LONDON — The British capital is alive these days with beaming faces and brightened roadways as a population still entranced with royalty prepares for the wedding of Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, 28, and Princess-to-be Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, 29, at Westminster Abbey on Friday, April 29.
And once the royal splendor is past, activities throughout the country will be accelerated in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games for which London is the central city.
There will be great pomp and ceremony for this wedding which, for the British people, is the biggest royal event — and comes at the other extreme of the emotional matrix — since the horrific 1997 road accident death in Paris of William’s mother, Diana Princess of Wales.
Regarding the Games, London has a massive challenge to try to, at least, match Beijing, People’s Republic of China, which, in 2008, with an unending stream of talented people power available for the taking, presented a spectacle unmatched in Olympic history. I was in awe over Barcelona but Beijing defied verbal description.
It is difficult to visit London at this time and not be swept into the tide of excitement and anticipation. At the worst of times, this bustling historic city has about the best in road signage and so no visitor driving along its numerous and winding streets could justly complain of having gone off-route because the signs led him or her astray.
Most streets are very narrow, with parking permitted on both sides, yet there is generally unhindered two-way traffic flow. London Transport’s famous red double-decker buses ply their mostly narrow routes about the city with such driver skill and seeming near misses that to ride on the top deck and savor the thrills is a great part of a visitor’s London experience.
It is a benefit to road discipline and orderliness that most of the private vehicles in use by Londoners are small – by American standards – and getting smaller because of purchase, parking, petrol, insurance and other government-induced tax reliefs.
At the worst of times, London’s road signage is good but, given the magnificent events ahead which will attract millions of visitors, as well as the attention of global experts who normally rate the world’s friendliest cities, the municipality and other authorities have been striving apace for visible and considerable enhancements. Anything that can be burnished is shining brighter.
Reminds me of the time in 1964 when I first faced London, massively encased in smoke and fog — they called it “smog” — and its great historic buildings gray and grimy. By the time of my return in 1967, the huge smoke stacks of factories had been brought under control, new-technology sandblasters and power-washers had removed the accumulated grime and dirt of centuries past to reveal the architectural beauty of centuries past. The great buildings of London shone brightly. It was a city transformed. All of this has been enhanced with the development of a formerly rundown dockside area into one of Western Europe's newest financial/commercial power centers known as "The Docklands."
Now, because of the prevailing mood of royal celebration and Olympic anticipation, it would be foolhardy to go looking around London for evident signs of the current recession. They just are nowhere to be found, except, of course, in some newspaper headlines and the distant chants of small dissident groups.
And because of this widespread atmosphere of what the old song calls “London Hope and Glory,” the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg should really be thanking:
(1) William/Kate for their union at this time which has pushed economic/financial challenges somewhat down the public’s scale of current critical concerns; and (2) the New Labour Party government which they toppled at the polls last May, for its considerable achievement in successfully bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games which have vast potential for economic benefits.
Just walk down any High Street in London now and it is immediately evident the extent to which capitalism feasts on the festive. The wedding of the year is still some days away but the stores are awash with shoppers trying to get any of the many forms of creative and colorful memorabilia of William and Kate’s big day.
Who knows where the money has come from – and who cares? If the pot must suffer or the rent go unpaid, then that is part of the requirements of celebrating royalty during lean times.
It is well for the two to have chosen their big date in Spring, the season of re-birth and growth but also the season when tourism’s glow is slow and the inward flow of excited visitors with higher than normal expenditures will help to swell the national coffers and thereby enhance the economic performance prospects of the Cameron/Clegg administration.