steering wheel are, how can I put it politely, downright rude.

It is hard to believe now, but once upon a time going for a drive was seen as something of a treat and in those days motorists would wave to each other and politely nod as other cars gently overtook them.

With road rage on the increase Debrett’s, the authority on etiquette, has published a new 48-page guide to courteous in-car behaviour, entitled Thoroughly Modern Motoring Manners it aims to re-acquaint drivers with the “right and proper way to behave behind the wheel”.

Among the advice for men is to not make clichéd jokes about female drivers (I’ll remember that when a lady is in the back) and respect all women behind the wheel, while both sexes are also advised to avoid too much perfume or cologne.

Debrett’s etiquette adviser Jo Bryant said: “We felt driving is an area where people forget their manners and display aggressive behaviour they wouldn’t show in their everyday lives.”

Among its pearls of wisdom are:

The chivalrous male driver will open the door for a female passenger and close it behind her. ‘He should offer to take her coat, check her seat is adjusted and be sure the temperature’s to her liking.’

Women should not apply make-up or preen themselves in the mirror, but should keep a pair of flats for driving instead of high heels. There’s also a step-by-step guide on how women should exit a vehicle and retain their dignity in a ‘ladylike’ fashion.

Clearly laying down ground rules all too often ignored by today’s celebrities, it advises: ‘Smooth down your skirt. Keeping your knees together, swivel your body and swing your legs outwards. Place one foot down, keeping your knees together. Dip your head and shoulders forward and slide and glide out of the car.’

Debrett’s insist that a true gentleman is never a backseat driver. The guide states: ‘She’s in the driving seat. A chivalrous passenger is as well-behaved and polite in the car as he is when he’s out and about.’

Transporting dogs is another area where etiquette is crucial and Debrett’s lays down strict guidelines for ensuring one’s pets do not impinge on other passengers. The book suggests dogs should be carried on blankets, in the foot wells or in the boot of an estate car. But if a dog is kept on the back seat the book warns: ‘Forcing a non-animal lover into close proximity with a drooling dog is the height of bad manners.’

One piece of advice appertaining to cabbies has to be: In order to be ‘the perfect host’; drivers are encouraged to choose only music that meets their passengers’ approval and are advised to ‘keep conversation light and refreshing’.

The book also makes it clear that courteous drivers will refrain from singing along to their favourite tunes unless they are a ‘karaoke pro.’

And the book warns: ‘“Blowing your horn is just rude. Remember the white van man whose inner gentleman has lost his way.’

The new guide offers advice on a range of topics as diverse as ‘chivalry’; ‘fragrance fundamentals’; ‘forecourt manners’; ‘passenger etiquette’; and finally teaching drivers the ‘right and proper way to behave behind the wheel’.

It encourages a return to the days when chivalry among male drivers was commonplace and provides advice on how to avoid a litany of embarrassing faux pas.

Priced at £5.99 I’ll have to keep a copy in my glove compartment.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 7th May 2010