We’ve been gradually moving homewards — both geographically, in terms of time zones, and culturally. So, now, we’re in England, where they speak English (after a fashion) and where the signs and the books are all in English. Weird. I’ve had to resist the temptation several times today to speak to car rental people and hotel clerks in either Arabic or German. It seems quite homelike here, except, of course, for their extraordinarily bizarre habit of driving on the wrong side of the road, which — I can personally testify — nearly cost several of them their lives today, and would have done had I not brilliantly saved them by, at the last minute, adapting my own perfectly reasonable driving practices to match their unaccountably weird ones.
John of Gaunt, speaking in Shakespeare’s Richard II, praises the place where I now type as
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress, built by nature for herself,
Against infection, and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed, and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
(For Christian service and true chivalry)
As is the sepulcher, in stubborn Jewry.
Thus, he links it with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where we stood just a couple of weeks ago, and binds together the two extremes of our recent travels.
I couldn’t help but think, too, as we flew into London from Munich, how, just a few decades ago, within the memory of quite a few people still living, that route would have been a very nice German bombing run, or, a year or two later, a good return from an Allied raid. As I’ve been saying a lot lately, things pass away. But I should add that some things should pass away, and that that’s one of them.
Coming up this way from London via the M1 expressway, we hit a terrible traffic jam. I still don’t know what caused it. (We hit a similar one between Bernau am Chiemsee and Munich in the morning that, we began to fear, might cost us our flight; it’s been a day for traffic.) Anyway, we were finally altogether diverted off of the expressway for an enormous detour running through Dunstable and all the way to Milton Keynes. In Dunstable, I was amused, as we drove by a cemetery on our left, to see a traffic sign bearing an arrow pointing leftwards and announcing “Long Stay Parking.” Indeed.
Now, we rest on the southern outskirts of Leicester. Centuries ago, the Battle of Bosworth Field was fought not far from here, where Richard III, as Shakespeare depicts him, cried out — unseated and, as it proved, in vain — “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Historically, it was here that his body was brought after the soon-to-be-crowned Henry VII killed him; the townspeople threw it into the river. Which reminds me of what still remains in my mind one of the great dramatic performances that I’ve ever seen: Gary Armagnac as Richard III at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City.
Leicester, England, United Kingdom.