Happy Thanksgiving to all London Walkers! And on this American Day of Days, who better than David – Wisconsonite and ferociously proud denizen of London, both – to take the helm of the LW Blog? Here he is with a special linguistic and etymological fireworks display for Thanksgiving:
Famously, London Walks guides – brighter, bolder and better read – bedazzle.
Connections – making them and having them – are a classic case in point.
So just for fun – especially if you’re an American – here’s some Anglo-American, London Walks-London-American razzmatazz connections.
And, yes, why not invoke six degrees of separation? Since in this case the ‘at most six steps’ – separating you Yanks and Mary (yes that Mary, the London Walks ‘Boss’) – aren’t back-to-back paces, they’re a pas de deux. (But what’d you expect? She was a ballet dancer, after all.)
And I’m not talking about the fact that she shares the same name – Mary Chilton – with the first European woman to step ashore at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Yes, that Mary Chilton was a pilgrim on the Mayflower. She was 13-years-old. Like our Mary she was from Kent. She was so excited she jumped off the little row boat and waded ashore and bob’s your uncle.
And I’m not talking about the fact that our Mary has a famous father – 'the one true genius the BBC ever produced' – who, along with Winston Churchill, was the world’s biggest Americanophile. He wrote and produced famous BBC programme after famous BBC programme that looked very affectionately, bedazzlingly at America and its history.
And I’m not talking about the fact that our Mary is married to a Yank (Me! From the Land of the Gathering Waters) and she’s the mother of three American kids (okay, they’re also English – as they said when they were winks, “my mummie’s English and my daddy’s American and I’m haf and hawf”).
What I am talking about is 457 AD. Talking about London – or Londinium as it would have been called then – taking in the British survivors of a battle fought in Kent (yes, Kent again) against the fierce warriors of the Saxon chieftain Hengist. Recorded history doesn’t come much starker. Because that’s it – after that scrap of 457 AD information – London disappears from the historical record for a century and a half. The Mary Celeste of cities.
Okay, now what I need you to do, American cousins, is take out a dollar bill. Or your passport for that matter. That pyramid-eye thingie on the back of your buck is the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. It’s also on your passport.
And here’s the wonderful connection. Hengist – his name means 'stallion' – is traditionally taken to be the founder of Kent, Mary’s county. More to the point here, a certain Thomas Jefferson – remember him? – sat on a committee (along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) that decided on the design of the Great Seal. Jefferson didn’t get his way. What he wanted on the reverse side was Hengist (and his brother Horsa, whose name means, yes, you got it in one, “horse”). Jefferson wanted them because they were the legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain (another Mary Chilton connection anyone?). And because – and this is the big one – Jefferson believed the English possess a natural sense of liberty which came, via the Angles and Saxons, from the forests of northern Germany. And was personified by Hengist (and Horsa).
So if Jefferson had had his way – well, how, er, merry, would that have been? You’d all be carrying around in your wallets a spellbinding, indeed indissoluble American-London-London Walks-Mary connection. But the mind’s eye – forget that pyramid eye – will do just as well.
And on that note… (Though one could go on and on, couldn’t one? The English love of horses. London being the horsiest town on the planet. The London Walk that takes in the ancient blessing of the horses ceremony. The tantalising question – how good is Mary’s horsemanship? Etc.)
And off he goes, saddled on his trusty steed (in this case a motorbike), a modern-day Paul Revere spreading The Message. And the message is? Well, you’ll have to meet him at Westminster this afternoon. That’s right: David’s working up an appetite for his Thanksgiving turkey by leading his Westminster Walk at 2.00p.m today!
Happy Thanksgiving London Walkers all!
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.