Yesterday afternoon, ironically, I went to the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
The reason why it was ironic will become evident later.
I was given a private tour of the building and, indeed, taken to the very Gents toilet where future Mensa member Alfred Hinds famously escaped for a second time (he escaped three times) by locking his two guards in the toilet round the corner from the Bear Garden. He was not a prisoner to mess with, as he also successfully managed to sue a Chief Superintendant in the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad for libel.
It is a very nice building, the Royal Courts of Justice, with allegedly 3.5 miles of corridors and 1,000 rooms, one of which is painted. I had my tour in the middle of the afternoon yesterday – Friday – and there appeared to be only one case being tried. It was suggested to me that this might have been because all the judges had knocked-off early to get to their country homes for the weekend.
But I was particularly impressed when I heard about the Royal Courts of Justice’s ancient ceremony of “cutting the faggots”. This is part of what is claimed to be the the second oldest ceremony in England (after the Coronation ceremony).
Details on this ceremony seem to be a bit sketchy but, as far as I can understand it, “cutting the faggots” is part of the feudal legal ceremony of “Rendering of The Quit Rents to The Crown”.
At this point we enter the area in which it is a joy to be British.
Apparently, “the paying of Quit Rents by the Corporation of the City of London to the King (or Queen) is an annual ceremony dating back to 1235. It takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the City Solicitor hands to the Queen’s Remembrancer two faggots, six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails.”
The six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails are around 550 years old and are in payment – as rent – for an ancient forge in Tweezer’s Alley, near the Strand.
According to Wikipedia (and you could not really make this up):
During the ceremony, a black-and-white-chequered cloth is spread out — it is from this that the word “Exchequer” derives. The Solicitor & Comptroller of the City of London presents the horseshoes and nails and counts them out to the Remembrancer who then pronounces “Good number.” Two knives are tested by the Queen’s Remembrancer by taking a hazel stick, one cubit in length, and bending it over a blunt knife and leaving a mark. Then the stick is split in two with a sharp knife. After the two knives are tested the Remembrancer pronounces “Good service.”
I am a bit confused about the centrality of faggots in this ceremony.
According to another source, the City Solicitor cuts faggots with a hatchet, and – it would seem on a regular basis – “some of the spectators are amused, while others seem to find it distasteful.”
Someone told me yesterday that, apparently, the rough cost of an average hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice is £5,000 per hour.
Anyway, to explain the irony, last night, I had been in Greenwich the night before and parked my car behind the Up The Creek comedy club in a road 30 seconds walk from the centre of prim Greenwich which the famously uncaring local council has allowed to get run-down because, it appears, the councillors tend to live in flash roads and this road has only a block of council flats down one side.
Yesterday’s irony is that I was looking round the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon and then, in the evening, my car got broken into in Greenwich (again).
It was broken into in that exact same road behind Up The Creek in December 2010. I blogged about it.
On that occasion, nothing was stolen. On this occasion, the car was parked under a streetlight with a StopLok on the steering wheel and was double-locked, which means that, if you smash the window, you cannot open the doors from the inside – the doors are double-locked.
What they did was to smash the window (the Autoglass repair man explained to me exactly how it was done, but I am not repeating it). Then someone climbed into the car through the window, looked in the glove compartment and in the central armrest and lowered the back seat to get access to the boot from inside the car. And then climbed out the window again. The car was overlooked by two buildings.
I had, alas and unusually, left a SatNav and CDs in the lower part of the two-level arm rest (it is not obvious there is a lower level). They nicked the SatNav but left my CDs. This is only the latest in a long line of people insulting my taste in music.
It was -2C when I found the car window smashed at 10.35pm. By the time I got home after a 90-minute drive with no passenger window, it was -6C.
Things could be worse, though.
When I got home and switched on my TV, the BBC was reporting 200 deaths from cold across Europe and 100 of those deaths were in the Ukraine where temperatures were -40C.
This morning, ‘the world’s most travelled person’, Fred Finn, who lives in the Ukraine, told me in an e-mail: “I should be home by 8.00pm tonight but, given weather conditions today, anything is possible. The weather hasn’t been like this for 90 years they say.”
Back in Britain, the police in Greenwich told me mine was one of three cars broken into in that street behind Up The Creek last night. To me, that feels more important than the temperature in the Ukraine.
But around 100 people are dead in the Ukraine from the cold; around 200 in Europe; and over 200 were killed yesterday in the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian armed forces.
Egocentricity is not really an admirable character trait.
I must remember.