Saturday, June 29, 2002

I went for a walk through the Park Lane / Mayfair / Belgravia area of London yesterday. Besides seeing why the point of Monopoly is to get a hotel on Park Lane or Mayfair, I saw a few showrooms for ludicrously expensive automobiles, and walked past a few embassies. The biggest of these is the American one on Grosvenor Square. (The square contains statues of Franklin D Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower - the Roosevelt statue is of him standing and discreetly holding a stick). The embassy is now protected by a metal barrier a couple of metres from the building. This was not there last time I visited the area in around 1996, but it does have a temporary look about it. It is probably something put up since last September. Standing on the steps was a man holding a nasty looking machine gun. (He was wearing dark blue or black trousers, a white shirt, and a hat with that checked pattern indicating that he was a British policeman of some sort). It rather pains me that such protection is necessary for the embassy of a great power and a friendly country, too. Yes, it's absolutely necessary, but as well as placing barriers between those who have power and those who want to kill them, it also places barriers between those who have power and people such as myself who have no desire whatsoever to kill them, but who would enjoy boiling Osama bin Laden in oil. And the machine gun is quite jarring in a city where the policemen don't normally carry guns at all. However, it is good to see that the people protecting the embassy are wearing civilian police uniforms rather than military fatigues. (You see policemen armed with machine guns at Heathrow airport, too, but at that point you have entered the weird internal and international ecosystem of the world's airports and airlines, so it is not quite as jarring).

Walking down the road a bit, I passed another embassy with another similarly attired policeman standing out front. This one was armed with a handgun. I wasn't sure which country's embassy he was protecting. I looked at a sign on the building a little further down the road and it said "Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago". It struck me as unlikely that they needed much protection, so I looked more carefully. The buildings in the street were large terraces and were connected, so it was a bit hard to tell where one stopped and the next started, and yes, this was a different embassy. I looked up, and saw a large Turkish flag flying from the building above the door being guarded. I am not sure whether the Turkish embassy was being guarded from Greek Cyproits, Kurdish separatists, French islamic fundamentalists or German football supporters, but I can see why they might want to guard that one.

Okay, so far we have guards outside embassies of friendly countries with enemies. The further question is how much protection is outside the embassies of nasty countries. I am not sure where the embassies of China, or Burma, or Iran, or Iraq, or the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia are. (Perhaps I can go and throw a hand grenade through the window of the last one myself. This post has now presumably been flagged by Echelon). Actually it's fairly likely the last couple are in Embassy Row in Kensington, opposite Kensington palace, ideal for when vile Saudis want to fraternise with minor members of the British royal family. (The embassies of the former dominions of the empire are either on or near Trafalgar Square in the West End. Canada and South Africa have nice buildings right on the square: Australia is a few blocks down the Strand next to Bush House of BBC World Service fame. A decade ago you would usually bump into a good few protestors outside the South African embassy when wandering through Trafalgar Square, but these are now thankfully gone. I will conclude this rambling by observing that there is at least one good thing that has happened in the world in the last decade.

(And I should have yesterday got out my digital camera (which was in my pocket) and taken some photos. Perhaps I was intimidated by the men with the guns).

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