Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The First London Walks Tōrō Nagashi

David Tucker writes…

Hope this is accepted in the spirit in which it’s intended.

Tōrō Nagashi is that beautiful Japanese ceremony in which paper lanterns, each with a lit candle, float down a river.  (Tōrō is another word for lantern and nagashi means cruise or flow.) It takes place on the last evening of the Bon Festival, the idea being that the floating paper lanterns, each with their precious and very beautiful single candle, guide the spirits of the departed back to the other world.

The full three-day festival – called Ono – is perhaps best lapidaried in six words: Remember. Celebrate. Honour the Past

Gets my vote.

But anyway, I’m more than half in love with that easeful image of a paper lantern, bearing a single lit candle, floating down a river.

How beautiful is that? How do you take your eyes off it?

And I thought, let’s have another occasional series here on the Daily Constitutional and let’s call it the London Walks Tōrō Nagashi.

And, yes, it can, amongst other things, remember and celebrate and honour the past.

But also the present.

And that floating candle can be something that’s good to know about London, something that’s generally not known.

Tōrō Nagashi is, in other words, a way of imaging the London Walks anthem: Tell me something I didn’t know. Something interesting. And tell it well.

More and more that’s our true North. Because of the Internet. This device I’m typing on – there’s more information to hand here – i.e., just a couple of keystrokes away – than there is in the Library of Congress. Or the Bodleian.

So, yes, light a candle, put it in its tōrō and… Nagashi. Yes, send it on its way, down the river.

And here’s what distinguishes a London Walks Tōrō Nagashi. Four requirements have to be met: it’s got to be London; it’s got to be beautiful; it’s got to be illuminating; and it’s got to be a rarity (the litmus test of which is you can’t find it in Wikipedia).

Okay, let’s play.

The occasion? The upcoming State Opening of Parliament.*

Yes, Parliament. The House of Commons in particular. You’re a visitor – or a resident – a visit to the Strangers’ Gallery is automatic Winner’s Circle fare. Not. To. Be. Missed.
And you can read all about it on your device. A Google, today, May 7, 2014, for the “House of Commons” brought up 201,000,000 “results”. How many is that? Well, that’s one for every single Brazilian. For example.

A bit of judicious “searching” and you’ll see how the HC stage is set. Speaker of the House at your end of the chamber, government to his (and your) right, opposition to his (and your) left. The front benches. The mace. Etc. etc.

That’s all grist to the Internet mill. What isn’t grist to it is the following: here it comes, the first London Walks floating lantern – our first Tōrō Nagashi.

The chamber’s too small. Or is it? It seats 427. There are 650 MPs. That – its compactness – is deliberate. It’s intimate. Intimacy kindles lively debate. And in any case, most of the time the House is only sparsely attended. A handful of MPs being dwarfed in some enormous coliseum of a chamber – there’s something, well, empty, something dispiriting about that.

And at the other end of the spectrum, when the House is packed to the rafters  – everybody there because it’s a historic moment, a moment of crisis in the life of the nation – well, what Churchill called “a crowded House” strikes exactly the right note. It fuels a sense of urgency.

And speaking of Churchill, as our Tōrō Nagashi floats away, look at the front bench, where the prime minister and his ministers sit. See the gangway? The “front bench” – reserved for the government – extends to that gangway. Now keeping your eye on “the front bench”, i.e., the lower tier, look at the first seat on the other side of the gangway. It’s a “back bencher’s” seat. The one and only back bencher’s seat that was reserved. They were never reserved. Except for this one. It was reserved for Winston Churchill when he was out of government. It was a token of respect and affection and it met a lot to him, not least because that was the seat where his father, Randolph Churchill, no less a parliamentary rebel, sat in the 1880s.

Remember. Celebrate. Honour the Past.

Sayonara Tōrō Nagashi.   

*Thinking and then some about the State Opening of Parliament – but that’s another post.

A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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