The exchange rate between the United States dollar and the English pound is a bit lopsided these days. You really don’t want to know what you’re spending in London. Not in dollars anyway. If there was a mile race between the pound and the dollar, the English pound would start out a lap and a half or more ahead. That’s really not fair.
Perhaps it would be a bit more fair if the English pound were actually forced to wear one of those sets of armor that knights once wore in medieval times. That’s right, I just wrote the words “medieval times” because there really is a fine line between legend and reality at play in Great Britain.
Generally the peasants went along with kingly rule so long as the royals did not abuse the privilege of their stature.
Off With His Head! And Again.
We know of a particular incident in which the Duke of Canterbury or some other official of the king’s court once levied one too many taxes on the good people of England and 10,000 peasants gathered from the countryside and stormed the Tower of London looking for the royal sot who was raping them for pence and pound.
It happened that at the moment the peasant mob arrived at the castle, the gates were very much unlocked. Either someone forgot to lock the gate, or else the commoners held the sympathies of the guards, and the mob waltzed right in looking for the Duke and calling for his head.
They honestly left the king alone because he was only a kid of 14 at the time. They knew he was not responsible for the lying ways of the treasury demanding more money from the peasantry for the royal treasury. So they searched the castle until they found the money-grubbing Duke and hauled him off toward Tower Hill where they lined him up on the chopping block and gathered a crowd to watch justice be served. Off with his head! But unfortunately it took a full eight whacks of the axe to remove the Duke’s head. Apparently the peasants were not too practiced in such an endeavor.
And that, my friends, is where the Monty Python part of English Legend must step in to help us tell the rest of this story. Because we can imagine that after the first whack of the axe that did not remove the Duke’s head, he might have raised his voice in protest and shouted at the crowd. “And for that I will raise your taxes again!” Then the axe would fall yet again. And still the Duke’s head was attached. So he’d scream. “And AGAIN I SAY!”
With each successive (yet unsuccessful) whack of the axe the Duke would shout “And AGAIN!” until at last, having hung by a spouting thread of a bloody throat, the head of the Duke would roll down the hill and come to rest at the feet of a peasant child. Who, surprised to see a face with no body staring up at him from the ground, would mutter kindly, “Can I help you sir?”
And that’s how the Monty Python Version of British History typically plays out.
Not far from reality
See, stories like that really never are far removed from the real thing. That’s what makes English Legends and Monty Python’s movie The Holy Grail so darn funny. Because whether it’s hapless knights or obnoxious French palace guards rapping their helmets and shouting, “I fart in your general direction,” the humorous truth is never that far from the serious reality of what has gone on in history. We honestly can’t tell the two apart sometimes.
So we must consider the fact that currencies such as pounds or dollars are themselves quite funny things. The value of an American dollar against the English pound is supposedly how much you can buy with the “value” of each respective currency. Yet you can’t spend a dollar in England the way you spend a pound, or the other way around. So there’s no opportunity for direct comparison between the two.
So you face a choice when you get to Great Britain. You can exchange your dollars and get about 50% of that value in pounds at some skeezy booth where the attendant almost can’t help laughing at your pittance dollars against the pound, or you can use your credit card and pretend you’re actually spending dollars when in fact the people at your bank back home are watching your account shrink before their very eyes as if it were some horrid science experiment gone wrong.
Yet that is a much better strategy if you don’t want to get depressed.
It’s a sweet illusion that when you swipe your VISA through the credit card machines the conversion genie does the math for you. The magic of credit or debit works whether you’re buying a four-pack of Stella Artois or a pack of souvenir drawing utensils and art supplies from the Tate Modern Art Museum. Which is exactly what I did. And it cost me 58 lbs. Or about 90 dollars. Magic!
All this stench of money conversion comes out in the wash eventually. And that brings up the other smelly task you’re forced to do when you return from a vacation and have not had time to wash your running or cycling clothes while on “holiday,” which is what the British call vacation.
In fact a conversation very much like this occurred between Sue and before our last run around London yesterday morning
“Phew. I stink,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied. Then politely added. “I must stink too.”
On such pleasant exchanges are relationships formed and made. We put up with each other’s little stinks on occasion but mostly run around having fun and talking about cool shit and messing with robins in Hyde Park by using my UK birding app to make them think there was a new male singing on their territory. Mean, but fun to hear a merry little robin talking to us in person.
Running around London
Yesterday morning as we ran a merry little loop along the Thames, many other runners were traipsing about with serious expressions on their faces. That’s because Thursday was their first day in town to go for a run and shake off the jet lag in advance of Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon. That’s the actual name of the race this year. The Virgin Money London Marathon.
See how all this money talk is converging now? Yet what a wonderfully, almost tragically ironic name for a business focused on money. Virgin Money. That Richard Branson sure knows how to titillate and tease every subject, doesn’t he? It never ends with him.
No such thing as virgin money
Actually Virgin Money is not so strange a concept as it might seem. Back when a long line of kings were in charge of the currency in England they often had to address problems with the condition and reality of their money. Coins wore out back then because originally they were little more than hammered bits of metal, silver and gold and copper. After 200 years of use these coins would lose some of their weight (because people clipped them and melted down the shavings) and the images would wear off.
Of course this pissed off the kings to no end. But the kings were no innocent party in money laundering either. We know that Henry VIII worked on the cheap by sneakily coating a large batch of copper coins with silver to fob them off as the real thing. Trouble began when the silver began wearing off because people could see the wear on the very image of King Henry’s visage. That’s why the citizens all called him Old Coppernose. It wasn’t a compliment.
There was plenty of forgery to deal with back then as well. The Royal Mint was an important function of the stability of the state. Because if you could not control the quality and quantity of the money you issued, the entire economy could collapse. In fact the entire nation of England actually ran short on coin stock for a while and resorted to stamping money from other countries such as France to make it their own. “It spends the same,” seemed to be the reasoning. And doesn’t that sound familiar today? The illusion is more important than reality when it comes to money and currency.
If Richard Branson himself were actually King of England these days, one wonders what he might do to revise the currency system. After all, Branson has a knack for turning stodgy precepts on their heads. Heathrow Airport was full of his sassy little Virgin Atlantic planes, and there is a Virgin line of health clubs in London. One can just hear the campaign if he were to be named king. “We’re all Virgins now.” Or, “Keep Calm and Grab a Virgin.” That would work.
Virgins here and there
Virgin this. Virgin That. When people step to the starting line of the Virgin Money London Marathon who knows what they’ll find? Will they be asked to bend over and receive Virgin Timing Chips up their Virgin Asses? That would be fun to watch. Thousands of runners bent over with their shiny little ass cheeks glowing under the London Sun. And those first few miles adapting to the feel of a chip up their ass? You talk about good television. Who wouldn’t pay to watch that? It all has a Pythonesque feel, you might say.
End of the World
Or perhaps, as some tightass religious types would have us believe, that would be a sign of the End Times and the Second Coming. If you signed up for the London Marathon and your big number is 666, watch out. You could be the Anti-Christ.
VIRGIN WINS THE VIRGIN!
VIRGIN IS VIRGIN WINNER!
DON’T STOP NOW, SAYS VIRGIN!
VIRGIN’S THE WORD!
Well, I’ll stop with the Virgin jokes now. Craig has probably heard them all. But on chance that he has not, perhaps you can submit a few more Virgin headlines in the comments below this blog. Because I know that Craig Virgin actually reads this blog and he’ll really enjoy all of us using his name to make naughty jokes. Trust me on that one. He’s no Virgin when it comes to a bit of randy humor.
A good dirty joke is worth its weight in pounds
What runner or cyclist doesn’t enjoy a good dirty joke to lighten up the run or ride? It helps pass the time when the training gets long or dull. I’ve known runners and cyclist to draw a good joke or story out for miles at a time before delivering the punchline.
None of us seems to be virginal in that respect. Although once in a while we find someone with a delicate set of ears in our midst, who blush at mention or commentary on sex or the particular attributes of the other athletes passing us by. There really are many kinds of virgins in this world, including some marathoners that will drop a few pounds to run the Virgin Money London Marathon.
They were all over Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens this week in their runner garb. Londoners know to watch out for those who run and ride. And this weekend, with so many foreigners flipping into town without a clue how to look for oncoming traffic, there likely will be a few close calls before the race gets going and takes over the streets of London for a day.
It’s all part of the thrill of competing in a strange place on streets that don’t look like yours. There may even be a few spots where runners skirt some cobbles laid down by kings 500 years ago. London’s like that. It’s rather like an exchange rate for time, this place. You go in thinking you’re going to be running in the year 2015 and find yourself next to a stolid stone wall holding graffiti from a peasant revolt.
Perhaps that what the London Marathon truly is, after all. The guidebook for the Tower of London has a section titled “THE PEASANTS ARE REVOLTING!” which says a lot about how the royals and much of British society must really think. The headline could have been said something like THE PEASANTS REVOLT but that would not have contained the same subliminal message, now would it?
Which brings us full circle to the Virgin Money London Marathon. Because most marathons resemble some sort of peasant revolt. We take over the streets blocking traffic and throwing cups all over the place. We shit in porta-potties creating a stink to high heaven. The lead pack goes charging forth while the laggards and those thick of frame or lame with training bring up the rear.
It’s all apparent how and why this grand parade comes about. An excess of pounds and age slows down the mob so that by the time the fit and fast are through, there is nothing to do but sweep the streets and mop up the mess as the last of the peasants completes their bloody rounds. It goes to show you that some things never change. Pound for pound, we’re all the same in the end.
The the King or Queen walks to wave their hand at the crowd, then secretly shake their head in wonder and return to the castle for another year. “I’ve have to raise the price for this mess,” they mutter to themselves. Because that’s how it all works.