Letter From London by Novelist Charles McCain

HMS Cavalier at Chatham Dockyard 6 Nove 2014 (54) - Copy

Your correspondent, Charles McCain, on the stern of HMS Cavalier, the only destroyer in the UK built during World War Two. Now a museum ship at the Chatham dockyard. I took this today, 11.5.14, and it was freezing cold. I usually don’t take selfies since they make me look even older and more ravaged by time than I am in better lighting.



Fireworks going off everywhere in London with bonfires to come. I can hear the booming of the fireworks from my hotel room.  All of this is to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day over here.

On 5 November 1605 James I of England (James VI of Scotland) was scheduled to perform the ceremonial opening of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was caught in the basement of the building with numerous casks, some say 36, of gunpowder.

In the morning when James I came to the Parliament, Fawkes was going to blow the King and the Parliament into the next world. Guy Fawkes was Catholic and James was a Protestant in the era when one’s religion was a subject of intense interest–to put it mildly.

Fawkes and his confederates were caught and executed and ever since then to celebrate that James I was not killed, the English have been celebrating Guy Fawkes day. (And this was just one of the many attempts on James’s life). While historians have been unkind to James I, his reputation is undergoing a change based on recent scholarship.

A popular epigram of the era was: Rex fuit Elizabeth, nunc est regina Jacobus (Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen). Sort of hilarious to me as a gay guy. Since he was obviously gay and thought of that way by all who knew him, homophobia has contributed to his denigration by historians. Nevertheless, he did father a number of children.

He also is responsible for the King James version of the bible, having ordered the previous bible used by the Church of England to be re-translated from by a team of scholars. When I read the bible, I always read the King James Version. The language is so magnificent no modern translations resonate with me.



Last Sunday evening, about 6:00 pm,  I was walking down Kensington Road which borders one side of Hyde Park when I came across the barracks of the Household Cavalry. I knew nothing of this and there were some signs which interested me as signs do and I stopped and wrote them down:

“Join the British Army Here” which seemed odd since the British Army is downsizing again. Even before this current downsizing, they had less men than the London Metropolitan Police. So why are they recruiting?

“Caution: Service Dogs on Patrol” which made it seem as if guide dogs for the blind or physically handicapped were on patrol instead of guard dogs.

“Mounted Regiment of Household Cavalry” which I thought seemed a little bit modest and it was a very small sign so I wrote that down to.

I resumed walking and not two minutes later a trooper from said regiment dashes up behind, “Sir!”

He startled me so much I jumped about a foot in air and said loudly, “Jesus Christ!” which presumably proved I wasn’t a Muslim terrorist.  He asked me most politely what I had written down. There was a lighted bus shelter behind us and we sat there and I showed him what I had written down. I told him I was a novelist and that he could even borrow a copy of my novel from the London public library. He did not seem interested.

With that he apologized for startling me but said they were on a high-security terrorism alert–like this is new. The barracks are a fortress by the way.

Curiously he never asked for any identification. Since I have a new digital passport and since facial recognition software is used so routinely , especially in London, it was obvious to me that he and the other Household cavalry sentries inside the barracks already knew who I was.

He was also unarmed which would hardly have been the case if they had the slightest suspicion that I was a terrorist. An interesting experience.



No doubt as part of a campaign to make it difficult for terrorists to put bombs in rubbish bins, there are almost no rubbish bins to be found in any public place. The entire Kings Cross/St Pancras transport station, which offers access to four underground lines and various trains, doesn’t have a rubbish bin that I could find. I had Diet Coke can I wanted to toss and I ended up taking it back to my hotel.

“humped crossing” instead of speed bump.

Two stops I wanted to go to on the Piccadilly Line of the London underground; Barking and Cockfosters.

When English traffic engineers first designed the traffic circle, they were going to call it a “gyration circus.” Wiser heads prevailed and it became known as a roundabout.

The English hate their politicians as much as people in the US hate ours.

While we have the same vicious class system in America as they do in England, the differences in class are far easier to pick up because the accents used by English working class people and English middle to upper class people are completely different even when they have grown up in the same place.

When you go into a sandwich shop which I do everyday, Pret being my favorite, they always ask if the food is “for here or take away.” Reason: the government doesn’t charge VAT on the food you take away.

Back to America tomorrow. I wish I could stay here.



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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/