When my sister was young, she was a bit of a firebrand.
She was the one who, having donned a frothy yellow party dress of questionable taste from the dressing up box, would refuse to take it off even for long muddy walks in the country.
I have photographic evidence showing her in nightmare party frock and wellies.
She, too, was the child who threw an almighty tantrum in the middle of an early birthday party and, when sent to her bedroom to calm down, drummed her heels on the ceiling so loud that my father had to pick up his guitar and affect a breezy singalong.
And it was my sister who, when she had been taken to a wonderful restaurant and dined like a princess, would grumble like Vesuvius when she felt too full.
“Full up”, she would rumble ominously. And we would all shuffle our feet and look at the floor because just perhaps, if we ignored her, the whole of Pizzaland might not be too scandalised by her antics.
But it usually was. This surfeit was all our fault, and we would be made to pay. “Full up”, she would intone, just slightly louder, threatening more if something were not done about this full-up state of affairs immediately.
She comes to mind today, because I, too, am full up.
Have you ever been to an art gallery and after the fifteenth Da Vinci, or the thirty-sixth Rembrandt, found yourself unable to absorb anything else?
Whose idea was it, I wonder, to concentrate some of the greatest visual ideas of all in one place? By the time I walk out of the Tate or the National Gallery, my name is Kate Surfeit Shrewsday. I loved every stroke of paint, every ingenious idea, every shock of the new: but there is only so much thinking I can take in a day.
Today I went somewhere which is accidentally such a place.
Nobody compiled the chapel at Windsor Castle. No curator hung its exhibits. Various kings had to die to create its vast collection of tales. It is not so much a compilation or a contrivance, as a conglomeration.
My mother in law and I promised ourselves a return visit there after we took the kids at half term. We arrived and headed straight for the chapel, breezing past a noisy brass band trumpeting the changing of the guard.
And we stepped out of the sunlight and the merciless north wind into the hushed darkness of a quintessentially English church.
We ambled down a side aisle and my mother in law did a double take next to a marble memorial tomb. “Napoleon III?” she queried incredulously.
Napoleon III was the audacious emperor’s grandson. By the time of the Zulu wars France and England were speaking to each other again. Victoria liked Napoleon III’s mother, which was quite an achievement from everything I read about how rare her good opinion was.
Napoleon III was not permitted to fight because he was Napoleon III. However he contrived to expire in the wars anyway: during a routine intelligence gathering trip he didn’t saddle his horse properly. When a small party ambushed them he fell off and was fatally injured.
Victoria approached death with florid marble and gilt, and this is reflected in the memorial to the emperor’s grandson, which she placed there in tribute to the boy and his mother.
We ambled on. The place is full of chantries: rich men would have a little chapel built and hire a priest for life to pray in it, thus freeing them to live life to the full in the hope of a well grounded afterlife. Outrageously well-preserved mediaeval friezes graced them, naive retellings of bloody martyrdoms.
We wandered past the tomb of George V and his wife Mary. We gawked unflatteringly and quite forgot to curtsey. Gracious, my mother in law said, I remember seeing her myself.
And onwards to the choir stalls, where a great vault has its trap door. Down there, complete with climate control, lie all the old kings and queens in their vaults, carefully controlled by civil servants from the Department of Environment.
In his monitored subterranean mausoleum lies Henry VIII, more than six feet of him. He had a big showy tomb planned for the surface but its construction quite slipped his daughters’ minds; and Cromwell’s thugs ran off with the building materials. Later, they slid the body of Charles I in with him to keep him company.
By the time I got to the book which last belonged to Catherine of Aragon, sitting inches away from me in a glass case, and a volume printed by Caxton himself, I was floundering. So many stories. Such vast acres of time.
I came home with a headache but a mind full of treasure. I had experienced gluttony of a very different kind.
It will take me days to empty my head of stories.