Sunday, September 11, 2016

England Visit 2005 - London

Twenty-one years ago, I took a job with Games Workshop, purveyors of fine metal miniatures and tabletop wargames, which means eleven years ago they flew Audrey and I to the company HQ in Nottingham for the Veterans Dinner. (Honestly, why didn't I write this post last year? Well, better late than never, I guess...)

It was a pretty compelling perk: after ten years with the company, they not only flew you and your wife to the U.K.. but they also rented you a tuxedo for the big night, and presented you with a Burberry leather jacket with your name and start date on the label.

I'd been to England a few times previous for company conferences and the like, but going with Audrey was a treat, and after getting the girls situated with Oma and Opa,we arranged to spend a few extra days in London before heading up to Nottingham.

London is an amazing city, and I would love to return and spend more time there, especially with the girls. We never made it to the Imperial War Museum, or to a show in the East West End, or any number of other not-to-be-missed experiences, but we still managed to have a good time.

We rode the London Eye to get a bird's-eye-view of the city.

Afterwards, Audrey successfully defended her $9 hot dog against a voracious pigeon.

A double-decker bus took us to see the rest of the sights from ground level, and we drove by Tom Hanks shooting The DaVinci Code (too slow to get a camera on him though).

Great name for a pub, don't you think?

Walking about, we saw a member of the Life Guards on horseback. I can only imagine what level of upkeep those boots require!

We made our way to the gates of Buckingham Palace, but too late to see the changing of the guards, unfortunately.

Audrey chatted up the only Bobby we could find who was not totting around a submachine gun, due to a member of the Royal Family being on the move, and he kindly agreed to have his picture taken.

Later that day police motorcycle stopped the traffic in the roundabout by Trafalgar Square shortly after the dedication of the new Battle of Britain memorial, and I somehow managed to put two-and-two together and realize a motorcade must be coming. Sure enough, a moment later HRH The Prince of Wales and Camilla came racing around the corner. Not long enough for me to get a good picture, but sufficient to capture his distinctive silhouette.

Trafalgar itself is dominated by Nelson's column, the same height as the mast on his flagship, HMS Victory.

The lions at the base are powerful symbols of a once-mighty empire, but alas, deceitful.

We only found out later that real lions are actually incapable of sitting with their rear legs posed in such a manner; pressed for time, the story goes, the sculptor had used his housecat as a model.

The next day we got to see the (then) only recently unveiled memorial for the Battle of Britain, financed solely with private funds.

As a sculpture, it is an awesome piece, full of dynamism, character, and amazing detail.

As a history buff, seeing the names of every single one  of 'The Few' inscribed on the plaques, as well as all the participating squadron insignias was an even greater treat.

A boat tour on the Thames gave us a different perspective on the city, and showed us us how a clever bouillon company managed to dodge the ban on riverside advertising.

And we made it to the Tower of London, a visit which I recommend to everyone, but perhaps not for the reason you think. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of history on the site, and granted, the Crown Jewels are very impressive, but the best part of the tour is that it is given by Yeomen Warders, sometimes know as the Beefeaters.

To become a Yeoman Warder is very difficult as I recall being told: they must have 22 years of service in Her Royal Majesty's Armed Forces, and attained a rank of Sergeant. There is a rigorous interview process for both the candidates and their wives, as these men (no women at the time, and I don't knwo if that has changed as of yet) not only represent the face of the Tower to thousands of visitors every year, but they must also live on the premises.

Our guide said it's a great job, not unlike life in the army: marching around, shouting at people, telling them where to go, but at the end of the day, having a mailing address of "#7 Tower Green, Tower of London, England" is in many ways the best part of it. He was friendly, knowledgeable, and had both a great delivery and wicked sense of humour.
Yeoman: As you might imagine, the cellars underneath the White Tower are very damp, and quite cold, creating the ideal conditions for...what?
Tourist 1: Torture!
Tourist 2: Executions!
Yeoman: (Disgusted) Wine, you savages, wine! It's where they kept the wine!

Or as evidenced in this brief excerpt of his description of Traitor's Gate:

He also provided a brief rhyming shorthand for remembering the fates of the wives of Henry VIII which I still remember clearly a decade later: "No, it's like this, see - Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. Easy, ennit?"

Of course, there are two other famous denizens of the Tower worth noting; first, the Royal Guard, who, though ceremoniously and archaically dressed, still carry modern and fully functioning bullpup-style IW assault weapons...

And of course, the ravens.

It turns out these ominous corvids are looked after by a Yeoman called the Raven Master (how cool would that look on your resume?) and have their wings clipped to prevent their flying off. I don't recall getting a direct answer when I inquired if this was related to the infamous prophecy that if the ravens of the tower depart, the Crown will fall and take Britain with it, but now I find myself wondering if anyone has checked on them since the Brexit vote...

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. That Battle of Britain memorial looks fantastic. Shame you missed the war museum as it was very well done.

    I'd suggest taking Audrey to the *west* end to see a play though - the east end is the poor, Jack-the-Rippery end.