diamond geezer

 Monday, June 15, 2015

800 years ago today a water meadow between Windsor and Staines became the birthplace of English democracy. Nobody realised at the time, indeed King John and his barons revoked the Magna Carta three months later. But the King's death the following year prompted a relaunch, and the "great charter of liberties" eventually embedded itself in our political system.
• In future no official shall put anyone to trial merely on his own testimony, without reliable witnesses produced for this purpose.
• No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned or deprived of his freehold or outlawed or banished or in any way ruined, nor will we take or order action against him, except by the lawful judgment of his equals and according to the law of the land.
• To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice.
800 years on, that same water meadow is the site of a national commemoration. Several events took place here and hereabouts over the weekend, with a triumvirate of local councils getting terribly excited that something hugely important happened on their patch. And this morning some top notch visitors are turning up for a big ceremony inside a specially erected showground, including the Queen, various members of the Royal Family and certain hush-hush international guests. Having seen the phenomenal levels of security at Runnymede yesterday, I'd put money on the US President himself.

I thought I'd walk into Runnymede via American soil, along a footpath over the top of Cooper's Hill. I first decided something was up at the beginning of the lane, where a man in a turban was sitting suspiciously in an oversized car. I felt the need to double check the 'Public Footpath' sign above his bonnet, made eye contact and smiled somewhat awkwardly before proceeding. A short distance round the first bend was a lone police van, unexpectedly from far-flung Kent, with several uniformed officers standing around outside. They're going to stop me, I thought, but they seemed more interested in the campsite over the fence on Brunel University's sold-off campus. A tented pro-democracy eco-village had broken out, because anniversaries attract, and music of a very non-ceremonial kind was playing.

Two further black-shirted policemen passed me as I entered National Trust land on the ridge of the hill. And then, as I descended, the footpath was completely blocked by a group of another half a dozen. They were standing over a prone body, my first thoughts being "what the f-" and then "how on earth am I going to get past this one?" Spotting my querulous look a policewoman beckoned me by, at which point I confirmed that the unfortunate body on the floor was trussed up ready for despatch by St John Ambulance, having presumably suffered some extreme adverse reaction to climbing the steps from the meadow below. Any thought that the police presence was solely for their benefit was however trashed by the sight of a further four officers in hi-vis lingering and talking by the J F Kennedy Memorial. Coupled with the silent old man in a white jump suit who was sleeping in a deckchair on the other side, I've rarely felt quite so unnnerved exploring a perfectly legal place.

50 steps down, the whole of one end of Runnymede meadow has been taken over by a temporary arena. A ring of tents and fencing surrounds a large area filled with rows and rows of black chairs, where this morning 4500 invited VIPs will sit to watch a politically correct ceremony on stage. They were doing rehearsals as I walked round the perimeter, so I can exclusively reveal that part of the action will include a video of 12 young talking heads from around the UK segueing into a live dance performance. My apologies if that ruins the surprise, your Majesty. Sealed off somewhere within is a brand new 800th anniversary artwork called The Jurors which will be unveiled this morning. Twelve bronze chairs have been embedded in the meadow, each with a design recalling some aspect of historical global human rights. The public won't be able to get up close until later, but the artwork's website suggests Hew Locke's commission is a dash of brilliance with long-term potential.

A second 800th anniversary commission is a rather more questionable statue overlooking the riverbank. It's a four metre-high bronze of the Queen in her Garter robes, and it was unveiled in relentless drizzle by the Speaker of the House of Commons yesterday morning. It seems insane to commemorate the curtailing of the power of the monarchy by erecting a statue of the current queen, but Foreign Secretary and local MP Philip Hammond was on hand to give a toadying speech explaining that Elizabeth II "represents the ultimate refinement of the principle of constitutional monarchy". Obsequious tosh. Meanwhile the elephant in the meadow is that the statue's face looks nothing like the Queen's, younger or otherwise, which diminishes the supposed tribute considerably.

Nobody's quite sure precisely whereabouts at Runnymede the signing took place, because nobody thought to leave any kind of marker. But the official monument is the Magna Carta Memorial, a classical domed structure installed at the behest of the American Bar Association in 1957. Two policemen stood guard here too, looking over everyone who ventured up the path, as if they might bar entry at any moment (but thankfully didn't). On the raised platform two American tourists were posing in front of the central column, repeatedly urging each other to stand in the right place (and keep in the sunlight) (and maybe move a bit to the left) and then swapping over, oblivious to the queue of less egocentric visitors waiting for an unadulterated shot. Meanwhile a pair of technicians fussed around installing speakers on the grass, because an ABA rededication is taking place as part of today's ceremony and it's got to beam round the world properly.

Were there any more police? Hell yes. The entire car park behind the tearooms was half-filled with white vans, their occupants either very bored or off doing routine work around the site. Even the A308 which runs through the meadow has had heavy black barriers placed at both ends, of the kind more normally to be seen outside the Houses of Parliament. And yet Sunday's crowds were mostly ordinary local residents come to enjoy a flotilla on the Thames, part of a two-day River Relay led by the Royal Barge Gloriana, delivering a replica charter to various points en route. That needed no over-the-top security presence, but with so many VIPs expected today the police were playing absolutely safe. An open air celebration in a meadow overlooked by wooded slopes is potentially sniper heaven, so the security services have had every inch of the site covered for days. So often what looks like freedom is really exceptionally tightly controlled by those in power - plus ├ža change at Runnymede, 800 years on. [10 photos]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream