Londoners take their sidewalks seriously. They barrel down the pavement at a clip that must qualify hordes of them as speed walkers. The tube (subway) is especially interesting for the pace of foot travel. Standing on the escalator, we are careful to stay right, as people shoot past on our left, taking the moving stairs two at a time. I see a man hop on our tube car only to be slammed on both shoulders by the closing doors. He wriggles his way in, but his rolling briefcase is stuck outside. Everyone remains silent except me – I exclaim, Whoooaa!” as I hit the open door button. Still complete, unnerving silence from everyone else. The man yanks in his case, takes his place and cracks open a newspaper as if nothing has happened. Without uttering a sound. I have never felt so loud in my life.
We emerge unscathed from the tube in the heart of London and navigate huge crowds to reach Westminster Abbey. After paying our 16 pounds ($24) each for entrance, we step into a cool, cavernous cathedral. It’s amazing to be walking up the same aisle that Prince William and Katherine walked when they married. Even more amazing to learn that this church was founded in the 10th century and that 3,500 notables are buried within its walls. Many more are memorialized with plaques, statuary, crests and more. The priest says that no matter where we stand, we are probably standing above someone’s remains. The listening tour group shift their feet and look down. The priest seems to enjoy the reaction – probably comes from working in a giant tomb.
My better half heads off on his preferred section of the self-guided tour as I walk over to Poets’ Corner. Beginning with Chaucer, writers of note through the ages have been buried or memorialized in this area. Dylan Thomas, one of my favorites, has a memorial plaque that reads, “Time held me green and dying though I sang in my chains like the sea.” I wonder if he chose this as his parting phrase. Charles Dickens’ remains are here, along with the ashes of Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy. Handel’s gravestone reads “I know my Redeemer liveth,” from his famous work, the Messiah. (Later that day we see an early composition draft of this work in the British Library.) It is sometimes difficult to keep one’s footing on the ancient floor so I slow my pace and then notice some beautifully touching eulogies written about wives and mothers in medieval times.
Prayers are said every hour in the abbey and for this reading we hear a lovely English accent asking for blessings of peace. I am moved by the spirit of the place and the thought of countless prayers said through the centuries. We exit into the throngs of tourists and late summer heat of this complex and deeply interesting city.