I had the privilege of visiting London for a few days around New Year’s with my family. Here are some random thoughts and experiences I picked up which some may hopefully find interesting.
In my opinion continental Europe (Italy, France and Holland especially) is home to the largest quantity of the greatest quality art in the world. But to my mind, the UK has the most well-preserved political and institutional history.
Places like the Victoria and Albert Museum showcases centuries of history, and Westminster Abbey, Westminster Hall and Churchill’s war offices have played witness to some of the most defining events in history. Westminster Abbey is a collage of a bloody but colourful history. The church is filled with the tombs of Kings going back almost a thousand years, each king and period with a thousand stories to tell.
It is a pity, however, that so many historical buildings have been destroyed by fire, including the Palace of Westminster (burned down and rebuilt, Westminster Hall unharmed), Palace of Whitehall and Crystal Palace. Not to mention the entire City of London was destroyed by the great fire of 1666. Maybe this is why they have been so concerned with health and safety, of late.
It’s always difficult to understand what a person is really like when their entire persona and image is a perception shaped by the media.
Despite probably being the most well-known and recognised person on Earth for the past 60 years, we know very little about her personally. How does she like her steak cooked? What is her favourite colour? Does she prefer the window or the aisle seat? How did she really feel about Diana? Who was her favourite US president? Big Mac or Whopper? Who does she vote for in general elections? (Jeremy Corbyn, I’m sure).
In this case, it is fair to judge her by her public image, because people’s perception of her is the criteria by which history will judge her. We can’t judge the merits of any of her policies, because she doesn’t make or carry out any policy. What we do know is that her public conduct is flawless and exemplary.
Her Majesty has about 300 official engagements per year. These include charity work, ribbon cutting, meeting heads of state, and state dinners. And she’s kept up this schedule for the past 60 years. It’s not a job she chose. She was born into it, and she couldn’t say ‘no thanks’, for if she did it would hurt the monarchy and national spirit greatly. She is, in effect, a slave.
Although she probably doesn’t go cold or hungry too often, her reward for this unchosen life of sacrifice is her carrying the weight of the nation’s spirit, and undergoing never-ending public scrutiny. This means that for more than 60 years, she’s never put a foot wrong. She’s never let her tongue go. She has never had a breakdown. She’s never let the side down.
I doubt many other people living today and throughout history could have consistently maintained such a high level of behaviour for 60 years. She is sensible and duty driven to a fault, and she has seen it all. She has dealt with more presidents and prime ministers than anyone else in history. She’s lived through more political ups and downs than anyone I can think of.
Prince Charles will be the next King
I spoke to a royal expert at Kensington Palace and asked him a question he’s must have heard a thousand times: Will they leapfrog Prince Charles, and make his very popular son, Prince William, king? He was emphatic that this won’t happen, unless, of course, he (Prince Charles) falls ill or abdicates for some very unexpected reason. Prince Charles will be known as King George VII (his full name is Charles Arthur Philip George), since the name Charles has a bad connotation (Charles I was beheaded, and Charles II probably had more than a dozen illegitimate children).
London is home to possibly the greatest concentration of wealth in the world (apart from the anomaly of Monaco). A spacious house in Knightsbridge or Mayfair can run into the multi-million pound range. Since I’m quite a petrol-head, I got excited seeing Bentleys and Aston Martins on the first day, but I must have seen more than a hundred on my 8 day trip. They are commonplace.
Visit to the Bank of England Museum
At the Bank of England I had the chance to wrap my hands around a 400 ounce (13kg) bar of *real* money (worth about £350 000). The Bank insists that gold plays no role in policy, yet they hold 400 000 of these bars (worth around £150 billion) in their vaults (most of it isn’t theirs, though, Gordon Brown sold most of the UK’s gold at the bargain basement price of $300/ounce in the early 2000s).
What I found very interesting was the posters up everywhere espousing their interventionist dogma. The 9 super-PhDs on the board are supposedly clever enough to play around with interest rates, QE, forward guidance, and they believe they can get to and maintain the holy grail of 2% inflation, as if you can linearly dial inflation up and down as if you were setting the thermostat on an air conditioner. Yet, there were these simulations you could play around with, where you could play around with interest rates and QE to try get to the desired inflation, but almost constantly the simulation would just snap into uncontrollable inflation or deflation.
It’s just ironic that you have smartest (misguided IYIs?) people in the world who believe what their out dated equilibrium models tell them, and that they can achieve their goals with various monetary tools, yet in their own museum they demonstrate that the economy is a complex system and therefore ultimately uncontrollable.
Would I be able to live there?
If I were fortunate to come across some life-defining opportunity to live in London for a year or two, I would strongly consider it, but I realised that I would not be able to live there permanently. It is too cold, and the cultural gap is just a little bit too big for me too be able to adapt.
PS: Robbie Williams has still got it.
My pic, taken live at Westminster Central Hall on new year’s eve.
Featured image: Getty Images