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A Tale of Two Englands
The Queen's coffin, gallopping horses, and a look at London, past and present...
(Source: Getty Images)
Bill Bonner, reckoning today from Blenheim, England...
De horses run ‘round, den dey come back.
Doo dah, doo dah.
~ Stephen Foster
England is closed today. The streets are quiet. Few people move about. No shops are open here in Blenheim. Instead, each has a photo of Elizabeth II in the window, with a reminder of today’s funeral.
We came to England to support one of America’s two entries at the Blenheim Horse Trials. But, on Friday, your editor first stopped in to check on his business in London.
Our CEOs all report the same thing – business is off. And our financial analysts all see similar declines in asset values… with central banks forced to raise rates… and economies weakening.
But London was distracted. It wasn’t money troubles that weighed on the minds of our English colleagues. For the first time in their lives, they have a new monarch.
“It’s amazing,” said one. “The lines waiting to view the queen’s coffin stretched for 5 miles. People waited in line for 12 hours – including some very old people… and retired military men with the medals on display. They’ve set up a special line for old people, apparently. And now, they say people are coming into the city just to see the lines.
”It’s really quite remarkable. We all loved the queen, of course. But the depth of feeling is startling. I mean, she was famous and admired for keeping a stiff upper lip. But now, the English people are all crying and shivering with emotion.”
The Financial Times later reported that the line had stretched even further, and that people waited 24 hours to pay their respects.
“We are all supposed to be modern, rational people,” continued our friend. “Almost none of us ever met the queen. And she had no real impact on our government, or our lives for that matter. But she was always there. And now that she is gone, we see that we had some profound connection with her. It is inexplicable in today’s cynical political culture… even less in the superficial culture of the Facebook era. But there it is.”
Diversity of Everything (but opinion)
We saw no lines in London. Our taxi avoided them. What we saw was a changed city.
Though we’ve been there many times since… and lived in London off and on… we could help but compare the city to the one we visited for the first time in 1969.
London was drab, dreary – and white – back then. There were few immigrants. And none in major public roles.
Today, that has changed. London must be the most prosperous and dynamic city in the world… with huge new buildings, architectural marvels of curving glass, leaning glass, or pointy glass. And on every street corner are what the English used to call ‘wogs.’
Of every hue and color… women in hijabs… brown men with beards… black men… tan men... Sudanese, Nigerian, South African… Zulu… Xhosa… Bihari… Bengali… Ceylonese… Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians…
….one of the unintended consequences of America’s ‘War on Terror’ was that it created 37 million refugees. Many of them seem to be here. Bus drivers, street sweepers, police, shopkeepers – a great many of them are ‘people of color.’
And they’ve risen to the highest levels. Ms. Truss’s cabinet is said to be the ‘most diverse in history.’ Women, men, gay, straight, black, white – everyone is welcome… as long as they all think the same thing.
From London, we drove out to Blenheim Palace. There, gathered on the vast lawns, were some 25,000 people and hundreds of horses. The crowd was almost all white. Only the horses were diverse. Some white. Some black or brown. Some mixed.
And here – in “Three Day Eventing” – the equestrian world held one of its main contests. And while the course was treacherous, and full of obstacles, the playing field was level. Riding is one of the few sports where men and women compete on an equal footing. (This year’s winner was a young woman from Germany.)
Here, too, Elizabeth II was recalled. At noon, a bell rang at the palace. All went silent. Caps were doffed. All turned to look at the Union Jack, flying at half mast from the palace roof. Then, a woman’s voice came over the loudspeaker, singing “God Save the King.”
A few minutes later, like a film restarted, people turned their eyes to the horses.
Thrills and Spills
The most exciting event is the ‘cross country.’ It is a track nearly 5 miles long, up hill and down, across the lake, over a collection of obstacles, all designed to spook the horses and confuse the riders. And it must be done at breakneck speed.
We found a good vantage point. The riders galloped by, one at a time, at full throttle. Down the hill they came… the horses’ nostrils flared… their hooves throwing up clumps of grass and dirt behind them… their backs sweaty from the exertion. And on their riders’ faces – many of them young women in their 20s – was a look of gritty determination mixed with absolute terror.
Without hesitation, the horses ran towards a hedge, on the other side of which was a muddy pond. When we ride our horses in Argentina, the horse will balk when he comes to a river crossing. He wisely stops and enters the water carefully; he doesn’t know how deep it is or what lies beneath the surface.
But these horses leapt over the hedge… splashing into the water… jumping two more obstacles in the pond… and then racing up the hill on the opposite side.
“Breakneck speed” is not an exaggeration. The course was so difficult and dangerous that more than a dozen riders dropped out immediately. Others were disqualified when their horses refused to go on.
Some must have felt a sense of relief. Perhaps they remembered what happened to ‘Superman,’ Christopher Reeves. He was at a riding event in Culpeper, Virginia, in the 1990s, when his horse fell and rolled back on him. He could never walk or even breathe normally again.
Riders wear helmets and protective vests. But horses stumble, riders fall and necks are still broken from time to time.
Several times, the crowd gasped and held its breath. The announcer let us know that there had been an accident. There was a pause… a second… two seconds… and then came the announcement:
“Both horse and rider are up and walking.”
And the race went on.