The Lions of Trafalgar – Some Thoughts on Aging

Scrambling up the bronze lion at the base of Nelson's Column was easy in 1981.

Scrambling up the bronze lion at the base of Nelson’s Column was easy in 1981.

In some ways our visit to London this summer was a write-off. It was the last day before our flight home, and I had planned to take in a few sights, it having been a long time since I did more than change planes in London.

However, we were tired and the effort involved in lining up for various attractions and the admission prices suddenly seemed not worth it. So we just wandered around – and then we reached Trafalgar Square. We had been there together before.

My first ever plane flight was to London in 1981. I was going to meet up with my then girlfriend, who I hadn’t seen for almost a year as she had been studying in France. We were going to see London together, and then go to the Greenbelt festival. To be truthful, Greenbelt may have been a bigger draw for me – the girl would have been coming home in a couple more weeks anyway.

We had a great time discovering London, on the go from early in the morning until late at night. I am a morning person; it never occurred to me that there was any other way to see things. And she didn’t complain. (Thirty three years later she rebels at early mornings, and after 30 years of marriage I bent a little bit on that for this trip.)

Trafalgar square, if you haven’t been there, is dominated by Nelson’s Column, erected in the 1840s to commemorate the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. At its base are four rather large bronze lions. I remember Vivian scampering up to the lions and climbing on one’s back while I snapped a picture. That was 1981. In 2014 she took one look at the climb and said “No way! You do it!”

There are no stairs to get to the lions. And I could see the reason for her trepidation, she’s not as young as she used to be and it looked like a tough climb. But I had been challenged!

I was a child once, I still know how to climb, so I had no difficulty scrambling up the concrete, it was only about four feet high. Once there my thought was I would climb onto a lion so Vivian could snap my picture. But I didn’t.

Perhaps it is a sign of age, but more likely maturity. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Those black bronze lions were slippery, the drop to the concrete below hazardous, and we had a flight to catch in the morning. I’m pretty steady, with good balance; it might have been an acceptable risk, but a needless one. I opted to climb down, which turned out to be a bit more challenging than climbing up had been. Then Vivian, not to be outdone, climbed up, and made the same decision. The lion was too slippery.

I’ve never fought the aging process. My hair is grey now where it once was brown. Unless I set a new Guinness record for longevity I am probably closer to the end of my life than its beginning, and that doesn’t bother me. Age hopefully brings wisdom and maturity. Just because I won’t climb up a large and slippery bronze lion doesn’t mean I have lost the capacity to have fun, but that fun comes with perhaps a little more care now than 30 years ago. I will still take risks, but I will be a little smarter about when I take them.

So I don’t have an updated picture of Vivian on the back of the lion in Trafalgar Square, but we had a lot of fun trying to recreate that old photo.

Getting down was easier when there were people to help.

Getting down was easier when there were people to help.

In the 2014 version nobody rides the lion.

In the 2014 version nobody rides the lion.



  1. […] Like so many things in the British capital, they are a must-see. I’ve probably been there a dozen times before, but I still make a point of dropping by when I am in the […]

  2. Well-written!

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