Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tower of London

Raquelle: This was our first morning in the Barry House. After rather arduously getting ready for the day in our eensy-weensy-trip-over-your-suitcase-and-land-in-the-shower-with-your-feet-sticking-out-the-window-0n-the-opposite-side infinitesimal room, we began the tortuous journey downstairs for breakfast. We followed our noses down to the lower level, where there was a small breakfast room. Dad and Grandma and Gramps had already gone down. Heather and I joined them.

Shortly thereafter the turbaned proprietor approached us, a pitcher of orange juice in his hand. He had a nice, friendly smile. "You like some breakfast? Bacon? Eggs? Tea or coffee?" We ordered bacon, eggs and tea, which were delivered soon thereafter. The eggs weren't half bad but the thick slice of bacon-ham was a trifle salty and chewy. Ah well. I made up for it by eating a slice of toast with blackcurrant jam.

On our way back upstairs I passed the itty-bitty kitchen. It was no bigger than a very (VERY) small pantry. There was basically room for the stove, on which reposed a sturdy skillet with the remains of some scrambled eggs. I have no idea where they washed the dishes.

Gramps told us later that he had come down to see if he could get some coffee before breakfast. Breakfast was from 8:00-9:00. A young oriental lady was one of the assistants and she snipped at him, "Breakfast not till 8:00!" Whoops. Then he had the shocking audacity to try to help himself to the cereals on the sideboard when breakfast began. "We fix it!" she snipped, and wouldn't let him fill his own bowl. :D Messy, interfering Americans!!!!

Yoiks! Maybe she was having a bad hair day.

Incidentally, this is totally off the subject, but one of the things I was enjoying about our Europe trip was that NO ONE had yet asked me if I went to Bob Jones. :D Heather and I get that all the time--we live in Greenville, we dress conservatively....you go to Bob Jones, right? We have gone to events in other states and had total strangers ask us that question. So far, no Europeans had interregated us on that point. :D

We trekked off to the nearby tube station and began the mystery of unraveling which tube line to take to the tower. We ended up on a District Line train accidentally and had to switch after two stops to a Circle Line train, but it didn't matter...they were both on the way. The ride took about half an hour.

We had preordered tickets via the friendly turbaned proprietor at the Barry House, so all Dad had to do was pick them up. Then we entered the tower, right as a tour was beginning.

The tour guides for the Tower of London are called Beefeaters. And they are more than just tour guides--they are the keepers of the Tower and the Queen's own something-or-others. It's quite a prestigious position and you have to have served in the military for X number of years and so forth to be one. They wear navy and red uniforms with "ER" on the front, which means "Elizabeth Regis"--or some other Latin word beginning with "R," the gist of which means "Elizabeth is the Queen, buster, so mind your P's and Q's." (Well, maybe not the P's and Q's. :D) They are called Beefeaters because originally (like, 500 years ago) their salary was paid in beef.

Note from Heather: Something I had missed last time we came is that the Beafeaters are military men who have served honorably for, um, 20 years maybe? And been decorated and stuff like that. So they may appear to simiply be jolly tour guides, but they're actually brave, admirable men. Kinda cool.

Back to Raquelle: Our tour guide had a delightful sense of humor. He kept everyone laughing on the tour. There were several children near the front and he had a great time with them. He began to tell us the story of whichever two princes it was who were taken to the Tower and mysteriously disappeared and never heard from again, until two child skeletons were found about a hundred years ago. No one knows for sure who killed them, but it was the usual "kill-any-relatives-who-might-lay-claim-to-the-throne" scenario. (It's rather frightening how often that happened in English history.)

"They were just children," the guide said dramatically. "Young, innocent children.........LIKE YOU!" he bellowed at the kids in the front. They both jumped perceptibly. :D

He began telling us about the crown jewels. The scepter has the largest diamond in the world--530 carots. It's HUGE.

"Wives," the guide smirked, "you can look at that beautiful, enormous diamond. Then look at that insignificant speck on your left hand and ask yourselves........."

"WHY?" wailed a woman in the front, glaring at her husband.

Everyone exploded with laughter.

"It's going to be a long day," her husband groaned.

We saw the Tower green, where several famous private executions had taken place, such as Lady Jane Grey.A private execution was a perk, you understand---the riff-raff would have been executed in public.

The guide pointed out the area where the King (or Queen) would stay when they were living at the Tower. We also saw the area where the Beefeaters live. (Poor fellows....I saw laundry hung up out on a line. I guess not even the Privileged Elite get to have dryers. Did I mention the way we had to hang our clothes all over drying racks all over the apartment in Scotland?)

Near the end, we were taken to a small chapel where various Famous People were buried. The Beefeater warned us ahead of time, "Now listen carefully, ladies. I shall stand by the entrance to the door as you file in. Beware, oh beware! There is a step UP as you enter! I shall stand nearby to catch anyone who should fall--I will sweep you up in my arms! (I'm hoping at least some of you will fall!) And be aware that the step will also--yes, indeed---also be there on the way OUT. But don't worry, I'll catch you. Now, gents, if one of YOU should happen to fall........well, it's going to hurt." Haw haw!!!

When the tour was over, we went to the tower that houses the crown jewels.

I guess I should explain if I haven't already that the "Tower of London" is not just ONE tower. It's actually a huge complex of various towers, built at various times. The oldest tower is the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror. (Look him up, you should learn about him). I don't remember exactly when it was built, but William conquered England in 1066, so it was sometime around then. It's pretty awesome to see an intact structure that is about a thousand years old!

The British crown jewels are housed here, though not in the White Tower. As you walk through the building, there were large TV screens on the wall that project huge images of the various jewels--the crown, the scepter, the ring, etc. That is nice, because it gives you a chance to really see them up close. They also had a screen showing video clips from Queen Elizabeth's coronation. (She looked NERVOUS.)

After building up the suspense, at last you come to the jewels, which are in a huge vault. A "people mover" (a flat escalator thingie) slowly moves you on by the glass cases with the jewels. That 530-carat diamond was truly amazing!!! My goodness!!! However, we were feeling like old-timers by now....we'd seen the Scottish crown jewels and a bunch of crowns and jewels at the Residenz in Munich, so we were like, "Ah, very nice, hmmm, yes, methinks that jewel is a little bigger than the jewel on the Scottish crowns.....when is lunch?" :D :D :D

Note from Heather: Maybe YOU felt that way. I thought the jewels and crowns and gold dishes and maces were really cool!

Raquelle: Of course they were cool. I just felt like an old experienced hand at it. :D

As we left, we stumbled upon the end of a living history drama. Several people in costume were acting out an escape that had really happened at the Tower once upon a time. A "prisoner" was sitting outside his cell in one of the towers, rather haggard, with bloodied bandages around his wrists, presumably having been Most Dastardly Tortured. He was explaining to a "tower guard" why he should be given all the items that his wife had tried to send and had been confiscated by the guard. His wife had sent him paper, a quill, and an orange (the juice of which can make invisible ink).

"You see," the prisoner explained reasonably, "the orange is to help me regain strength in my hands....if I squeeze it, that helps the muscles in my arms."

The gullible guard accepted the explanation. "But," he said, "what about this feather? I don't know my letters--from the looks of you all (to the crowd) most of you don't either--but I have heard, yes, I've HEARD that you can use a feather like this for a pen!"

"Oh no, you see it's--it's a toothpick!" the prisoner assured him.

"Really?" said the guard, naively surprised. "Well, let's see...I've had a bit o' mutton stuck behind my left molar for several days....let me try!" He stuffed the end of the quill in his mouth and pretended to pick his teeth. Satisfied with the results, he accepted the explanation of the quill.

I don't remember what the explanation was for the paper, but it was something fairly ludicrous that the likeable guard fell for, hook, line and sinker. :D

So the prisoner got his stuff so that he could write secret messages. The guard put him back in the cell and started to walk away. Just then the prisoner's wife accosted the guard, pleading that he would allow her husband to go to the chapel that day for confession.

"You know I did that yesterday!" the guard exclaimed. "And I'm truly not supposed to do it at all! He is a close prisoner, after all! What kind of dreadful sin could he have committed between yesterday and today?"

[Note: A "close" prisoner is one that is allowed very little freedom to see people or move about to different places in the Tower.]

The wife tossed the guard a small bag of coins.

"Ah well," the guard conceded, "I suppose he could have committed something quite bad. I'll arrange it. But JUST THIS ONCE!"

He left to fetch the prisoner and the wife whispered her plot to us. The priest was going to help him escape through the chapel...I can't remember exactly how. They had tried the escape the night before but something had gone wrong, so they had to do it again.

Sure enough, the prisoner escaped. And the epilogue was that the priest arranged for the guard to flee to another country, as his life was in grave danger for his hand in the affair. And then they all lived happily ever after.

Heather: Lunch was next on the agenda. As we looked at our maps, we discovered that there was a nice cafe in the Tower grounds. We headed forthwith with all promptitude. To our pleasant surprise, there were LOTS of options for GOOD food! Wow! I got a hot lunch of some kind of beef concoction, green beans and "chips" (fries). And for dessert I ate a yummy slice of chocolate cake. Everyone else was equally satisfied with their grub. Oh, "grub" - that's such a low-class word. Shall we say, bill of fare instead?

Raquelle: I had a beef pie and something that was called "Refrigerator Cake" or something like that. It was Very Good and Very Unusual. It had bits of dried cherries and crispy cookie chunks in a kind of sticky fudgy chocolate base. Tastiful!

Right around lunch time I was moseying along and this lady came up and said, "Excuse me...aren't you from Greenville?"

"Yes," I said, surprised--and a little leery. I could hear it now....she was going to ask DoyougotoBobJones?

"And you and your sister play the harp! You played at our church!"

She named the church and I recognized it as one that I had been a substitute pianist at for a few weeks here and there, and we had also played harps there. As we talked, I noticed the rest of her family and then I remembered them---her husband looks just like Dick Van Dyke. :D Turns out they had moved to France because of her husband's work, and they were on vacation touring, just like us.

So it was fun to run in to them, but I was anxious to escape before they thought to ask The Question. If someone asked me about Bob Jones one more time, I knew I was going to turn into some kind of fearful blue lizard, or else have my hair cork up into little spindles of macaroni. Thankfully, they didn't ask, so you can all be grateful that your friend Raquelle remained a normal human. :D

We parted cordially and went our way. Mom read my mind and muttered in my ear, "That was close." Heh heh heh! :D

Heather: Thus fortified after lunch, we headed out for more touring. We agreed to split up, as various people wanted to see various things. Grandma decided to sit on a bench and watch people, which she informed us afterward had been most rewarding. She managed to successfully identify the European current styles for shoes and skirts. Raquelle had some places of her own to visit, and Dad, Mom, Gramps and I headed for the White Tower.

I quickly got bored with the formal tour of the White Tour, because the tour guide was leaving out all kinds of interesting tidbits that I knew. I shared the tidbits with everyone after the tour, but meanwhile, I headed off on my own to see the armour collection. All kinds of famous knights' and kings' armour is housed here, and I intended to look it over. G.A. Henty is always describing "our hero's" armour and of course, your armour was the difference between keeping your life in a battle, or losing it. So it was pretty darn important back then. I was particularly awestruck with some of the suits of armour that had gold and silver inlaid. Very beautiful.

Once through, I decided to go sit on a bench myself and rest until time for all of us to meet. That's when I caught the tail end of another live drama. Raquelle and I are writing it up in another post because it was kinda long. Raquelle had seen the whole thing from the beginning and I just caught the end. However, they informed us they would be doing the whole skit again in half an hour. I hurried inside to tell the rest of the folks to be outside in half an hour so they could watch it. As I said, we'll put it in another entry. Suffice it to say now that it was quite entertaining and we all enjoyed it.

Raquelle: I had SEEN the White Tower last time and I wasn't interested in seeing lots of armor again. I wanted to explore the other towers. So I went from here to there, looking at different ones. One of the most fascinating aspects of the towers I went into the was the graffiti. As in, 500-year-old graffiti that prisoners had carved into the wall. There were quite a few Catholic inscriptions that Catholic prisoners had inscribed. Another guy had carved a complete astrological calendar--quite impressive. This graffiti was sprinkled liberally all over the walls. It was pretty fascinating--really brought the place alive.

While I was in one of the towers, a docent brought a little group of school children in. She began telling us about an escape from the Tower. The gentlemen who was imprisoned was a close prisoner and the guard was supposed to come in, lock the door behind him, set down the food tray, then unlock the door, leave, and relock it.

The prisoner never spoke to the guard. In fact, he never even looked at the guard. He would always stand silently in front of the fireplace, his back to the door, staring into the fire. He did this day after day and the guard grew just a little careless and failed to lock the door behind him when he entered the room. Meanwhile, the prisoner had been saving straw from his bedding and one day he stuffed his clothes and placed them in front of the fire, as if he was standing there as usual. Then he sneaked out the door when the guard came in. Aha! Very ingenious!

I went to see the ravens briefly...ravens lived at the Tower early on. The story goes that Somebody Somewhere (I can't remember who) prophesied that if the ravens ever left the Tower, the kingdom would collapse. So now they keep some ravens there with their wings clipped, so that the kingdom will never fall and we'll all live happily ever after. :D

I watched the little living history event that we're putting in another post and enjoyed it tremendously. I had a great time watching it the second time and memorizing the crazy lines so I could write it up later. :D

Heather: At the end of the drama, we headed back to the cafe for our "tea" - that is, hot chocolate and whatever gorp anybody wanted. I had some scones with jam.

Raquelle: (It was an enormous scone, she shared with me. :D But I opted for sparkling water--"water with gas"-- instead of hot chocolate. :D)

Heather: Then we decided to take a few minutes and actually walk up on Tower Bridge. That's the famous London Bridge you always see in pictures. The proper name is Tower Bridge, however, because it's right by the Tower complex. (The REAL London Bridge is actually in Arizona. Some guy bought it, thinking he was buying the Tower Bridge. Oops.) Last time we came to England, the Tower Bridge had been closed to pedestrians. But it was open again so we walk part way across.

It's quite a large bridge and actually is a drawbridge for the few times a week that big ships go through. Of course, it spans the Thames River (which is pronounced Temz, in case you're wondering). We took pictures and then headed back to the tube to go home.

For dinner that night, we decided to go for something American (and something neaby) and therefore headed for a Garfunkles. We all crammed into a table for four and quite enjoyed our meal.

Raquelle: I didn't....I ordered a cottage pie and it was awful. Tasted all right, but the meat in it was ground beef that was mostly boinky non-chewable stuff. Oh woe.

Heather: After dinner, Grandma and Gramps let us all hang out in their room for a bit, as it was a leetle larger than everyone else's. Not much, but at least we could all fit. :D. Raqu and I brought down chocolate and lemon drops and Grandma made tea for everyone. We sat and chatted for a while and then, fortified with chocolate and Lady Grey, hiked up six flights of stairs to our rooms for the night.

Raqu and I, as usual, opened our window because it was stuffy. And we pulled the curtains open once the lights were out so we could enjoy the evening lights of London for a night light--the quiet glow from the large cobblestoned courtyard of the neighborhood behind us. And thus, another day ended.

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