“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players, they have their exits and entrances.” Jacques was reciting his monologue while the milling crowd in the £5 standees’ enclosure and the swanky gentry in the £25 balcony were all ears amidst the pin drop silence of the autumn evening. The loud music had come to a stop as the wisdom of ages was being retold. We were watching “As You Like It” at the Globe Theatre on the Thames.
Winter was yet to set in, but the theatre was chilly, built in Elizabethan style open to the skies as in the days of Shakespeare. My cell phone started ringing and the message from back home in Thiruvanathapuram too was equally chilling, Shri.K.J.Mathew IAS ex-Chief Secretary of the State, whom I had visited in the hospital just before my departure had passed away – a cruel irony. He being a great lover of English literature, I was eager to narrate my experience at the Globe and the beauty of English countryside to him once I got back, but unfortunately he had already played his part and exited – a grim reminder that Shakespeare remains relevant for all ages and stages.
My hosts and I had checked in at the Jurys Inn near Heathrow Airport in the morning, left the car in the Hotel’s parking lot and took the London Tube for a quick tour of the city. We walked along Westminster, Tower Bridge, London Eye and then had a two hour detour to the Tower of London, a unique take on British History for the uninitiated. The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history from the time of William the Conqueror. It has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a prison, a place for royal executions, and now remains the home of the crown jewels of the United Kingdom.
Billy Callaghan the yeoman warder, a member of the regiment of Beefeaters, the ceremonial guards of the Tower, who doubles up a guide, enthralled the tourists by mixing history with humour. To the ladies in the group he introduced himself as a bachelor on the rolls of royal treasury living in a castle adding that he is on Facebook. Nobody was safe from the former sergeant major Callaghan’s wit. The elderly, the Royal Marines, the Royal Air Force and Braveheart star Mel Gibson were all targeted. “Mel Gibson should have been brought through these gates and given a really hefty slap over the colossally inaccurate comedy film Braveheart,” announced Mr Callaghan.
Referring to the tall hat of the Beefeaters he compared it to the codpiece worn by Elizabethan men, a joke bordering on the obscene. Talking about how Beefeaters are recruited from the armed forces, Callaghan explained: “We do have four from the Royal Air Force, no one talks to them, and we also have two Royal Marines and these are instantly identifiable because they are usually holding hands.” France was also lampooned: “History is nearly always written by the people who win. This explains all the empty pages in the French history book. Fortunately the Indians escaped his barbs.
It was late afternoon that we finished the Tower journey and off we went for a river cruise down the Thames, a splendid occasion to get a vantage view of the landmark buildings on both the banks. Soon after alighting from the boat we rushed to the Globe for the evening show which was about to start. Dr. Mathew, my host, ran back to get us some pizza for dinner which we ate while sitting on the bench by the Thames. Surprisingly most people who had come for the drama were also having their early dinner in the open.
The play was over by about 11 pm and we had to walk to Monument, the nearest tube station, at a distance of about 15minutes. Chilly breeze was blowing and we were dead tired. Added to that one of us was limping with a severe shoe bite. Changing over from the District Line to Piccadilly Line at South Kensington we reached Heathrow past midnight.
The morning drive to Liverpool was leisurely and on the way we had a sumptuous British Breakfast at one of those “Welcome breaks” by mid morning. The erstwhile port city of Liverpool has rich architectural heritage that several areas of the city centre were granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2004. There are a number of religious places in the city including a Hindu temple, a Chinese pagoda, number of synagogues and two great Cathedrals, one Catholic and another Anglican.
One of the great ways to see Liverpool is to take the hop-in hop-off City Sight seeing tour bus. We took the upper deck for a closer view of the city’s amazing architecture. Getting down for a stroll at the Albert Dock where once ships laden with goods from Calcutta were waiting in queue to be berthed and historic ocean liners like the Titanic were registered, brought back colonial images. Home of the Beatles and the Liverpool Football Club, I felt the city is must-see for all visitors to England.
The next day was set apart for Chatsworth House a stately home in North Derbyshire. It is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has been home to the Cavendish family, to which it belonged since 1549. The home is located amidst 35,000 acres of prime English countryside. The grounds around the house are open to the public free of charge except for a small parking fee. Chatsworth attracts about 300000 visitors per year. There are animal farms where young visitors can cuddle very tame horses, ponies, cows and pigs. There is also a scheduled display of milking cows, a great attraction for children. The Duke and the Duchess stay in the premises and occasionally join the crowds and interact with visitors. The restaurant right inside the courtyard offers excellent food at eye wateringly unaffordable prices. In spite of this and the hefty entrance price to the house, the place is much loved by its visitors, a lot many of whom are regulars. Many end up being volunteers at the site, playing their part in the upkeep of their national heritage. British way of selling their culture and history is indeed an art in itself and we have to go before we get anywhere near them in this respect.