Surfeit

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.Β 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.Β 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.

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20 thoughts on “Surfeit

  1. I hope to get there someday. My husband will grumble all the way round for having to pay to view what belongs to the nation and if it doesn’t belong to the nation it republican well ought to, and will love every inch of it.

    Did you know Queen Mary was engaged to GV’s elder brother who died, just like Catherine of Aragon was engaged to HVIII’s elder brother? It turned out better for QM, I’m glad to say.

    CI must have had a fit being buried with HVIII; talk about opposites.

    I loved the story of your sister.

      1. I think power went to their heads! The women rulers were great though: The Elizabeths, Victoria…. nothing to blatantly nutty there apart from tomb-envy on Vi’s part…

    1. You’ll have a blast. Tilly: and I’m with your husband…just cooking up a post on privilege but trying to avoid falling foul of the libel laws πŸ˜€ I hadn’t ever registered that parallel – clever!! And all those hundreds of years Henry spent with Charles! Closer partners than any of those wives….

  2. I prefer smaller galleries to large museums for just this reason. At some point, I reach a saturation point and can no longer nod appreciatively at objets d’arts.

    Instead, I start laughing at robust scantily clad women with heaving bosoms, and at naked archers missing their bows . . . and their clothes. Seriously, who goes hunting in the NUDE? 😯

    Glad you enjoyed the excursion with your MIL. Thanks for disgorging yourself of consumed treasures here for our enjoyment.

  3. I always get a headache on a long day out, but frequently that is a combination of saturation and dehydration points colliding about 3 or 4pm. And I never learn… always forget to take a bottle of water.
    Tea receptors empty, I urgently need a sit down and a whole pot full to replenish: once dehydration sorted, saturation seems to diminish.

    Actually I feel there’s always too much to see in ‘one hit’ in most places, which is why National Trust membership is grand – you can go for one painting and a cuppa or stay all day – and return as many times as you like.

    1. Ah, Pseu, if you buy a ticket at Windsor and pay the full whack you can have a years pass! I plan to return frequently πŸ™‚ Very interesting what you say about days out – must employ the bottle-of-water technique. Maybe it will give me more staying power too.

  4. You weave magic tales into such a small space – just a joy to read, but aren’t we lucky to have such wonderful places filled with history to visit!

  5. I would have to go back and back and back again to Windsor Chapel, Kate, and I would end up in hot water for giggling at Henry VIII’s everlasting fate. I feel like this sometimes in a museum or gallery. Sensory overload or some such thing. It is good you can go back.

    Is this the sister who is mother to Big Al?

    1. Yes it is, Penny πŸ™‚ Her son is a great deal milder and after all her experience she makes an excellent mother πŸ™‚
      I shall be back at the chapel very soon I think…

    1. I’ll be back very soon, Cindy. My fingers itch though because one can’t take photographs inside the chapel, and that’s how I record information for stories: next time I need a notebook at the very least.

  6. Amazing, the lives lead by these kings and queens. Children lost, spouses beheaded, kingdoms felled by disease…if this is royalty, I’ll take the life of a pauper.

    1. I’m with you on that: but I’d settle for hanger on, Maura πŸ˜€ The middle men at the castle – vicars, doctors, estate workers and so on- had a very good life and still do. They get tithed houses and the benefits of living on a self sustainable estate which reared cattle and grew vegetables. And the possibility of a little glory and a memorial in the chapel. Not to mention access to the most amazing fund of folklore.

  7. What wonderful gluttony, Kate. I so loved your introduction to this piece too – at least now that you’re ‘full up’ you can go back when you have room for more! Such a lovely place to visit – thanks for sharing.
    Sunshine xx

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