On the Thames
‘Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes …’
The girl may have been the sort you see in paintings by Renoir or Manet. She may have been a gorgeous actress like Julie Christie. She may have been a phantasm, an archetype, a figure in a dream. She may even have been a model…
Let’s see her as a Russian model – rich and famous and living in London. The Russian model has a sparkling intellect; she’s studied for a law degree in the United Kingdom and, almost unexpectedly, she tells us that one of the reasons she likes living in England is because of the long and deep tradition of ‘justice’. She thinks that concepts of justice are part of the modal english psyche. She knows her history and she knows her jurisprudence.
As luck would have it, she lives in a gracious part of London not far from the River Thames. And she knows that the river is intimately linked to the tradition of justice to which she refers.
We can picture her ‘in a boat on a river’ as she travels upstream from the heart of London and as she travels onwards you can even hear the rhythmic dip of the oars. Ripples shimmer and spangle in the tranquil sunlight. She edges towards the marshy riverside meadows of Runnymede.There she stills her boat but remains seated in the bows. And, in imagination, she thinks of the famous meeting between King John and his adversaries so many years ago – in 1215 – on the marshy softly-yielding fields of Runnymede. It was here, on the banks of the Thames at Runnymede, that the barons first presented their ‘Articles’ to the execrable King John. The articles were a design to limit the abuses of power which the King had displayed. (We are told by the historians that John had been deemed too vile to be worthy even of a place in hell. Hell would rather freeze over than find a place for John. He was that bad.)
The Articles drafted by the Barons were, in time, to become the Magna Carta. And the Magna Carta is almost a sacred text for the English. Why? Well, although the Magna Carta – the ‘great charter – does not make explicit any general principle it ‘implies’ one. It is based on the idea or principle that no one is above the law. No Royal, no demagogue, no religious zealot, no person however powerful – is above the law. (And the Rule of Law is one of the most central elements in the social and political life of the United Kingdom.)
But not only did the evolution of the Magna Carta give implicit voice to this principle it also began the process of securing certain basic liberties for the people of England as well as guaranteeing a right to justice.
And so the Russian model – the girl with kaleidoscope eyes (who has studied law and who appreciates the ethos of ‘justice’) feels a deep sense of personal security as she gazes from her boat over the water meadows at Runnymede.
Note: The Russian model was recently featured in a television programme about some Russians who live in London.
Postscript: ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds‘ begins with the line: ‘Picture yourself in a boat on a river.‘